Australia needs 95 runs for a series-levelling victory after wearing down India's dogged middle order in the third cricket Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground yesterday.
The Indians, who rocked the world's best team with a four-wicket victory in the second Adelaide Test, held an outside hope of salvaging the MCG Test and holding on to the Border Gavaskar Trophy with Rahul Dravid and skipper Sourav Ganguly batting the tourists to a 61-run lead with six wickets intact.
But Australia, who held a commanding 192-run innings lead after Ricky Ponting's Test-best 257 on Sunday, struck late in the day removing both Indian roadblocks and rattling the brittle Indian tail to set up a winning target of 95 runs with all of Tuesday's final day to get them.
India were dismissed for 286 in their second innings just an over before stumps with teenage wicketkeeper Parthiv Patel remaining a defiant 27 not out.
Brad Williams claimed 4-53 off 22 overs and Nathan Bracken took 2-45 off 25 overs.
"Me getting out was a bit disappointing and then we lost six for 33, it came at the wrong time in the course of building a big partnership [with Ganguly] and maybe going on with another 10 overs," Dravid said after play.
"We always knew it would be tough, we were almost 200 runs behind but when we went ahead you also hope that you can come up with a special partnership like in Adelaide [303 with V.V.S. Laxman] or Eden Gardens [376 with Laxman in 2001], but those things don't happen every day.
"We needed a special partnership, but we collapsed after that."
India's demise was hastened by the taking of the second new ball during the Dravid-Ganguly partnership and finishing with the last six wickets for 61.
Brett Lee fought back from a clobbering to claim the huge wicket of the in-form Dravid just when the stylish Indian vice-captain looked set for his 17th century in 74 Tests.
The tearaway pace bowler was caned for 23 runs off nine deliveries with the second new ball before he got the Adelaide Test double centurion to edge to wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist on 92.
Dravid gave another classical batting display stretched out over five and a half hours and 244 balls with 13 boundaries.
He put on 93 valuable runs for the fifth wicket with Ganguly, who fought back after being struck on the back of the head by a nasty delivery in the fifth over of the day.
Impressive left-arm paceman Bracken dismissed Ganguly four overs later when the skipper dragged a delivery on to his stumps to be out for 73 with India only 66 runs ahead at 258 for six.
Ganguly was forced from the ground on 16 when he turned his head into a Williams lifter but returned to the fray later in the day.
It created the rare coincidence of both skippers retiring hurt in the match after Australian captain Steve Waugh was hurt on Sunday only to return later to score 19.
Williams ripped through the shaky tail with Agit Agarkar bowled for one after being dropped by Gilchrist without scoring and Anil Kumble going two balls later, leg before wicket for a duck.
He then had Zaheer Khan snapped up by Matthew Hayden at slip for one and Ashish Nehra became Hayden's third catch of the innings off leg-spinner Stuart MacGill for a duck.
"That was one thing we spoke about before play about maintaining the pressure and the wickets would come, that got away from us for a little while, but we came back with the new ball," Williams said.
Australia must win the Melbourne Test to go to Steve Waugh's farewell Sydney Test on Friday with a shot at winning the series after the setback of going down in the second Adelaide Test by four wickets after scoring 556 batting first.
The Australians had to work hard for wickets for much of the fourth day and grabbed the prized scalps of Sachin Tendulkar (44) and V.V.S. Laxman (18) in the middle session after the tourists went to lunch at 109 for two.
Williams claimed the psychologically important wicket of Tendulkar with one that left him off the pitch, the attempted drive finding Gilchrist.
It was Tendulkar's highest score of an underachieving series after previous scores of 0, 1, 37 and 0.
The Little Master looked to be re-gathering his touch in his 79-ball stint in 107 minutes as he put on 87 for the third wicket with Dravid.
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