Australia left with target of 95 after India falter
Close India 366 and 286 (Dravid 92, Ganguly 73, Williams 4-53) lead Australia 558 by 94 runs
Rahul Dravid: one more rescue act
India's 71 runs in the first hour after tea turned out to be the vivid sparks of a dying flame at the MCG, as they lost their way hopelessly against the second new ball, losing their last six wickets for 33 runs in a virtual repeat of the tail end of their first innings. Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly resumed after tea with their team still 10 runs in arrears, and they scored so quickly thereafter that at one stage, with India 61 ahead and six wickets still in hand, it seemed that they might set Australia a challenging target. But then they both fell within five runs of each other, and Australia ran through the tail, with Brad Williams finishing with 4 for 53. They now have to score just 95 tomorrow to draw level with India in the series.
India's problem was that they put together some reasonable-sized partnerships, but no big ones: the highest was the 93 put on by Dravid and Ganguly for the fifth wicket. Their beginning to the day was a good one, as they managed to nullify Australia successfully before lunch. Although Ganguly was hit by a bouncer early in the day and had to retire hurt, Dravid and Tendulkar applied themselves on a wearing pitch with uneven bounce, and took India to 109 for 2 by lunch.
At this stage India were still 83 behind Australia, and their hopes of erasing it and setting Australia a reasonable target rested on at least two of the middle order putting together a big partnership. Tendulkar began in confident fashion after lunch, driving Brett Lee down the ground for three, and then cover-driving and cutting Brad Williams for boundaries. But having progressed to his highest score of the series, 44, he aimed an ambitious drive at a wide delivery from Williams and was caught behind (126 for 3). It was an excellent piece of bowling from Williams, who had seen Tendulkar get out in similar fashion to Andrew Bichel in the second Test, and knew exactly what he was trying to do.
Australia now sensed their chance. They bowled tightly and accurately at VVS Laxman and did not employ over-attacking fields, knowing all too well how quickly Laxman was capable of scoring. Laxman was largely untroubled during his stay at the crease, but then was perplexingly out in almost exactly the same manner as in the first innings, drawn into playing at a legbreak from Stuart MacGill and caught at slip. (160 for 4). MacGill bowled perhaps his most disciplined spell of the series in the post-lunch session, spinning the ball sharply away from the bat, and managing to keep a check on his full tosses.
India's only blow of the morning session came when Sourav Ganguly ducked into a Brad Williams snorter
Ganguly's adrenaline was flowing by the time Australia decided to take the second new ball as soon as it was due. He had an interesting duel with Brett Lee in the first innings, taking him on before getting out to a loose shot, and here he seemed to sense that the initiative was there for the taking, with the new ball sure to come on to the bat and fly quickly off it. He got to his half-century with a drive past mid-on off Lee, and then sent the next ball racing past point for four. When Williams dropped short in the next over Ganguly no longer attempted to duck, but stood tall and swung the ball high over square leg for four.
Lee came in charging once again the next over, and was pulled and cut again for successive boundaries. It was stirring stuff, and not without an element of risk in it, but ironically it was Dravid who then fell to Lee, reaching in uncharacteristic fashion for a ball outside off and edging it to Adam Gilchrist (253 for 5). His 92 was an innings of exemplary patience and concentration, though not as polished as his two innings at Adelaide: he played and missed from time to time, and nicked Katich between the wicketkeeper and first slip shortly before he was out.
Dravid's dismissal opened the floodgates for Australia. Ganguly was out almost immediately after, somewhat unlucky to drag Nathan Bracken onto his stumps via his back foot (258 for 6). He made 73. Williams then cleaned up Ajit Agarkar and Anil Kumble within two balls of each other, and although Parthiv Patel made a gutsy and enterprising 27 not out, he could not extend the Indian lead beyond 94.
It was a clinical and assured performance from Australia, who have handled the last two days almost perfectly, and should now easily knock off the target on the last morning.
Chandrahas Choudhury is a staff writer with Wisden Asia Cricket magazine.