| Brad Williams celebrates the wicket of Sachin Tendulkar on Monday
Melbourne: ďThereís always hope... Perhaps, there will be some magic,Ē is how Team India vice-captain Rahul Dravid assessed the target (95) set for Australia to draw level 1-1 in this four-Test series.
Actually, thereís no hope and even the best of P.C. Sorcar (Jr) wonít prevent Steve Waugh from adding another win (his 41st) as captain. Itís not even that rain is forecast, for Tuesday, in the vicinity of the MCG.
Of course, there would have been hope had the last six wickets not fallen for a mere 33 runs. Thatís an improvement from the first inningsí collapse (last six for 16), but isnít going to be enough.
There would also have been hope if Dravid and the gutsy captain, Sourav Ganguly, completed hundreds on the fourth afternoon. Or, if the wicket was a minefield. Itís a tough surface but, as Sunil Gavaskar observed, the wicket was more difficult in 1980-81 when his team bowled out Australia for 83 to post a stunning 59-run victory.
According to Sourav, another 100 runs would have challenged Australia and, with some luck, a win could have been forced. Now, itís a matter of time before the home team confirms a high-voltage finish at the SCG.
Significantly, India will again be a bowler short as Zaheer Khan (who has a muscle tear) will hardly function as the spearhead. Itís to be seen whether he bowls at all or begins preparing for an early departure home.
Resuming on 27 for three, still 167 in the red, the Indians packed up at the fag end of the day (Monday) to set an asking-rate of a shade over a run an over. Barring two partnerships, 87 for the third between Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar and 93 for the fifth between Dravid and Sourav, the Australians were allowed a free run.
A trifle surprisingly, Brad Williams ó who struck Sourav with one which didnít climb, forcing him to retire till he felt better ó recorded the best figures (four for 53), while the other three specialist bowlers got two wickets each. Nathan Bracken, by the way, was impressive.
In fact, Australia went wicketless in the opening session, though Sourav did go off after being hit. Breakthrough No.1 came when Sachin fell to a smart leg-cutter from Williams, after scoring his highest of the series ó 44 (107 minutes, 79 deliveries, 5x4).
ďHe looked good for much of the innings and, clearly, should grow in confidence. Having said that, he will still be anxious on taking guard in Sydney,Ē remarked the legendary Greg Chappell, during a chat with The Telegraph.
Sachin, however, had a life on 12 when Adam Gilchrist ó who, apparently, resorted to a lot of chirping ó did a Parthiv Patel off Bracken.
For a change, V.V.S. Laxman didnít last long and it was left to Dravid and Sourav to push towards a competitive total. Sourav, on 16 when he retired, was aggressive after marking guard afresh. The drives were there and so were the pulls ó obviously, by now, he realised it was risky to duck on a surface with dual bounce.
Dravid, at the other end, did complete justice to his Great Wall of India reputation. Sadly, he fell eight short (his sixth dismissal in the 90s) of another deserving hundred. His feet didnít move quickly enough and Brett Lee, treated with disdain by Sourav earlier in the day, had the most coveted wicket.
Not much later, the captain himself exited, dragging the cherry on to the stumps. Both became victims of the second new ball (225 for four).
While Dravidís 92 came in 332 minutes and off 244 deliveries (13x4), the captain scored 73 in 164 minutes and off 125 balls. His innings, which will be recounted as a heroic one, included a dozen boundaries.
ďMy prince, my prince...Ē is something which kept emanating from the cancer-stricken Geoffrey Boycott, as he walked around the Media lounge. But if Souravís boundaries made his afternoon, he wasnít too enamoured by the captainís reluctance to alternate between attacking and playing out time.
ďIf my prince only attacks, we are bound to see a very early finish,Ē Boycott cautioned. Well, Sourav went in the next over itself and, soon enough, the tail too disappeared. Itís inexplicable that besides Patel, nobody had a contribution ó neither Ajit Agarkar,a Ďcenturioní at Lordís last year, nor senior pro Anil Kumble.
ďThe lower half has been a worry for India,Ē accepted Dravid. Thatís an understatement.
Kartik may make XI
Meanwhile, one understands left-arm spinner Murali Kartik is likely to make the XI at the SCG. In any case, thereís going to be one vacancy caused by Zaheer. Itís to be seen if Ashish Nehra will keep his place ó chances are that he will be dropped and Irfan Pathan brought back.