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A step away from glory

cricket Updated: Nov 10, 2008 00:49 IST
Atreyo Mukhopadhyay
Atreyo Mukhopadhyay
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

After meandering through the twists and turns for three days and the first session of play on Sunday, the fate of this fourth Test was finally taking shape. With a lead of 86 and the openers extending it to 184, India went into lunch happy in the knowledge that the job of denying Australia any chance of winning this match was done. This was when the cricket god turned his head to this Test, with a wry smile on his face.

Sourav Ganguly's first-ball duck was the highlight of a batting bedlam that turned the match on its head with the visitors finding themselves in a position to win after having lost all hope. In an incredible turnaround in two hours, the helpless wait for a dreary end turned into a countdown to a thriller. And after being questioned about its very existence, given what happened a day earlier, Test cricket was back at its riveting best.

Heading into the final day of a bitterly-fought series with all results possible, this Test also proved that contests between these two teams are infinitely more entertaining than talk of obnoxious weeds or monkeys, however much airtime those subjects may get. The bat of a brave man who invariably finds himself at the centre of all that nonsense then came to his team's rescue and made sure that Monday will witness the end of one of the most extraordinary Tests played in India.

Australia were looking to knock off more runs from their target before stumps and also thinking of chasing something around 300 when India took tea 252 ahead with the top six gone. Having lost them in a space of 50 runs after an opening stand of 116, the break must have helped soothe Indian nerves. It gave Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh time to breathe easy for a while, review the situation and chalk out a plan.

Like in the first innings of the first Test, the man who annoys Australia like nobody else was batting with India in a spot. Dhoni was distinctly uncomfortable, hesitant in making calls and saw a few edges fly to safety. He grew in confidence with Harbhajan looking assured, even driving off-spinner Jason Krejza exquisitely through the covers. Ponting was using non-regular and slower bowlers, with an eye on over rate, and both batsmen were quick to punish the loose ones. Apart from breathing life into the ailing innings, their 108-run stand also added matter to the drama about to unfold on the final day.

There was no hint of what was coming in the first session. Virender Sehwag was battering the bowling and M. Vijay milking it before Shane Watson took the ball after the break. They will talk about Krejza no doubt, but it was this powerful allrounder who brought Australia back in the game. He was moving the ball in and making the batsmen play. After getting Vijay with one of them, he got one to straighten on pitching which undid Rahul Dravid. After accounting for most of the 73 runs Krejza conceded in his 12-over first spell, Sehwag played loosely down the leg to Brett Lee to fall in the 90s for the second time this series. This led to a feeling that something unusual was unfolding and the return of Krejza confirmed it. VVS. Laxman got one that turned big, while Ganguly tried to play against the spin first ball, prodding forward tentatively. Sachin Tendulkar then ran himself out to throw the match wide open. Dhoni said afterwards that he was "happy" to set Australia a target of 382. With the openers reducing it to 369 and keeping 10 wickets intact, the last act of this series of dramas awaits. Whoever wins, Test cricket will be relieved to live another day.

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