Handscomb, Marsh inspire great escape

20 March 2017

Middle-order pair produce memorable partnership to ensure a Dharamsala decider

Australia v India Tests, Third Test


Australia’s bold aspiration for a series win in India that would defy both history and logic remains tantalisingly alive after they kept India’s bowlers at bay for a full day to force a draw few dared foresee.

A result that means the four-Test campaign remains balanced at 1-1 heading into the decider starting next Saturday, and one that seemed unfeasible when the tourists slumped to 4-63 (still 88 runs in deficit) before lunch on day five.

However, a game-altering fifth-wicket stand of 124 between Shaun Marsh and Peter Handscomb – who finished unconquered on 72 having prevailed for 200 balls and 261 minutes – thwarted the India bowlers who had appeared set to cut down the visitors’ batting line-up.

Handscomb, Marsh bat through middle session

As they had done to so many Australia teams previously, as they had done repeatedly to England during their 0-4 Test series defeat last year, and as they did so clinically to Steve Smith’s men at Bengaluru barely a week earlier.

Notwithstanding a final-hour wobble that saw Marsh (53 in almost four hours) and Glenn Maxwell (2) fall to the dual threat of spin and close catchers, Australia will be buoyed to claim a no-result under circumstances that would have brought certain defeat in campaigns not-so-far past.

Quick Single: Shoulder saga takes bizarre new twist

Rather like their overall history on the subcontinent, their track record batting on the final day of Test matches in India is not an especially proud one.

Only once (at Bengaluru in 1998) have they successfully chased down a target in excess of 150 to claim a win.

"Proud" Smith says Australia have the momentum

And the last time they batted any meaningful time to save a Test was at Calcutta in 1960 when they safely negotiated 51 overs for the loss of two wickets.

So given the state of this series and the threat that India’s spinners so clearly posed on the evidence tendered late on day four, to have finished today 6-204 when India waved the white flag seven minutes before stumps were scheduled, is a victory of a moral sense.

Even if any hope the tourists had of pocketing a fully franked victory had disappeared with their wicketless two-and-a-half sessions on the fourth day.

Magnificent Marsh helps keep series level

But they now head to Dharamsala with everything to play for, and a belief – that they can handle whatever challenge the mountain venue presents – which is stronger and more bankable than at any time in the recent past.

That includes the aftermath of the unforeseen 333-run first Test triumph in Pune.

With coach Darren Lehmann’s pre-emptive day four claim – that the remedial work they had undertaken prior to this tour starting five weeks ago gave him confidence they could save this Test –proved unerringly justified.

Stumps day four: I'm confident they can do the job: Lehmann

The manner in which Handscomb and Marsh stood firm and unruffled for almost four hours belied the calamitous start to Australia’s innings on Sunday evening, and the two telling blows that befell it this morning.

In the first hour, Australia nibbled away at the deficit and trimmed it by 25 runs from more than 16 overs, half of which were bowled by the seamers Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma.

Quick Single: Smith claims momentum for decider

With the world’s top-ranked Test bowler Ravichandran Ashwin filling the role of specialist fielder for almost the entire first session while the seamers banged away from the northern end, ridding the ball of its hardness and sheen.

When that brought no inroads, the home team aimed to unsettle their rivals via fielders’ voice rather than bowlers’ variations.

Shoulder saga takes bizarre new twist

Their target clearly identified as greenhorn Australia opener Matt Renshaw, who bore close catcher Murali Vijay’s unsolicited advice virtually every delivery he faced.

Those tensions then rose to the point where umpire intervention was needed after Renshaw pulled out of his batting stance as Ishant neared delivery stride, citing crowd movement in the vicinity of the sightsceen.

That prompted the India quick to run through the crease and hurl the ball in the vague vicinity of the stumps and the batsman, such was his palpable frustration.

For a 20-year-old Test novice who’s experience of India’s unique culture and conditions stretches back less than six weeks, Renshaw’s capacity to soak up the heat of battle as languidly as he fends off over after over has proved a revelation.

Smith bowled not offering as India fire early

But he perished amid the heat generated in Ishant’s fifth over of the morning that featured more verbal spite aimed at the left-hander than it did deliveries, one of which achieved its aim when it speared past the inside of Renshaw’s bat and thumped low on his front pad.

