Friday, January 18, 2008

Historic win a step away

Even a writer with a bent for the unexpected could not have scripted the way this third Test for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy is panning out at the WACA Ground. In three days, 32 wickets have fallen and 901 runs scored, and as things stand going into the fourth day, Australia need to score another 348 runs to win, while India need eight wickets to halt them. As the match twisted through another day of relentlessly fluctuating fortunes on Friday, India were bowled out for 294 in their second innings. It gave them an overall lead of 412 runs, and at close of play, the hosts had reduced the deficit by 65 runs for the loss of both their openers.

So many issues threaten to side-track this game. Australia are in chase of a record-setting 17th straight win in a Test. History suggests no team has scored anywhere near 400 runs to win on Aussie soil. The biggest chase mounted by the baggy greens was 404 back in 1948 in England, so Ricky Ponting’s men will need to find something extraordinary to pull off the feat. Said second innings hero Venkatasai Laxman, who contributed the backbone of the Indian effort with 79 invaluable runs later: “They (Australia) will be under a lot of pressure. A 350-run target in the fourth innings is not an easy chase especially given the way our bowlers have gone.”

For their part, India know that if they do win here, they could take the series to a tied two-all outcome in the fourth game at Adelaide. Australia coach Tim Neilsen knows they have a full-blooded battle on their hands on Saturday. “We will need a big effort tomorrow. The first thing Ricky (Ponting) and Mike (Hussey) need to do is set a good platform. “The idea is to break down this chase — not look at it as 350, but hour by hour and partnership by partnership. A lot depends on the two out there. The good thing is that the pitch is still good. If India want to win, they will have to work very hard.”

Both sides had their heroes on the day. If for India Laxman stood tall with immense support from Irfan Pathan (46), Mahendra Singh Dhoni (38) and Rudra Pratap Singh (30), Stuart Clark (4/61) and Brett Lee (3/54) bent their backs all day long for the home side as fortunes swayed literally by the session. Pathan was to in fact come back with the ball and see off openers Chris Rogers and Phil Jacques for a second time in the match, leaving Australia in some disarray at 43/2 before Ponting and Hussey came together.

India had resumed on 52/1 and looked to Virender Sehwag to take the battle into the Aussie camp. An overhead cloud cover also played its part in making the day an awkward one, but the visitors still progressed to 79 when Clark bent the opener’s stump back. Worse was to follow with Rahul Dravid (3), Sachin Tendulkar (13) and Sourav Ganguly (0) back in the pavilion in quick succession all thanks to poor judgment and it looked like Australia had battled their way back from the precipice.