Handscomb, Marsh pull off a draw for Australia on final day

Peter Handscomb and Shaun Marsh helped Australia pull off a great escape at the JSCA Stadium in Ranchi. With the series levelled at 1-1, the focus shifts to the final Test in Dharamsala.

Peter Handscomb on way to his half-century in Ranchi on Monday.   -  AFP

Close-in cordon breathing down on batsmen, two leading spinners on the hunt, and a Test to be saved on a fifth day pitch with variable bounce – the Australians needed to unlock this sub-continental conundrum.

The pressure was immense, much of the appealing was vociferous, but the Australians came up with an extraordinary escape act of skill and character to draw the third Test at the JSCA Stadium here on Monday.

Australia, once again, found its heroes when many expected the side, 129 runs behind India with eight wickets remaining overnight, to fold up on a surface with a significant rough.

Full scorecard and ball-by-ball analysis

All that pre-series preparation on low, turning tracks in Dubai paid off as Peter Handscomb’s influential 200-ball unbeaten 72 and Shaun Marsh’s determined 197-ball 53 shut out the host.

READ: Kohli lauds 'outstanding' Jadeja

Day five in pictures

The right-left pair kept India wicket-less in the middle session, added 124 runs, and importantly, ate up 374 balls for the fifth wicket.

And despite India striking twice in the mandatory overs, the match of fortune swings had essentially been saved byAustralia. Cheteshwar Pujara’s Man of the Match award would have come as little consolation for India.  

For Australia, Handscomb was the man of the moment. A natural stroke-maker who relishes stepping out to spinners, he displayed his defensive attributes, grinding it out in the middle.

When he moved forward, he went full stretch often breathing down on the ball. When Handscomb played back, he travelled deep into the crease.

There were also occasions when he, handsomely, coaxed the ball through the off-side field or whipped through mid-wicket.

Marsh’s temperament under stress has been questioned in the past but the southpaw did not wilt here.

He picked the length early and played the ball late. While his defence was firm, he also stepped out to on-drive Ashwin and forced Jadeja past mid-wicket.  

On those occasions when he hit the rough outside right-hander’s leg-stump, Jadeja posed a threat, particularly to the southpaws.

But in constantly attempting to target the rough, the other aspects of his bowling suffered. There was not much variation of trajectory on view.

Jadeja is quicker through the air and tends to land quite a few of his deliveries just short of a good length and gets them to hurry off the pitch; some turn, while others go through straight.

But the Australians stayed back and handled him capably off the back-foot. Against the right-handed Handscomb in particular, Jadeja needed to pitch the ball up more and spin the ball away from the middle-and-off stump in the manner of a classical left-arm spinner.

And since a right-left pair was at the crease, the right-handed Handscomb played a fair share of deliveries from Jadeja putting the bowler at a disadvantage as he aimed for the rough.

Ashwin was under-bowled in the first session, sending down just one over, the penultimate one before lunch.

The pair of Jadeja and Ashwin had momentum from Sunday evening going into the final day’s play and it was intriguing why India opted for a pace-spin combination straight up when the spinners were a greater threat with a harder, new ball on this pitch.

The off-spinner received longer spells in the following two sessions, got a few off-spinners to go sharply, made a couple of carrom balls to hiss off the track, but generally lacked consistency. He also needed to bowl an off-stump line to the left-handed Marsh.

Some of the Indian tactics seemed baffling. Keeping seven men on the off-side and having the pacemen bowl outside Steve Smith’s off-stump appeared a rather defensive ploy when India was attempting to win.

Finally, the dogged Smith was dismissed after not stretching his front leg to pad away a Jadeja delivery that pitched outside leg and crashed into the off-stump from the rough.

Left-handed opener Matt Renshaw shortened his back-lift to counter the pitch’s low bounce and displayed tenacity. He finally fell leg-before to a delivery that cut into him from Ishant Sharma.

Tailsmanic former India skipper M. S. Dhoni followed the action on his home ground but he could not lift the Indians.

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