Vol. 4 Num 213 Wed. December 31, 2003  

Aussies draw level

Australia defeated India by nine wickets to level the series 1-1 and set up an emotionally-charged farewell for skipper Steve Waugh in this week's final Test.

Chasing 95 runs to win at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Australia scored 97 for one for the loss of Justin Langer's wicket for two, to leave the series all square heading into the decisive fourth Test starting in Sydney on Friday.

First-innings heroes, double-centurion Ricky Ponting and century-maker Matthew Hayden steered Australia home before a healthy final day crowd of 29,262, who took advantage of free ground entry.

Man-of-the-match Ponting hit the winning runs, a boundary off Anil Kumble, to finish unbeaten on 31 with Hayden crashing nine fours in his 53 not out.

"The last six Tests against India have all been great contests, you couldn't have better cricket, it's an uncomfortable pressure when you're one-nil down but it's something you occasionally need to lift yourself and we lifted in this game," Waugh said.

Indian skipper Saurav Ganguly said his team had failed to capitalise on a great position after opener Virender Sehwag cracked 195 to have the tourists at 278 for one an hour after tea on the first day.

It was a crucial victory for Waugh's men, who trailled 1-0 in a home Test series for the first time since losing to South Africa in the second Sydney Test by five runs in January 1994.

Now the Australian team will be aiming to give their captain a fitting send-off in his home city of Sydney.

India put the acid on Australia with a sensational four-wicket win in the second Adelaide Test after fighting back from a mammoth first innings total of 556.

Australia have not lost a home series since going down 2-1 to the West Indies in 1992-93.

Langer was the only Australian wicket to fall in the meagre run chase, although television replays suggested the little left-hander may have been unlucky.

New Zealand umpire Brent Bowden took some time before raising his finger to give him out leg before wicket to Ajit Agarkar with the Australian total on nine.

India will be without left-arm strike bowler Zaheer Khan for the final Test with hamstring trouble, which restricted his bowling in the Melbourne Test and kept him off the ground on the final day.

India, who had won three of their previous four Tests against Australia, threw away their chance in this Test when they slumped from 278 for one in the first innings on Friday, only to be all out for 366 losing their last nine wickets for 88 runs.

Australia batted for almost 10 and a half hours for 558 and a crushing innings lead of 192 with Ponting compiling a Test-best 257 and Hayden 136 to set up victory.

LET'S CELEBRATE: Australia's Matthew Hayden (L) and Ricky Ponting swap the high-five after defeating India in the third Test at Melbourne yesterday. PHOTO: AFP