Australia well on top on 3rd day

Australia set India 499 to win on the fourth day of the First Test at the MCG, after scoring 351 for 7 in their second-innings. The Indian bowlers did not allow the hosts to run away with the game, taking 17 wickets, more than any team has taken off Australia in a home Test since the Boxing Day Test in 20056 against South Africa. But Australia remain overwhelming favourites to wrap-up their 15th consecutive Test victory.

Phil Jaques and Matthew Hayden, 32 unbroken overnight, combined for their second big stand of the match. Hayden motored to a 54-ball 47 before skying an attempted drive over Harbhajan Singh’s head. Sourav Ganguly took a good catch running around from long-off. Ricky Ponting failed again – astoundingly, the first time he has fallen for single-figures twice in a Test since the epic 20001 series between these sides. Ponting gave his opposite-number Rahul Dravid slip-catching practice, again from Harbhajan’s bowling, when he opened the face to one that turned into him and saw the ball slide straight off the face into Dravid’s hands.

Jaques ground on, however, and was joined by Michael Hussey in a stand which snuffed-out any potential danger, though the situation, long boundaries and slow outfield meant the partnership contained no boundaries. Jaques had just completed his half-century – his 6th consecutive fifty-plus score in Tests – when he fell to Anil Kumble, driving a delivery which the bowler held back straight back at him. Rudra Pratap Singh soon removed Hussey, caught by Sachin Tendulkar at first-slip as he flashed at a ball that swung away from him. At 161 for 4, India were back in with a shout of removing Australia for under 300.

That would have become 181 for 5 had Zaheer Khan managed to keep his foot behind the popping-crease as he bowled Andrew Symonds neck-and-crop for 7 with a full inswinger. Unfortunately for India, Symonds – along with Michael Clarke, who already had 29 by then, proceeded to pull the game once more Australia’s way. They added 62 more after the let-off, and though Zaheer finally got his man, lbw to a rather similar ball for 35, Adam Gilchrist repeated Symonds’ score and Clarke made his way to 73. Clarke was stumped when deceived by a Kumble googly, and Gilchrist holed-out to give Harbhajan his third wicket of the innings, RP Singh taking a good catch at deep-square-leg.

India might have fancied their chances of grabbing the remaining three wickets to dismiss Australia twice in a home Test for the first time since Sri Lanka managed it on a seaming surface at Marrara Oval, Darwin in the winter of 2004. They could not quite manage it, however, as Brad Hogg and Brett Lee added an unbroken 35, and Ponting called his men in as the 350 was brought-up. Wasim Jaffer and Dravid negotiated 8 overs to stumps and India require another 493 on the final day. Such a total would not merely be the highest successful Test run-chase in history but the highest fourth-innings total in the MCG’s Test history. If you wanted a batting line-up for the task, however, Jaffer, Dravid, VVS Laxman, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Yuvraj Singh and Dhoni would almost beyond doubt be at the forefront of most people’s lists.

Australia 343

India 196

Australia 351 for 7 declared

India 6 for 0

India require 493 more runs for victory with 10 wickets remaining

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