India could well have allowed Australia to lay one hand on the Border-Gavaskar Trophy after the visitors pulled off a fighting draw in the third Test in Ranchi on Monday. The fifth day’s play was nothing short of a great escape for the Aussies as Shaun Marsh and Peter Handscomb steered their side to safety with commendable fifties to ensure that the four-match series remained level at one-all with all to play for in the deciding Test in Dharamsala, starting this weekend. The drawn result will not favour India as Kohli’s men must now win the final Test if they harbour any hope of regaining the trophy.
Though India were expected to clinch the first-ever Test held in Ranchi, following the heroics of Cheteshwar Pujara (double centurion) and Wriddhiman Saha (117), the Kangaroos were allowed to get away with a draw despite trailing by 152 runs in the first innings as Marsh and Handscomb denied the hosts a breakthrough in the entire afternoon session on fifth day with a gritty match-saving partnership. With the writing almost written on the wall for the Aussies, after losing two quick wickets at close of play on the fourth day, India went to bed with some assurance that victory was on cards on the final day. This was more so because India had seen the back of opener David Warner overnight and fancied their chances of winning the Test when both Smith and young opener Matt Renshaw were removed just before the lunch break on fifth morning, leaving the Aussie camp in some distress. Going by the rich spinning form Ravindra Jadeja had shown in the first innings with his five-for, Kohli was banking on Ravi Ashwin to join Jadeja in delivering the knock-out punch in the post-lunch session. All such hopes of an Indian revival were crushed when Marsh and Handscomb batted on and on well beyond tea break to frustrate the hosts for more than 60 overs and 124 runs before the former departed for a well made 53 with just over half-an-hour to be negotiated. The defiance of Handscomb stood out in the final outcome as Australia settled for a deserving draw.
The end result would suit the Aussies better than India, simply because Kohli & Co would feel they allowed their rivals to get off the hook. On a fifth day wearing track, the Ashwin-Jadeja duo were expected to spin India to victory and unfortunately, it was only Jadeja who proved to be the most effective bowler having picked nine of the 16 Australian wickets to have fallen in the Test. With just two wickets to show for in 64 overs of bowling in the entire Test, Ashwin had a poor and forgettable Test by his high standards. The onus in now on India to force a win to clinch the series. Australia will be content even if the fourth Test ends in a draw.