SYDNEY: A battered and bruised India team batted resiliently through the final day to snatch a remarkable draw in the third Test against Australia on Monday, leaving an engrossing series tied at 1-1 heading into the final match in Brisbane.
A hobbling Hanuma Vihari combined with Ravichandran Ashwin to defy Australia’s attack in a partnership over the last three hours of the match at the Sydney Cricket Ground that kept alive India’s hopes of a second successive series triumph Down Under.
The sixth-wicket stand was worth only 62 runs but immeasurably more in terms of morale for a squad that has endured quarantine, alleged racial abuse from fans and a catalogue of injuries.
“Our talk this [Monday] morning was all about showing character, fight till the end and not thinking of the result,” said India skipper Ajinkya Rahane. “A special mention to Vihari and Ashwin, the way they batted and showed their character. Looking forward to Brisbane now.”
Australia’s frontline bowlers, who skittled the tourists for 36 in the first Test in Adelaide, threw everything they had at the Indian batsmen on a day five wicket at Sydney Cricket Ground that did not deteriorate as much as they had hoped.
India finished on 334-5, 73 runs short of the victory target of 407 that Australia had handed them after declaring on 312-6 at tea on Sunday.
“We certainly created chances to win the game. Just did not hold our catches, myself in particular,” said Australia captain and wicket-keeper Tim Paine. “We have to cop the blame for that, wear it, move on and look forward to Brisbane.”
Earlier, a brilliant 97 from Rishabh Pant and a typically obdurate 77 from Cheteshwar Pujara had given India a glimmer of hope that they might just be able to chase down their imposing target.
Pant, who was a serious injury doubt on Saturday after taking a nasty blow to his elbow, slugged 12 fours and three sixes to take the game to the Australians.
The pair had put on 148 for the fourth wicket before Pant was caught at backward point three runs shy of his century to give off-spinner Nathan Lyon his second wicket of the day.
It was huge relief to the home side, who must have had flashbacks to Ben Stokes’s innings of 135 not out at Headingley in the 2019 Ashes that enabled England to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Pujara — who brought up 6,000 runs in Tests — was the chalk to Pant’s cheese, eking out his runs from 205 deliveries over 285 minutes before Josh Hazlewood finally got something out of the second new ball to penetrate his defence and shatter his wickets.
Once they departed, however, a draw was clearly the only target.
Vihari, clearly hampered having pulled up clutching his hamstring after running for a single before tea, scored at a rate that made Pujara look like a limited overs slogger.
His 23 runs came from 161 deliveries, while Ashwin was barely more expansive with 39 from 128 balls. At one stage, 41 deliveries passed without a run being scored.
Ashwin came out to bat ahead of Ravindra Jadeja, who dislocated his left thumb in the first innings to add to India’s long injury list.
Steve Smith was named man-of-the-match for his innings of 131 and 81 and Australia will be hoping he maintains that form at the Gabba, where they are unbeaten in 31 Tests going back to 1988.
But it will be a depleted India again at the Gabba, with fast bowlers Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav and batsman K.L. Rahul out injured. There are now doubts over the participation of all-rounder Jadeja, who dislocated his thumb in Sydney, and Vihari who could barely run during his rearguard knock.
AUSTRALIA (1st Innings) 338 (S.P.D. Smith 131, M. Labuschagne 91, W.J. Pucovski 62; R.A. Jadeja 4-62).
INDIA (1st Innings) 244 (Shubman Gill 50, C.A. Pujara 50; P.J. Cummins 4-29).
AUSTRALIA (2nd Innings) 312-6 declared (C. Green 84, S.P.D. Smith 81, M. Labuschagne 73).
INDIA (2nd Innings, overnight 98-2):
R.G. Sharma c Starc b Cummins 52
Shubman Gill c Paine b Hazlewood 31
C.A. Pujara b Hazlewood 77
A.M. Rahane c Wade b Lyon 4
R.R. Pant c Cummins b Lyon 97
G.H. Vihari not out 23
R. Ashwin not out 39
EXTRAS (LB-3, W-2, NB-6) 11
TOTAL (for five wkts, 131 overs) 334
FALL OF WKTS: 1-71, 2-92, 3-102, 4-250, 5-272.
BOWLING: Starc 22-6-66-0 (2nb); Hazlewood
26-12-39-2 (1nb); Cummins 26-6-72-1 (2nb); Lyon 46-17-114-2; Green 7-0-31-0 (2w); Labuschagne
RESULT: Match drawn; four-match series levelled at 1-1.
UMPIRES: R.J. Tucker (Australia) and B.N.J. Oxenford (Australia).
TV UMPIRE: P.R. Reiffel (Australia).
MATCH REFEREE: D.C. Boon (Australia).
MAN-OF-THE-MATCH: Steve Smith.
FIRST TEST: Adelaide, Australia won by eight wickets.
SECOND TEST: Melbourne, India won by eight wickets.
FOURTH TEST: Brisbane, Jan 15-19 (4:30am PST).
Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2021