Wednesday 13 December 2017 / 08:54 AM

STUBBORN AUSSIES DEFY INDIA, GAIN ADVANTAGE

Stubborn resistance from Shaun Marsh and Pete Handscomb has helped Australia secure a draw in the third Test in Ranchi from a position of some discomfort at 63/4.

Marsh and Handscomb were united at the crease when the tourists were still 89 runs away from making India bat again, and they had just lost their inspirational captain to a shocking error of judgement when he left a Ravindra Jadeja delivery which pitched in the rough outside leg stump and removed his off stump.

At this stage it seemed anything other than a comprehensive Indian victory, without even having to bat again, was nothing but a pipe dream. But maligned veteran Marsh and relative newcomer Handscomb had other ideas, digging their heels in to deny India a spirit-boosting win.

The third Test was a see-sawing affair, much like the second, but that is where the similarities began and ended. The pitch in Ranchi was the subject of intense speculation and controversy in the lead-up to the match with certain sections of media claiming it to be a ‘doctored minefield’ and ‘rolled mud.’ Many claimed they doubted the match would last even three days on such a poor wicket.

All this turned out to be sensationalism at its finest (or worst) as the Ranchi wicket played true and lasted five days of hard-fought Test cricket – just as the groundsman told us it would. Who knew the man who prepared the wicket would know it best?

On a slow and low pitch it was always going to be tough going for the bowlers, especially the quicker men. But the slowness of the surface was also detrimental to stroke-playing, and meant bowlers could keep the scoring rate in check by bowling disciplined lines and lengths.

Crucially, Steve Smith won the toss and was able to have first crack at building a big score. Smith himself led the way with a fine 178 not out, continuing his dominance over India and putting a tumultuous week since Bangalore behind him. Smith was supported by Glenn Maxwell’s maiden Test hundred, an innings of maturity that many Australian fans had been waiting for from the ‘Big Show’. Finally, Maxwell had displayed more substance than show, and in doing so sealed his spot at number six.

Australia’s first innings total of 451 was good, but as was to be seen when India batted, they were at least 50, if not 100 runs short of where they should have been.

Ravi Jadeja was India’s shining light with the ball taking 5/124 from 49.3 overs and being the only Indian bowler with an economy rate of less than three runs per over. On a pitch that offered minimal turn to begin with, but showed signs of wear and tear as the innings wore on, Jadeja’s nagging accuracy outshone his more heralded teammate Ravi Ashwin who was disappointing once again. Ashwin let the pressure off far too easily with loose deliveries and put in a tired looking performance across the whole Test match.

The Australian camp would have been pleased with their first innings efforts, and even more so by Pat Cummins’ offering with the ball. The express quick, playing his first Test in almost six years, was the key in reducing India to 328/6 by claiming four wickets – three with sharp bouncers on a wicket lacking in bounce for the quicks. However, there was little Cummins, or any of Australia’s other bowlers, could do to stop Cheteshwar Pujara and Wriddhiman Saha from grinding out a 152-run lead for the hosts.

Pujara’s epic innings was a lesson in patience, and was a throwback to a bygone era of gritty, marathon Test match batting. India’s number three faced a record 525 balls for his 202 and displayed immense concentration, patience and skill to blunt Australia’s attack. Saha (117) supported Pujara with the best innings of his career to date and helped India gain the ascendancy in the match.

When captain Kohli, nursing an injured right shoulder, finally pulled the pin on India’s innings at 603/9 – helped along by Jadeja’s quick-fire 54 not out off 55 balls – it seemed India were well on top. Jadeja’s two wickets before stumps further stamped India’s position in the game. The left-armer continued his good game, adding to his five wickets from the first innings and his half-century, removing David Warner and nightwatchman Nathan Lyon.

At stumps on day four it seemed an Indian victory would be a formality, but no one counted on the resistance from Marsh and Handscomb. Marsh faced 197 balls for his 53, while Handscomb had reached 72 not out off 200 balls when the Test came to its conclusion, Australia on 204/6.

Australia’s escape is as good as a win for the visitors and will ensure they are the happier side heading into the fourth and final Test in picturesque Dharamsala, where they only need another draw to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

India, meanwhile, will be frustrated they were unable to close out the match, and will be tired and feeling the effects of a long home season. Ashwin, for one, was certainly showing signs of fatigue.

The Aussies have concerns of their own after Ranchi; they will be paying close attention to the recovery of Pat Cummins after the speedster bowled 39 overs in his comeback Test. The form of Nathan Lyon, affected by his finger injury, will also be of concern with the off-spinner only taking a solitary wicket for 245 runs from 79 overs since his 8 for 50 in the first innings in Bangalore.

Perhaps the tourists’ biggest worry will be the form of David Warner, with the dangerous opener looking out of sorts against the turning ball so far.

Heading to beautiful Dharamsala for the series decider, both teams have concerns – but the adversaries will also be pleased with how they batted in Ranchi. There is no doubt Australia will be the more satisfied team with the scoreline reading one Test all with one to play.

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About the author

Akash Fotedar

Akash is a Perth-based sportswriter and journalist who has come on board with Commentary Box Sports to provide expert cricket, AFL and tennis coverage. An experienced cricketer, Akash has played three seasons in England as an overseas pro and is still active in grade cricket in WA.

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