Melbourne: Australia put themselves in a comfortable position by taking an overall lead of 326 runs by the end of the fourth day as the third cricket Test headed for an exciting finish, with India needing to go for a all-out win to keep themselves afloat in the series.
India’s first innings folded for 465, adding just three runs to their overnight score, with Mitchell Johnson polishing off the tail without much fuss. The hosts then rode on David Warner’s pacy 40, Rogers’ patient 69 and Shaun Marsh (62 not out) to reach 261-7 at close on a rain-hit fourth day at the MCG, taking an overall lead of 326 with three wickets in hand.
With one whole day left, Australia may add a few more runs before declaring the innings and set India a stiff target early tomorrow. India will have to play out of their skin to either win or save the match on a tricky fifth day track.
Interestingly, England is the only team to have successfully chased down a total of 300 plus on the fourth innings at MCG. They had made 332 for seven way back in 1929.
At stumps, Shaun Marsh and Ryan Harris were batting on 62 and 8 respectively. Earlier, resuming at an overnight score of 462/8, India could survive just 15 deliveries as Johnson dismissed Mohammed Shami (12) and Umesh Yadav (0) within a space of eight balls to earn Australia a 65-run lead.
Australia then got off to a rousing start in their second innings with David Warner (40 runs, 42 balls, 6 fours) attacking the Indian bowlers, giving his team an early push as they look to set an imposing fourth-innings’ target for India. After he was dismissed by Ashwin, Rogers and Shane Watson (17) tried to extend the lead as Australia took lunch at 90 for one in 22 overs.
However, rain intervention after lunch, resulted in a loss of 85 minutes of play and when play resumed, regular wickets fell to leave the hosts at 174/4 in 43 overs at tea, which was taken after an extended second session.
In the final session of play, India took three more wickets, dismissing Joe Burns (9), Brad Haddin (13) and Johnson (15) but Australia had put themselves in a comfortable position by then.
India kept a tight leash on the Australian second innings after a lengthy rain delay in the afternoon with Ishant Sharma (2-49), R Ashwin (2-56) and Umesh Yadav (2-73) taking two wickets each, while Mohammad Shami (1-75) snapping one.
Bad weather resulted in a loss of 85 minutes of play but once play resumed at the MCG, India tried to fight back with their impressive bowling performance.
Rogers (69 runs, 123 balls, 8 fours) and Shane Watson (17) tried to increase their lead further and they were nearly helped by Shikhar Dhawan, who dropped a tough one-handed chance at second slip, diving in front of R Ashwin (2-21) at first slip.
Rogers, who was batting on 33 at that time, was the batsman to benefit against Ishant Sharma (1-38) in that 23rd over of the innings. The breakthrough came two overs later though as Ishant this time had Watson caught behind.
Steve Smith (14) came out to bat and took Australia past the 100-run mark in the 26th over, adding 33 runs for the third wicket. Meanwhile, Rogers went on to score his fourth successive half-century of the series, getting to the mark off 81 balls, in the 28th over. Four overs later his partnership with Smith was broken by Umesh Yadav (1-55) when the young skipper was caught by Ajinkya Rahane as the leg slip finally came into play.
With just 20 minutes left in the session, Ashwin returned into the attack and dealt a big blow to Australia, cleaning up Rogers in the 41st over, the batsman looking solid until then. Marsh and Burns then negotiated the rest of the session without damage as Australia took tea at 174-4. After the break, Marsh and debutant Burns (9) looked to march on but were only able to add two runs when the latter was dismissed poking at a good length delivery from Ishant in the 46th over, snapped up by a diving MS Dhoni.
Brad Haddin (13) came out and threw his bat around to take Australia past the 200-run mark in the 55th over. But he didn’t last too long, caught behind off Yadav in the 56th over, although it wasn’t quite clear if he edged the ball. Mitchell Johnson (15) then added 32 runs with Marsh for the 7th wicket before trying to pull a short ball from Shami and was caught at midwicket.
Marsh though soldiered on and hit Ashwin for a six straight down the ground to bring up his 2nd Test fifty off 112 balls in the 69th over. Two overs later, Marsh helped Australia past the 250-mark, adding 27 unbeaten runs for the 8th wicket with Harris until close of play.
Earlier, Warner have the hosts a flying start when he came out to bat despite a bruised right arm to go with his already hurting left thumb. He took first strike and smacked Yadav for three fours in his first two overs, racing to 18 off just 12 balls. While he was at the crease, they were scoring at nearly six-per-over though things settled down a little after drinks break.
The Australian 50-mark came up in the 12th over, 38 off those coming off Warner’s bat. He was finally removed by Ashwin in the 15th over, LBW as the delivery hit him on the backfoot. Watson and Rogers then negotiated the six-plus overs left until the lunch break.