RANCHI, India, March 20, (RTRS): Resolute rearguard action by Peter Handscomb and Shaun Marsh helped Australia escape with a remarkable draw against India on the final day of the third Test on Monday.
Having conceded a 152-run first innings lead, the tourists were reeling when skipper Steve Smith departed, leaving his team at 63-4 with more than two sessions to go and the hosts confident of a win. But Handscomb and Marsh battled on through the entire second session to first erase the deficit and then ensure Australia were safe by the time they were separated. Handscomb made 72 not out, his third Test fifty, to help Australia finish on 204 for six before the players shook hands.
Marsh made 53, the duo frustrating India for nearly four hours with a dour 124-run stand to shatter the hosts’ chances of going 2-1 up in the four-Test series. “I’m very proud. They had magnificent plans, they backed their defence for a long time. To see the game out for as long as they did, it was an outstanding performance,” Smith told reporters. “That’s one of the things we’ve been talking about — being resilient and being able to stick out at tough times. The way Peter and Shaun did that was absolutely magnificent.” India, buoyant after making 603 in their first innings and with Ravindra Jadeja having taken a couple of late wickets the previous evening, came out hard at the Australians in the morning.
Overnight batsmen Smith and Matt Renshaw resumed with Australia on 23 for two and denied the hosts for about 21 overs before falling in quick succession. Left-arm spinner Jadeja relentlessly attacked the rough outside Renshaw’s off-stump, while Ishant Sharma bowled to Smith with a seven-two off-side field. Pumped up after an altercation with Renshaw, Sharma earned the breakthrough for India when he trapped the opener leg-before for 15 with a fuller delivery.
A bigger blow awaited Australia in the next over when Jadeja, who claimed nine wickets in the match to go with an unbeaten fifty with the bat, spun one past Smith’s advancing pad and uprooted the off-stump. Smith managed 21.
Australia coach Darren Lehmann had asked his team on Sunday to learn from the focus and application shown by India’s Cheteshwar Pujara and Wriddhiman Saha whose 199- run partnership gave the hosts their commanding position. Handscomb and Marsh certainly did, thwarting the Indian bowlers for 62 overs on a fifth day wicket at the Jharkhand State Cricket Association Stadium. Jadeja eventually dismissed Marsh and Ashwin sent back Glenn Maxwell but Australia were safe by then. “They batted really well,” India captain Virat Kohli said of Australia’s fifth wicket partnership that denied his team a victory. “They were four down at lunch, credit to them that they did not lose another wicket in the following session.”
The teams now move to Dharamsala for the final match from Saturday. Kohli said his spinners could have been more effective in the drawn third Test against Australia but for the softness of the ball used in the contest. “I think the hardness of the ball was a big factor,” the 28-year-old told reporters at the Jharkhand State Cricket Association Stadium. “When the ball was new last night, it spun well off the rough. Even this morning, it was spinning well. But in the middle session, the ball was not hard, so could not generate that kind of pace from the wicket.” After Kohli took the new ball, Ravindra Jadeja dismissed Marsh for 53, while spin partner Ravichandran Ashwin sent back Glenn Maxwell but Australia had reached safety by then.
“On day five, wicket slows down anyway. We took the new ball and got a couple of wickets. But the hardness of the ball in the middle session was a factor,” added Kohli. His counterpart Steve Smith was rather amused when asked about his opinion. “I haven’t really thought about it. We both use the same ball, you just got to do what you can with it,” he said. Kohli dismissed suggestion that he underbowled off-spinner Ashwin, currently the top ranked Test bowler, while persisting with Jadeja, who claimed nine wickets in the match. “The fast bowlers were more effective from the far end the spinners from the commentary end,” Kohli explained.
“Whenever Jadeja came to bowl, he picked up a wicket or two every three-four overs. It was very difficult to change him at that stage because he was bowling in good momentum. That was one of the factors.” Kohli said Jadeja’s second innings figures of 44-18-54-4 was the most economical he had seen and the left-arm spinner outperformed everyone on a pitch which did not offer much assistance to them. “You can leave aside Jadeja, because he really stood apart among the bowlers. But I think generally bowlers found it difficult to make things happen from the centre of the wicket,” he said.