India’s historic draw against Australia in the third Test in Sydney turned the clock backwards. Batsmen fighting to save a Test on day five in the age of T20 cricket is a rare occurrence.
Hanuma Vihari and R. Ashwin’s unbeaten 62-run stand off 259 balls for the sixth wicket to deny Australia victory can easily be called the highlight of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy so far.
Ashwin had a stiff back, while Vihari pulled his hamstring in the course of the innings but the duo continued to fight amid verbal duels. Despite a fractured thumb, Ravindra Jadeja sat with his pads on.
Shiv Sunder Das, from the classical school of Test match batting, feels Ashwin and Vihari’s performance will hold India in good stead leading to the series-decider in Brisbane. “It was as good as a win because nobody gave us a chance. One of the best Test matches as India came from behind to secure a draw without Virat Kohli. It is good to see the team gelling so well,” he told Sportstar on Monday.
Das praised Vihari for his character. “When the team needed him to play a specific role, he did. India can take a lot of positives from this Test. They have a good chance to win at Gabba.”
The Pujara factor
Cheteshwar Pujara’s 50 off 176 balls in the first innings met with a lot of criticism as he failed to accelerate against a quality bowling attack.
He looked more in control in the second innings scoring 77 off 205 balls. The Test eventually came down to counting the number of balls to survive.
Das, who played 23 Tests for India as an opener, reasoned why it is unfair to talk about strike-rate in Test cricket. “Every player plays differently, and Pujara has a good role in the side. He won you the series the last time. You shouldn’t compare him with other players on the strike-rate front. It is a five-day Test match and you have to bat sessions. The team that wins most of the sessions wins the Test.
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“Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill and Rishabh Pant score quickly but you need a player who can control the game from the top order to the bottom. Pujara provides that stability. People see a lot of IPL and start talking when the strike-rate is less than 100 or 90. Pujara is one of my heroes because of the way he bats.”
Test cricket ‘most exciting’
Former batsman Dilip Vengsarkar and erstwhile chairman of the national selection committee, believes that such keen contests actually make Test cricket more interesting. “Test cricket is the most important and exciting format, it was once again proven in Sydney. Not many gave India a chance, but they came close to winning the game and earned a draw,” Vengsarkar said.
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Vihari batted for 220 minutes to finish on 23 off 161 balls. Ashwin, who batted for close to three hours, saw off 128 balls for his 39 not out. “Vihari was injured and at that point in time, what was important was to play out the overs. With Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon attacking from both ends, it was not easy. They were breathing down their neck all the time, but the way Vihari and Ashwin batted was outstanding,” Vengsarkar echoed Das stating how this partnership will motivate India for the final Test.
“Ajinkya Rahane led the side and scored a century after the 36-9 debacle in Adelaide, and that ton boosted the confidence of the unit. India won the Test match in Melbourne and as they play the fourth Test, this partnership will motivate India to do well.”
‘Should have gone for the kill’
Former India wicketkeeper-batsman Farokh Engineer watched the game from his home in Manchester and the 82-year-old believes that India should have ideally gone for the kill after the gritty 97 by Pant.
“Pant is a gutsy player. He will always be there in my team as he can win matches. He could have won the game for India had he been there, and after his innings, India should have gone for the kill. They should have won the game, but then, drawing the match is equally credible,” Engineer said.
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“Hats off to Ashwin. He took quite a few blows but stayed on at the crease. What a good decision it was to send Ashwin ahead of Jadeja (who was injured). Maybe, had Jadeja been there and had gone ahead, India could have won but then, in this scenario, Ashwin was there to block it off. He has tremendous tenacity,” he said.
The future of Pant, Vihari
Both Pant and Vihari dropped crucial catches while fielding and since none had clicked with the bat, there were doubts about their Test future.
Engineer is hopeful that both the players will continue to shine for India after the Sydney show. “Vihari held his ground magnificently. He held on with Ashwin. He was stuck on four for long - it was a great knock to save the match. The wicket was not bad at all, the odd one was picking, so it is an incredible achievement.”
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“Pant again proved that you can’t drop someone just because he has dropped a couple of catches. It’s like a package deal. Dhoni wasn’t a great keeper when he came into Test cricket, he was a batsman-keeper. So is Pant. He did not do much wrong (in the first innings), the catches he dropped were not as easy as people thought. The ball had a bit of bounce, so for me, Pant is the man, and India should persist with him. He was injured, but look at the way he batted,” Engineer said, adding: “He reminds me of my young days…”
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