RANCHI: Gritty half-centuries from Peter Handscomb and Shaun Marsh enabled Australia to hold out for a draw in the third Test against India on Monday, leaving the four-match series tantalisingly poised at 1-1.
Australia, who began their second innings 152 runs adrift of the hosts, were in deep trouble after being reduced to 63-4 at the JSCA International Stadium in Ranchi before Handscomb (72 not out) and Marsh (53) put on 124 for the fifth wicket.
The tourists eventually reached 204 for 6 at stumps on the fifth and final day, after the hosts made a mammoth 603-9 declared in their first innings.
India’s Ravindra Jadeja claimed four wickets to return overall match figures of 9-178 at India’s newest Test venue.
But it was Cheteshwar Pujara (202) and Wriddhiman Saha (117) who were the main stars of the match for India after their 199-run seventh-wicket stand on Sunday.
The left-right batting combine of Handscomb and Marsh outmanoeuvred the Indian bowlers during their 232-minute resistance, which was broken only late in the final session.
Jadeja dismissed Marsh and his fellow spinner Ravichandran Ashwin then claimed the wicket of first innings centurion Glenn Maxwell for two, giving India brief hope of a dramatic final twist in the tale.
But a composed Handscomb played out the remaining few overs with Wade for company as Australia avoided defeat in their 800th Test.
“I’m proud with the way the boys were able to stick it out today,” said Australia skipper Steve Smith. “The way Marsh and Handscomb batted was fantastic. I thought they played beautifully. They didn’t look like they were getting out for a while. I’m really proud of them.
“It was a pretty nice wicket so it was important to score big first innings. India batted beautifully. It was nice to be among the runs.”
Jadeja, who claimed the prized scalp of Smith for 21, caused problems for all the Australian batsmen after the tourists resumed the day on 23-2.
Fast bowler Ishant Sharma trapped Matt Renshaw lbw for 15 in the morning session after an altercation between the two players seemed to have affected the left-handed batsman’s concentration.
But it was Smith’s wicket that brought a raucous home crowd to its feet after a quiet first hour of play.
Smith, who scored an unbeaten 178 in the first innings, tried to pad away a vicious turning delivery from Jadeja but it spun from outside leg to rattle the right-hander’s off stump.
Australia’s comeback paceman Pat Cummins claimed four wickets, including that of Virat Kohli (6) who has managed just 46 runs in the series.
Kohli, who injured his shoulder while fielding on the opening day, did not take the field for the rest of Australia’s innings but batted at his usual number four position.
Speaking after the match, Kohli said the hosts had given it their all and the series was now set for a riveting finale, with Test cricket’s two top-ranked teams due to resume battle in Dharamsala from Saturday.
“We’ve played some really great cricket. We want to continue the same. We’ve given out 120 percent in this game, and that’s what matters,” said Kohli. “As long as we keep doing that, I’m sure we’re going to be in good positions in Test cricket. Another game in Dharamsala to go, and we’re ready for it.”
Constant run-ins between the players of the two top sides continued to enliven the intense rivalry that reached boiling point in the previous game when Kohli accused Smith of abusing the decision review system.
AUSTRALIA (1st Innings) 451 (S.P.D. Smith 178 not out, G.J. Maxwell 104, M.T. Renshaw 44; R.A. Jadeja 5-124, U.T. Yadav 3-106).
INDIA (1st Innings) 603-9 declared (C.A. Pujara 202, W.P. Saha 117, M. Vijay 82, K.L. Rahul 67, R.A. Jadeja 54 not out; P.J. Cummins 4-106, S.N.J. O’Keefe 3-199).
AUSTRALIA (2nd Innings, overnight 23-2):
D.A. Warner b Jadeja 14
M.T. Renshaw lbw b Sharma 15
N.M. Lyon b Jadeja 2
S.P.D. Smith b Jadeja 21
S.E. Marsh c Vijay b Jadeja 53
P.S.P. Handscomb not out 72
G.J. Maxwell c Vijay b Ashwin 2
M.S. Wade not out 9
EXTRAS (B-9, LB-4, NB-3) 16
TOTAL (for six wkts, 100 overs) 204
FALL OF WKTS: 1-17, 2-23, 3-59, 4-63, 5-187, 6-190.
BOWLING: Ashwin 30-10-71-1; Jadeja 44-18-54-4; Yadav 15-2-36-0; Sharma 11-0-30-1 (3nb).
RESULT: Match drawn; four-match series levelled at 1-1.
UMPIRES: C.B. Gaffaney (New Zealand) and I.J. Gould (England).
TV UMPIRE: N.J. Llong (England).
MATCH REFEREE: R.B. Richardson (West Indies).
MAN-OF-THE-MATCH: Cheteshwar Pujara.
FIRST TEST: Pune, Australia won by 333 runs.
SECOND TEST: Bangalore, India won by 72 runs.
FOURTH TEST: Dharamsala, March 25-29.
Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2017