It was not that long ago that the Australian cricket team were derided over meek batting order capitulations.
Think back to the third and fourth Tests of the 2015 Ashes series, when Australia were shot out for 136 and 60. Perhaps cast your mind to last year’s Hobart Test match, where South Africa routed the hosts for just 85.
Or how about the side’s stream of five Test losses in a row in 2016?
Keen cricket fans remember or have been told of the stoic displays of Allan Border, he of bristling moustache and ninja-like concentration skills, or the lithe Steve Waugh, who turned batting into a game of Survivor.
In recent times, we’ve come to expect application and resistance from Justin Langer, Simon Katich and even Matthew Hayden, who could bash but also earned his right to do so by occupation of his wicket.
But watching the Australian cricket team’s Test game over the last few years has been like watching the latest horror flick: danger was ever-present. A quick burst could end everything.
This makes Peter Handscomb and Shaun Marsh’s marathon performance yesterday even greater. The odd couple of the team – Handscomb, a young terrier in his cricketing infancy and Marsh, who resembles a greying labrador in comparison – batted 63.1 overs to deny India a chance at winning.
— ICC (@ICC) March 20, 2017
After David Warner and Nathan Lyon’s dismissal to spin the previous night, those demons – those gremlins in the mind – had a chance to surface again.
Marsh and Hanscomb batted like their careers depended on it. For Marsh, who had shown only glimpses of his quality in his 22-Test career with four centuries, it was a watershed innings.
He had to lead the fight. It was gritty. He kept defending, kept talking to his junior partner. It wasn’t pretty. It was occupation at its finest.
Handscomb was positive, too. He played a few more shots, perhaps unburdened ever-so-slightly by youth. The 25-year-old had played some superb innings during the Australian summer against good attacks. But to stave off India, in India, against their spinners on a day five track, was as good as anything he has produced.
— Sportsbet.com.au (@sportsbetcomau) March 20, 2017
Skipper Steve Smith showed the way in the first innings with his unbeaten 178.
The pitch could be tamed, and so could the Indian bowlers.
Matt Renshaw, as a young opener finding his way in the game, has arguably been the side’s second-best the whole series. He certainly is the most consistent of their top order, overshadowing David Warner’s flaky contributions.
Perhaps Australian cricket fans can start to believe a little bit more in this team.
Australians like winners. But they like their cricket team to play a certain way: with conviction. With guts. With application. A team we can all get behind.
— cricket.com.au (@CricketAus) March 20, 2017
Mark down day five of the Third Test as a major milestone in Steve Smith’s team’s development. With one more match to play and the series locked up at 1-1, the Australians have the momentum to pull of their greatest triumph in modern times.