Australia conjure block magic

Captain Smith chuffed with performances of Marsh and Handscomb after battling draw, feels momentum with visitors heading into decider.
 

Published: 21st March 2017 02:13 AM  |   Last Updated: 21st March 2017 02:13 AM   |  A+A-

Australia middle-order batsman Peter Handscomb survived many anxious moments, but stayed put to score an unbeaten half-century and salvage a draw for his team on the final day of the third Test at JSCA Stadium in Ranchi on Monday | BCCI

Express News Service

RANCHI : The scorecard for the third Test will say draw, and if you were living under a rock, it would seem like another drab game where batsmen made merry on a surface that many feared would not last three days.

But if India and Australia players look back over a drink after the series, they will take home lots from Ranchi’s first brush with Test cricket. Teams will now focus on the fourth and final Test with the Border-Gavaskar Trophy on the line, and all eyes are already on what kind of wicket Dharamsala will offer for its maiden Test.

Australia captain Steve Smith was asked about momentum, which is an overused word. In cricket, there is no such thing, as we have seen this series. Nobody gave Australia a chance before Pune, but three Tests later, they have done a remarkable job, considering the fact that they hadn’t won a Test in the sub-continent for nearly a decade.

And here they are, with one hand on series, with a draw enough to retain it. “If there's anything called momentum, it’s with us. India would have expected to bowl us out, and I’m sure they're hurting. It's 1-1, and we have the decider in Dharamsala, which is exciting, and we can’t wait,” said Smith.

He has reason to be excited. Particularly after the resilience and grit his young batsmen showed despite the captain failing to contribute in the second innings. When Smith walked out with Matt Renshaw on Monday, the Aussies were 129 behind, and had to negotiate Ravindra Jadeja, expected to bowl a lot on rough spots around the middle and leg-stump. But they batted 92.4 overs on the final day and lost just four wickets.

There might not have been demons on the pitch, but having fielded for 210 overs, fitness and mental toughness were bound to be tested, with close-in fielders constantly on the ears. Jadeja bowled the morning session unchanged, often getting the ball to jump. But unlike England, who crumbled on a similar surface in Chennai on the final day, Australia showed discipline.

That they did lots of homework in Dubai — creating scenarios and batting on manually-designed pitches like these — came to their aid. It was down to executing what they had learned.

Renshaw showed it for 84 balls, before Shaun Marsh (53, 197b) and Peter Handscomb (72, 200b) during their 124-run stand for the fifth wicket conducted a masterclass on final-day batting in India. Not many visiting teams save Tests on the final day in Asia, and it was something Smith wanted his team to do. If not win, save the game.

“They had magnificent plans, backed their defence for long, and to see the game out was outstanding. I'm proud of them. That's something we've been talking about, being resilient and sticking out the tough times. The way Petey and Shaun did that was outstanding,” Smith noted.

Having come together after losing Renshaw and Smith in successive overs, the duo faced a huge task. Obituaries were being prepared at the press box, and though Indians had managed to come out of jail previously, two unheralded Aussies doing it was unthinkable.

But then, there is a reason cricket is called a game of uncertainties. Virat Kohli ensured no easy runs by asking pacers to bowl way outside off, while Jadeja kept the other end tight to end with figures of 44-18-54-4. But in Ravichandran Ashwin, they had some pressure-release, as the off-spinner had an ordinary day, with Australia picking 11 boundaries off him.

“It's a great sign, with everyone contributing. They're in good form, and we've had a good three Tests, played some good cricket,” Smith concluded.
venkatkrishna@newindianexpress.com

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