India set 499 to win in Melbourne
You broke it, you fix it. That might well be the message from India's bowlers to their batsmen after Australia set them 499 to win despite being challenged again by India's attack at the MCG. At the close India had reached 0 for 6 with Rahul Dravid on 3 and Wasim Jaffer on 2. Ricky Ponting decided to make India face eight overs late in the day after Michael Clarke top scored in Australia's 7 for 351 declared.
Australia could easily have batted into the fourth day with perfect weather forecast for the rest of the match, as they discovered in Hobart last month that hefty totals can be chased with purpose. In Australia's most recent Test Sri Lanka needed 507 in the fourth innings and although they fell 96 short, they may well have got there had Kumar Sangakkara's superb innings not been incorrectly ended by Rudi Koertzen on 192. He was one brilliant batsman; India have several, and will not yet have written off their chances.
But they were left to wonder how their strong batting line-up could have been dismissed for 196 on the second day when another 100 runs would have given them a much greater sniff of victory. Instead, they will need something special from the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Dravid to avoid defeat as they seek not only the highest fourth-innings total to win a Test but also the largest fourth-innings total ever - winning or losing - in MCG Tests.
The efforts of Clarke, Phil Jaques, Matthew Hayden and Andrew Symonds made India's task the mountain that it is. Wickets were not infrequent through the third day but too often they came when the batsmen had already contributed. RP Singh and Zaheer Khan found some helpful swing - RP had Michael Hussey caught at slip for 36 - and Harbhajan Singh was much more of a threat than in the first innings but India also had a couple of costly moments of poor fortune.
One came when Clarke was on 22 and nearly repeated his dismissal from the first innings. RP came around the wicket and gave Clarke a fullish ball well wide of off stump. On Wednesday Clarke did not move his feet while trying to drive and edged to slip - the only difference with today's shot was that it flew through the vacant third-slip region and left Anil Kumble with his head in his hands.
Less costly in terms of runs but better for the MCG crowd was when Billy Bowden played party-pooper for the fielding team for the second time in the match, spoiling India's celebration with a no-ball call. Zaheer was thrilled after producing a pearler against Symonds on 7, angling across him, pitching on line, staying low and straigtening markedly to shatter his stumps.
To add insult to injury Bowden's call was spotted first by Symonds, who called Clarke through for a single after the ball had hurtled behind the celebrating wicketkeeper and slips. On the second day Dravid was the beneficiary of Bowden's sharp eyesight - both calls were correct - when he edged Mitchell Johnson to slip. The Dravid case only cost Australia five runs but Symonds added a further 37 before Zaheer trapped him lbw to extract his revenge.
But in the meantime the MCG crowd had received its annual dose of late-December Symonds festivities, as he launched Kumble just over the boundary wide of long on and then made even better connection with a Harbhajan delivery that went ten rows back in the same direction. He added 82 with Clarke, who again proved adept at handling spin from both ends, until he advanced to Kumble, misread the wrong'un and was stumped.
Like in the first innings Kumble was the man who had broken through when India needed a boost as he deceived Jaques (51) with a slower one that was driven straight back into his hands. Jaques had only just passed fifty for the sixth consecutive Test innings and he can equal the record of seven set by Everton Weekes, Andy Flower, and Shivnarine Chanderpaul - who just achieved the feat in the South Africa-West Indies Boxing Day Test - if he posts a half-century in the first innings in Sydney.
Jaques and Hayden had given Australia another strong start, adding 80 for the first wicket as they tried to crush the spirits of India, who trailed by 147 after the first innings. Hayden made 47 and was in a far more dominating mood than during his first-innings century, using his trademark walk at the bowler to club boundaries straight and through midwicket against Zaheer.
But when he tried to use his feet against spin Harbhajan deceived him with a shorter, turning delivery that forced his aerial straight drive higher than intended, allowing Ganguly to run around from long off to take the catch. Harbhajan found a better line and length than in the first innings and finished with 3 for 101 after Adam Gilchrist skied a catch to midwicket for a late 35 before Brad Hogg (35 not out) and Brett Lee (11 not out) closed out the innings.
Harbhajan also accounted for Ponting, who fell to offspin for the third time in as many Tests this season after Muttiah Muralitharan caused him problems last month. Ponting was on 3 when he was surprised by extra bounce and the ball caught the edge as he prodded forward, allowing Dravid to snaffle the chance at first slip.
When Ponting departed there appeared to be a chance India might rattle through Australia and stop them amassing a match-winning lead - only die-hard India fans would have predicted that at the start of the day - but Australia's middle order stuck to the original script. India's middle order might have the tools to fix the situation but the mystery is whether they are sharp enough after one rained-out warm-up match to post a record winning score and stop Australia recording their 15th consecutive Test win.
Brydon Coverdale is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo