India duo Ishant Sharma and Harbhajan Singh claimed two wickets apiece as Australia's hopes of winning the first Test of the Border-Gavaskar series dimmed considerably on day four.
Zaheer, India's number nine batsman, had also bludgeoned an unbeaten 57 in the morning session to all but end Australia's chances of victory at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. India were eventually bowled out for 360, Zaheer's heroics with the bat restricting the deficit to only 70 runs.
Australia's chances of winning then lay in amassing quick runs, but India's bowlers strangled them with an accurate line. The visitors finished the day on 193 for five with Brad Haddin (28 not out) and Shane Watson (32no) steering them to a lead of 263 after Harbhajan and Ishant had threatened to bring an early closure to their innings.
Zaheer effected the first breakthrough when he trapped opener Matthew Hayden in front. Hayden had lacked the fluency which has characterised his batting, the burly left-hander scratching around for 13 runs before walking across to a delivery that was angled in from Zaheer. Hayden was rapped on the pads and umpire Asad Rauf upheld the appeal for leg before.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni, marshalling India in place of Anil Kumble who had felt the ill-effects of a rotator-cuff injury, had spread the field while Australia's openers were at the crease. But there were three men around the bat - apart from the lone slip in Rahul Dravid - when Ponting walked in to take strike.
Ponting's nemesis, off-spinner Harbhajan, had already been in operation for sometime and he spun a couple past the edge of the Australia captain.
But it was Ishant who sent Ponting back to the pavilion, getting him to play at an angled delivery. Ponting's push on the on-side flew to VVS Laxman who held a low, sharp catch at short mid-wicket.
Simon Katich fell the next ball after bringing up the 50-run partnership with Michael Hussey, jabbing at one that bounced more than usual from Harbhajan. Laxman, at silly point, completed a simple catch.
Michael Clarke (six) and Hussey (31) then fell in quick succession briefly raising hopes of a comeback for India.
Clarke was Ishant's second victim, a lazy, uppish drive off a slower delivery ending the Australian vice-captain's innings. Hussey was bowled by Harbhajan by one that turned sharply even as the 33-year-old left-hander had shaped to leave.