Australia v India, 4th Test, Sydney, 4th day January 5, 2004

Storming the Australian bastion

Anil Kumble: will he spoil Steve Waugh's party?

Victor Trumper - for whose Test cap Steve Waugh once unsuccessfully bid $20,000 - was still a year away from his Test debut when Australia made the highest fourth-innings total to win a Test match at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Joe Darling's 160 was instrumental as Australia chased down 275 in a Test that England had dominated for the most part. Monty Noble, who has a stand named after him at the SCG now, was at the crease when the winning runs were hit 106 years ago, a reminder of just how difficult it can be to chase a target on a pitch where the spinners traditionally hold sway on the fourth and fifth days.

The only comparable effort in modern times was back in November 1985 - a month before Waugh's Test debut - when David Boon (81), Wayne Phillips (63) and David Hookes (38 not out) clinched a thrilling four-wicket victory over New Zealand after being set 257 for victory. If Australia are to have a serious tilt at the 443 they need to regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, it'll be an unprecedented effort, even on a ground graced by legends like Trumper, Bradman and McCabe.

Realistically, and weather permitting, India have 90 more overs to take ten Australian wickets and clinch a first series win outside the subcontinent since 1986. And if you peer a little closer at the big picture, it'll tell you that Anil Kumble - peerless in this match and series - has about 40 overs at his disposal to ensure that he is rightly remembered alongside the spin quartet of the 1960s and '70s.

For Australia, a draw would be a creditable result, but it will feel like defeat to draw a series they were expected to dominate. The manner in which Simon Katich and Jason Gillespie batted this morning, adding 117 in even time, suggested that survival isn't impossible, provided that the batsmen shelve the gung-ho approach that cost them so dearly in Adelaide.

Katich, who has revived his career after crossing the Nullarbor Plain to New South Wales, played spin as well as any Australian batsman has in recent times. Unlike Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer, who mainly used the sweep and the loft over midwicket to combat the turning ball, Katich came down the pitch fearlessly to kill the spin, when he wasn't driving and cutting with the fluency that made him such an exciting prospect a few seasons ago.

Spare a thought, too, for Gillespie, who missed out on a fifty yet again, after batting with a composure and acumen that shamed some of his top-order colleagues. In a tribute to Bill Shankly, Hugh McIllvanney once wrote that his heart was as big as a town. That's not far wrong in Gillespie's case, and his bowling figures for the series are an absolute travesty, no indicator of the purpose and fire with which he has competed against a batting line-up at the peak of its powers.

Should India fail to close this one out tomorrow, there will be a few questions raised about the tactics employed today. There was a noticeable lack of inspiration in the morning, when Katich and Gillespie were hardly pressured as they picked off the runs, and an alarming negativity about the timing of the declaration. Had it come a half-hour earlier, Australia would have had to get around 400 in 100 overs, a target that they would have been compelled to chase given the magnitude of the occasion. Now, with the asking rate hovering near five an over, the hatches could be battened down if wickets are lost first thing in the morning.

What we are left with is the prospect of a memorable final day to cap off one of the best series in living memory. Leave aside dead Tests against Pakistan and England, and Sydney has been an Australian bastion over the past 25 years, with only Fanie de Villiers nipping in to spoil the party (for South Africa in 1993-94). It could be Kumble's turn tomorrow, as the sun sets on Waugh, and the red rags are waved for the last time, this side of Spain anyway.

Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India. He will be following the team throughout the course of the series.