Though the batter could scarcely have seen umpire Ian Gould’s finger raised, so quickly was Vijay in the grille of Renshaw’s protective helmet to unleash another burst of triumphalism.

Shortly after, Kohli felt compelled to speak with his antagonist-in-chief, the inference being if the habitually over-the-top India captain is counselling you to calm down then you really do harbour worrying anger management issues.

Whether or not the mind games opened a hole in Renshaw’s technical equivalent can’t be quantified, but it was the fourth ball of that eventful over that brought the day’s first wicket after an hour-and-a-half of defiance.

And as so routinely happens in Test cricket, the loss of one brought the downfall of another although in circumstances that not even the most rabidly partisan India fan (or player) could have foreseen.

Smith becoming the third captain in as many Test matches this series to surrender his wicket by allowing the ball to strike stumps or body utterly unimpeded.

Match wrap: Series level after see-sawing draw

Using the Australia skipper’s preferred vernacular, and the term Kohli trotted out when he befell the same fate in the first Test, it was a ‘brain fade’ that was jarringly out of step with his devoutly studious knocks in the previous five innings.

Having batted 91 mins without betraying a hint of duress, and judiciously letting alone countless deliveries from Ishant thrown up wide of off stump in a ploy to get Smith driving on the fifth day surface.

His only genuine play and miss came in the Jadeja over prior to his downfall, when the captain plonked his bat on the off stump line the ball landed upon, and was saved by the vast amount of spin that saw it pass harmlessly by.

But at the start of his next over – just moments after India had been reinvigorated by Renshaw’s removal – Jadeja changed his line and fired the ball into the churned dirt beyond the right-hander’s leg stump.

From where Smith clearly expected it to skid on or find negligible grip, despite what he had gleaned from the previous over and even from David Warner’s dismissal the previous evening, and decided he didn’t need the extra armoury of his bat to provide additional cover.

The look on his face, as caught on the in-stump camera, as he turned and surveyed his off pole uprooted and flattened was that of a small child warned not to touch that fragile shelf ornament, last seen lying in pieces on the floor.

The joy uncorked within the India huddle was matched only by the surety with which some commentators declared the Test effectively decided, with Smith viewed as the sole Australian capable of batting out the day to see his team to safety.

But an unforeseen roadblock in the shape of the oft-maligned Marsh and Handscomb (playing his first Test series offshore) frustrated the Indians who found themselves unable to catch a break.

Kohli's regrettable DRS 'goof-up'

In much the same way as they had eluded the tourists throughout a luckless day four.

There was the harshly sharp chance that Karun Nair was unable to snare at bat-pad off Handscomb’s squeezed inner edge from Ashwin, when Australia’s eventual batting hero was on six.

Then the errant throw from the outfield that KL Rahul fired over the head of diminutive wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha, which handed Australia four bonus runs at a time when every single was a priceless objet d'art.

And most decisively, the pair of DRS calls that India referred only to have them struck down – one of them an agonisingly close lbw call against Handscomb (on 44) that was given not out by umpire Ian Gould on the field.

Handscomb halts India with match-saving vigil

The ball tracking technology that India hoped would bring an end to a partnership which, by that stage, had yielded 86 runs, showed the ball clipping the top of middle but – under the current DRS protocols – was deemed insufficient to overturn the naked-eye decision.

It was the same story when the second new ball was taken inside the final hour, and the review counter was re-set only to see fortunes remain unchanged as Marsh survived on 48.

Another shout from Ashwin, another refusal from Gould and another exasperating ruling from the ball tracking that indicated it was likely to have hit leg stump, but with insufficient force to overrule the umpire.

By that stage, Australia were just 15 overs from salvation and the Ranchi crowd, treated to a home Test match for the first time, had turned to cheering every video scoreboard shot of local hero MS Dhoni as he watched on from a corporate facility.

Ensuring the fans, unlike India’s steamed and stymied bowlers and fielders, left the ground happy.

If not altogether fulfilled.


India: KL Rahul, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Karun Nair, Ravichandran Ashwin, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav

Australia: David Warner, Matt Renshaw, Steve Smith (c), Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Glenn Maxwell, Matthew Wade (wk), Pat Cummins, Steve O'Keefe, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood

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