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Test poised for thrilling finish

Ashish Magotra | January 05, 2004 08:00 IST
Last Updated: January 05, 2004 13:54 IST

Scorecard | Images

One question will be paramount in the minds of all Indian cricket fans: Can India bowl out the much-vaunted Australian batting line-up in 90 overs? If they can, they will create history and become the first Indian team to win a series in Australia.

At close of play on day 4 in the fourth Test, Australia were 10 for no loss in their second innings, with Matthew Hayden unbeaten on 4 and Justin Langer on 1, after India declared theirs at 211 for 2. Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar were unbeaten on 90 and 60 respectively.

The hosts need 433 runs more for a highly improbable victory.

The West Indies had scored 418 for 7 against Australia in May 2003 -- the highest winning fourth innings run chase.

Earlier, Anil Kumble claimed eight wickets, after Australia fought back well through Simon Katich and Jason Gillespie in the morning session.

Australia were all out for 474 runs, well short of the 505 required to avoid the follow-on. But India skipper Sourav Ganguly chose to bat again.

Morning session

The googly has got Anil Kumble more wickets than any other variation on this tour. Brett Lee's wicket was the latest addition to the growing list. The fast bowler pushed forward to a googly, failed to read the turn and popped a difficult chance to Chopra, who, at silly mid-on, dived full stretch to take a good catch. (350 - 7)

Irfan Pathan, bowling from the other end, was having a battle royal with Simon Katich. The 19-year-old was getting the ball to reverse swing wickedly, both into and away from the batsmen. But Katich was up to task. A few well-struck boundaries off both bowlers showed he was feeling very confident. Obviously, Ganguly wasn't, because after being hit for a few fours he took Pathan out of the attack.

Katich seemed to revel playing with Jason Gillespie. Around this point the Indians decided to give Katich the easy single and get Gillespie out. The move defied logic. Why give a batsman easy runs when every one of them might prove crucial in the second innings? The idea should have been quickly discarded when Katich took not only singles but twos and fours as well. He was nearing his hundred, but the Indian team was almost gifting him his first ton. Runs have to be earned not gifted.

Gillespie survived a chance early in his innings when Patel failed to get his gloves to an edge that kept low. Kumble was the bowler and he would have been very disappointed.

The close-in fielders were taken out and the field was spread out. To what effect? Kumble got all those top order wickets and there was no reason to believe that he could not do the same to Katich. It is a cardinal sin at any level of the game to abandon all hope of getting a batsman out.

The Indian tail-enders will do themselves no harm if they learn the art of giving the established batsman support from Gillespie. With Agarkar and Kumble not really making an impression, Kartik was introduced for the first time in the day.

All this time the lead was being cut into as runs came at almost five an over. Kartik continued to get tonked around all over the park. The Aussies may have ended one career in this series.

The Indians had delayed taking the new ball in the morning session as Pathan was getting reverse swing and Kumble the wickets. But with nothing happening and Katich gaining in confidence -- he reached his century off just 116 balls, with 15 fours on his home ground -- Ganguly should have thought about it.

He should have also given a few overs to Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag or even himself. Just try something different.

Ganguly needs to remember that Kumble will be his main weapon in the second innings and the leg-spinner had been bowling continuously since morning. The new-ball was finally taken in the 101st over.

Patel missed a clear opportunity to stump Katich as he charged out his crease to play Kumble. His second mistake of the morning showed he still has a lot to learn. He does not rise up with the ball and that proved to be his undoing on both occasions. Australia were 446 in the 107th over and Katich was on 116.

It was almost as if India's old ghosts had come to haunt them again. The tail was standing firm for the Aussies and the visitors were starting to get frustrated. Every ball adding to the pressure; a win slipping away?

In the session, Australia scored 106 runs in 29 overs.

Post-Lunch session

Kumble's eight wickets opened the door of victory for India after the Australian innings was propped by the 117-run partnership between Katich and Gillespie.

Katich's innings finally came to an end when he charged out, early in the post-lunch session, and lofted Kumble straight down Sehwag's throat at long-off. His 125 runs had come off only 166 balls and gave Australia hope where there was none.

