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Aussies set to level series

Ashish Magotra | December 29, 2003 09:37 IST
Last Updated: December 29, 2003 17:27 IST

Scorecard | Images

The writing is on the wall. India need a miracle to save the third Test against Australia.

Despite stubborn resistance from Rahul Dravid (92) and captain Sourav Ganguly (73), the Indians were bowled out for 286 runs in their second innings, an overall lead of 94, at close of play on Day 4 in Melbourne, leaving the Australians in a comfortable position to win the Test and level the series.

Melbourne has proved that while one good session cannot win a Test, one bad session can certainly lose it.

Morning session:

India added 82 runs without losing a wicket in the first session on Monday. But the morning was not without incident.

The bounce was variable. The ball kept low at times and jumped up occasionally. The batsmen found it very difficult to judge the bounce.

One such delivery foxed Sourav Ganguly. The Indian skipper, batting on 16 in India's total of 39 for 2, ducked to a short-pitched delivery from Brad Williams in the fifth over of the morning and was hit on the back of his head.

After a brief examination by physiotherapist Andrew Leipus, Ganguly decided to go off the field. His departure brought Sachin Tendulkar to the crease.

Australia were heartened by Tendulkar's arrival. The master batsman has had a horrible run of form Down Under and the hosts would have known that a quick wicket at that stage could very well have won them the match.

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But the master batsmen played with patience and determination to put on a 70 run unbeaten partnership with Dravid.

Tendulkar got off the mark soon after his arrival at the crease with his signature shot, a gorgeous straight drive off Brett Lee that raced just past the stumps. He was not entirely comfortable during his stay, but for a change he had luck on his side.

Twice during the first session he could well have been heading back to the pavilion, when a nick off Nathan Bracken flew between the wicketkeeper and first slip, with Adam Gilchrist failing to hold on to it.

Another chance went abegging late in the session when an inside edge ballooned off the pad and dropped just short of Bracken, who was bowling round the wicket.

Run-scoring was difficult, but the ease with which Dravid batted showed that the Indian vice-captain is in the best form of his life.

The introduction of Stuart MacGill into the attack almost always means runs for the Indians. The leg-spinner does not have the control of his contemporary Shane Warne and every loose ball was punished by Dravid.

Still trailing by 83 runs, India went in to lunch at 109 for 2 with Dravid batting on 38 and Tendulkar on 33. India were slowly fighting their way back into the match, though a few quick wickets could still turn it Australia's way.

Post-lunch session:

A slow-scoring but exciting post-lunch session saw the Indians add 73 runs and edge closer to making Australia bat again. Every run was vital on a pitch that has been behaving badly. The variable bounce combined with steady bowling by the Aussie bowlers, Nathan Bracken in particular, made life difficult for the Indian batsmen.

Tendulkar was dismissed in this session, once again chasing a delivery away from his body, wide outside the off-stump. It was a ball he would have done well to leave alone, but the rush of blood proved costly and Williams was the delighted bowler. Tendulkar made 44, but looked tentative throughout his stay, unlike Dravid, who has looked a class apart in this series.

Tendulkar and Dravid put on 87 runs in their vital partnership, which gave India hope and kept the Aussies at bay (126-3).

Laxman, who came in next, was quickly off the mark. With some elegant drives and wristy strokes, he looked at ease against both pace and spin. The most important part was the way he completely eschewed horizontal-bat shots. On a pitch of variable bounce, presenting the full face was the best way to bat.

At the other end, Dravid was starting to enjoy himself a little as the runs started to flow. The righthander reached his third fifty of the series, which has seen him establish himself as one of the world's leading batsmen today.

The lead was being whittled down quickly. Just then disaster struck. MacGill snared Laxman in a virtual replica of his first innings dismissal. The ball pitched in line with the off-stump, turned, drew the elegant Hyderabadi forward and took the edge -- a perfect leg-spinner's dismissal. It was a disappointing, premature end to a promising innings. Worse, it put India under the hammer again.

India were 160-4 at this stage, still needing 32 runs to make Australia bat again.

Ganguly came back in, having recovered from the blow on the head in the morning session and with a huge grin on his face. The skipper knew exactly what would be in store for him. But he was determined to make a fight of it. Though he looked a bit off-colour, he displayed his fighting spirit to the fullest.

The duo guided India to tea at 182 without further loss. Dravid with 60 and Ganguly on 31 were at the crease.

Post-tea session:

The last session started off very well for the Indians, with Ganguly and Dravid playing positively. Ganguly, in particular, made his intentions clear with a few pull shots.

Earlier in the series, the captain had avoided playing most of the short pitched deliveries. Today he attacked with aplomb.

It was a wonderful partnership between vice-captain and captain. Ganguly attacked, Dravid kept his wicket intact, and the team's confidence began to grow again.

Around this point Dravid started to struggle, the effects of a long innings making its presence felt. He was even hit on the throat off the top edge while trying to sweep a delivery from part-time left-arm spinner Simon Katich.

All the Aussie bowlers maintained a good line and length, troubling the batsmen and keeping the runs in check. At the end of the day, they were rewarded for their persistence. The new ball, taken as soon as it was available, played a major role in the collapse.

Ganguly started cutting loose against Brett Lee. He played his shots and for a period it seemed as if the game might run away from the Aussies.

But the 84th over of the innings turned the match in the hosts' favour. Thirteen runs (3, 4, 5nb, 1) were scored off the first four deliveries. Then Dravid was dismissed off the fifth. The ball seamed off the wicket, more than Dravid had expected, and squared him. He played away from his body and a simple edge to Gilchrist gave Lee one of the most important wickets of his career. Dravid was gone, eight runs short of what would have been his second century in the series.

It was a vital innings and spanned 332 minutes, just what the doctor ordered. But the wicket came at an inopportune moment, just as the Indians were beginning to reassert themselves.

The dismissal looked to have rattled Ganguly too. Suddenly, he went back into his shell, not confident about Parthiv Patel's batting abilities.

A little later, a clearly uncomfortable Ganguly was dismissed, trying to force a delivery from Bracken away from his body and merely succeeding in dragging it back on to his stumps. It was just reward for Bracken, who had plugged one end with amazing accuracy.

Ganguly's knock showed that it was not only possible to survive in the middle, but even to play one's shots. His 73 was good, but India needed him, or any one of the top batsmen, to go on and get a big century.

Ajit Agarkar was in next. Every ball was a struggle for him. He looks so tentative at the start of his innings every time he walks out to the middle that it is a wonder he does not bat at number 11.

This was when Williams's hostile bowling came in handy for Australia. The right-arm fast medium bowler hit the deck hard and mixed the deliveries up to fox the tailenders. One of those deliveries bowled Agarkar through the gate. Williams got one to cut back after pitching outside the off-stump, and the ball thudded into his pads and on to the stumps.

Kumble was sent back almost as soon as he as reached the middle. He walked across the stumps and was trapped plumb in front by Williams, who was having a field day.

Zaheer Khan was the next to go, pushing away from his body to a ball that climbed chest-high. The comfortable edge went to Matthew Hayden at first slip; Williams was the bowler again.

Nehra tried his best to hang around and give the diminutive but determined Parthiv Patel company, but the number 11's batting skills were clearly not up to the task and he was eventually snared by leggie MacGill.

The Indian tail's meek submission could be the difference between victory and defeat. The new ball put the Aussies on course for victory. Sixty-one runs were scored in 20 overs after the new ball was taken, and six wickets were lost in the bargain.

India were bowled out for 286 in their second innings, an overall lead of 94, at close of play. The defiant Patel remained unconquered on 27.

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