Australians secure series

Cricket Third Test: Battling Indians salvage draw but Smith's men regain Border-Gavaskar Trophy

Australians secure series

In the end, Australia may have been left wondering what if the declaration had been made a little early as India hung on grimly to a draw in the third Test and avoided another whitewash Down Under.

Australia, already 2-0 ahead in the series after having won in Adelaide and Brisbane, thus regained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy with the fourth and final Test to be played in Sydney from January 6.

Set an improbable target of 384 from a minimum of 70 overs after Australia, overnight 261/7, made a delayed declaration at 318 for nine on another rain-curtailed first session, India stuttered to 174 for six in 66 overs when both teams decided to shake hands.        

Skipper MS Dhoni (24 n.o., 68m, 39b, 4x4) and R Ashwin (8 n.o., 49m, 34b) survived some edgy moments to play out 66 balls between them to escape with a draw when defeat for India loomed large after Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane were nipped off in quick succession with still 15 overs to go before close of play.

Given how the Indian lower order had been rolled over in this series, Aussies had a real sniff at victory but Dhoni and Ashwin put their heads down in the face of some aggressive bowling to deny the hosts their third straight win here at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Tuesday.

A total of 50 minutes of play was lost due to mild showers but Australia, already ahead by 326 runs, played it safe and waited for Shaun Marsh (99, 274m, 215b, 11x4, 2x6) to complete his century. The left-hander, however, was run out just one run short of what could have been his third Test ton.

While on the face of it Australia’s reluctance to declare may seem defensive, they had no real reason to give India a chance to stay in the series, especially in the backdrop of what had transpired on the final day of the Adelaide Test when India, powered by a Virat Kohli century, almost pulled off a win while chasing 364.

At the outset, it was clear that India’s option was to save the match on a fifth-day pitch. Surviving 70 overs appeared manageable as there had been not much wear and tear but the task became stiff once the top three batsmen were dismissed by the ninth over.

Shikhar Dhawan’s wretched run continued when Ryan Harris caught him plumb in front while KL Rahul, promoted to number 3, played another horrible shot to follow Dhawan to the change-room. The debutant tried to pull Mitchell Johnson from outside off, managed only a top-edge and Shane Watson ran back from the first slip to complete a good catch.

With their tails up, Australia were all over India and their chirping and chatting only increased when Kohli (54, 99b, 7x4) arrived at the crease. There was a clear attempt to unsettle the batsman who had been holding nothing back, either with the bat or with his tongue.

The pressure on Kohli would have been up manifold when M Vijay received a rank bad lbw decision from Kumar Dharmasena off Josh Hazlewood when the ball was clearly missing the leg-stump.

Kohli, however, cut off all the distraction and put on a stodgy stand with Ajinkya Rahane (48, 117b, 6x4). The two, who had shared a 262-run partnership in the first innings, had some luck going their way and Australia slowly began to deflate. Kohli brought up his half-century and Rahane looked solid as tea break was taken with India firmly on way to saving the match.

Kohli flicked the first ball after resumption straight to square leg fielder to reignite Australia’s hopes. Cheteshwar Pujara, who had been deliberately held back to deal with such a situation, weathered the storm and, together with Rahane, kept the Aussie bowlers at bay for 102 balls.

The right-hander, however, was done in by a Johnson special. Having rattled Pujara with a bouncer that crashed into the helmet, the left-arm paceman bowled an off-cutter to rattle the off-stump. Four overs later, Rahane miscued a pull off Hazlewood to lose his wicket.

Australia needed just one more wicket to dig into the tail but Dhoni, playing his last Test, and Ashwin batted India to safety with a little bit of fortune.
DH News Service

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