Australia on the back foot despite Katich hundred
Close Australia 474 (Katich 125, Kumble 8-141) and 10 for 0 need 433 more runs to beat India 705 for 7 dec and 211 for 2 dec (Dravid 91*, Tendulkar 60*)
When Australia needed help, Simon Katich was the man for the job
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Once again bat dominated ball at the Sydney Cricket Ground. First, Australia battled back doggedly and added 132 runs to their first-innings score, largely on the back of an assured, graceful 125 by Simon Katich. They were all out for 474 in the middle of the second session, with Anil Kumble taking 8 for 141. But although Australia had failed to avoid the follow-on, they had batted on long enough to tire India's bowlers, and Sourav Ganguly, not surprisingly, opted to bat again. Virender Sehwag then blasted a quickfire 47, and Rahul Dravid (91 not out) and Sachin Tendulkar (60 not out) added 138 runs, to take India to 211 for 2. Ganguly then declared, with India 442 ahead, and Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden batted out the four overs left in the day.
Australia began the day six wickets down, and 363 behind, in grave danger of being made to follow on with India's bowlers still relatively fresh. But Ganguly's strategy, of getting Katich off strike and bowling to the tail, backfired. With the field spread and the pressure eased, Katich flourished, using his feet superbly against the spinners, driving elegantly on either side of the wicket, milking the bowling at will. Even though Kumble got rid of Brett Lee - via a superb bat-pad catch by Chopra at short leg - early in the day, Jason Gillespie was a stoic foil to Katich, and the two added 117 crucial runs. The resistance ended shortly after lunch, when Katich stepped out to Kumble and hoicked to the long-on boundary, where Sehwag took a well-judged catch (467 for 8). Katich had made 125, a potentially matchsaving century.
The tailenders were desperate after that, as was obvious when Gillespie swung wildly at Kumble, only to get a French cut down to the longstop boundary. A few balls later Gillespie stepped out to Kumble, missed, and was adroitly stumped by Parthiv Patel for 47 (473 for 9). Nathan Bracken perished shortly afterwards, hoisting Kumble towards the square-leg boundary, where Ajit Agarkar held on to a good running catch.
India were 231 ahead, but their bowlers had looked a ragged lot. Kumble's lion-hearted 8 for 141 was his best performance overseas, but he had bowled 47 overs, and clearly needed a break. India's decision to bat again opened up that familiar fourth-day calculation, between the extent of the lead, the perceived time required to get the opposition out, and the time left in the match. The ideal scenario for India was to take the lead to the mid-400s and declare so that they bowled a few overs before close on the fourth day, and had the full fifth day to take the ten wickets required.
That was just what happened. Chopra was out early for 2, guiding Gillespie off the back foot to Damien Martyn at gully (11 for 1). But Sehwag was in an almost comically belligerent mood, and fortune favoured the reckless, as Lee found out to his dismay in a remarkable nine-ball over.
First ball, short and very wide, Sehwag slashed, edged, caught behind. But wait ... no-ball. Then, a couple of well-directed short balls. Then wide again, Sehwag flashed again, straight into Ricky Ponting's hands at second slip ... and straight out. Then a back-foot punch through point for four. Then a flash and a miss off another no-ball. Then a single, and a handsomely cover-driven four from Dravid.
That was, in a microcosm, the story of the rest of the second session. Sehwag took a few risks and got a few boundaries; Dravid batted elegantly and correctly, and hit some sparkling drives. Sehwag's aggression made for fine entertainment, especially when MacGill came on to bowl, round the wicket, and Sehwag played an outrageous reverse-sweep, from well outside leg stump, for four. His delightful unorthodoxy was in superb contrast to Dravid's immaculate classicism, both a treat for cricket lovers.
The partnership ended after tea, when Sehwag slog-swept MacGill to Gillespie at deep midwicket (73 for 2). Tendulkar came out to bat, and the Indians had a suprisingly quiet period of play after that, as Tendulkar settled in and Dravid was circumspect, a few of his strokes going straight to fielders. At one stage, both were on 22, when Dravid suddenly found his touch and started playing some enthralling strokes.
He straight-drove Bracken for six, pulled Lee to midwicket for four, straight-drove Lee to the sightscreen, glided Lee to the third-man boundary, smashed MacGill over his head for four, and was approaching his hundred at the rate of a boundary an over, while Tendulkar had just about made it to 50. Tendulkar played fluidly - a reverse-sweep off MacGill for four was particularly memorable - and was quite content to milk singles, as Dravid got about his business. Ganguly might have waited for Dravid's hundred before declaring, but Dravid was hit on the ear while attempting a hook off Lee, and was going to come off for treatment anyway.
Langer and Hayden played out the four overs they needed to sensibly, as Australia ended on 10 for no loss. Ninety more overs, 433 more runs; there is an unlikely chance that Australia will go for the runs, and give Waugh a farewell to remember. But it's more likely that the pivot of attention, on the final day, will revolve around the frame of Anil Kumble, bowling relentlessly on, driven by years of unfulfilled desire.
Amit Varma is managing editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India.