The wicket seemed to revive Indian spirits and the end came quickly. Kumble claimed the wickets of Gillespie and Bracken to end the Australian innings.

Kumble's 8 for 141 was his career-best abroad and also the third five wicket haul in successive Tests. A testament to the fact that this series has given the leg-spinner a new lease of life. He has worked hard and added variety -- changes of pace and the googly -- to his bowling.

India were ahead by 231 and Ganguly had no hesitation in deciding to take on the Aussie attack again.

One of reasons behind Ganguly's decision not to enforce the follow-on could be Australia's penchant for scoring quick runs. It could have meant that India would have had to chase around 150-plus on the fifth day. Ganguly has taken the safety first option.

India second innings

The Indians needed to score quickly and with Sehwag at the wicket, you don't need to even mention that.

Chopra (2) was gone early, Martyn taking a good catch at gully as the opener tried to guide a short ball from Gillespie to third man. (11-1)

Wickets are the only thing that will keep the Indians from scoring very quickly but as long as Sehwag is at the wicket, runs will keep coming.

The Aussies missed an easy chance to send Sehwag back into the hut, when Ponting, at second slip, dropped the opener on 13 off Lee. Earlier in the over he was caught by Gilchrist but survived, thanks to a no-ball.

Australia were left to rue their luck as Sehwag threw his bat at everything. At tea, he was still there on a 44 off 46 balls. Rahul Dravid was on 13 as India reached 66-1 after 15 overs.

India should be looking to bat for around 20-25 overs more in the last session, which will see 35 overs being bowled. A total of anywhere over 350 will be very challenging for the Aussies.

Post-Tea session

In the second over after the break, Sehwag swept MacGill straight to Gillespie at mid-wicket. The ball was hit hard but in the air and straight to the fielder.

India were 73 for the loss of two wickets after Sehwag got out and by the 21st over only 6 runs had been added to the total as Tendulkar and Dravid tried to adjust to the pace of the wicket.

MacGill was getting the ball to turn square -- which brings you back to the question -- why was Tendulkar not used in the first innings? Ganguly missed a huge trick by not using him. He took crucial wickets in the Adelaide victory and there is no reason why he couldn't have done the same for India again.

MacGill bowled a very negative line; not one delivery pitched in line with the right hander's leg-stump, but Tendulkar, with such a huge total to back up, could have bowled a more attacking line. Every run is now proving to be crucial.

Meanwhile, Tendulkar and Dravid finally found their feet and started going after the bowling. From 142 in the 35th over to 211 declared in the 43rd over, the Indians made their much awaited charge.

Tendulkar and Dravid tried everything -- reverse sweeps, hitting across the line, shots of their own invention and proper cricketing strokes - to drive the Aussies into desperation.

Dravid's 91 was a gem. After taking his time to get going, he took on the bowlers to great effect. Tendulkar (60) did the same and it looked as if India might play out the overs to close of play. But Dravid was hit on the head by a Brett Lee bouncer. Lee, bowling from round the wicket, had a torrid time in the middle, conceding 74 runs in his 12.2 overs.

Ganguly decided to declare at this stage. 442 runs in 94 overs is never easy. On a fifth day pitch, which should help Kumble, the task is almost impossible.

But the timing of the declaration was odd. Dravid's injury seemed to help Ganguly make up his mind. Was he looking to bat all the overs and then leave Australia a day to fight it out in the middle?

It would have been ideal had the Aussies been made to face at least 10 overs before the close of play. As things turned out, they had to face only four overs, which they did without any fuss after Agarkar and Kumble opened the bowling.

Ganguly should have given Pathan a chance ahead of Kumble as the young left-arm paceman got the ball to swing in the first innings.

Now, for India to win, Kartik will have to get into the act as well. Kumble alone cannot earn victory.

At close of play, Australia were 10 for no loss.

It's going to be tough to bowl the Aussies out in just 90 overs. But then one bowler needs to put his hand up and give Kumble support. Ganguly needs to attack and make the Aussies go for the big shots. And he needs to give his bowlers heart, no matter how tough things become. Tomorrow could be a special day for Indian cricket.

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