Thirty minutes before lunch, Peter Handscomb joined Shaun Marsh amid a Ranchi tumult. Their captain Steven Smith had just shouldered arms to let Ravindra Jadeja bowl him, symptomatic of a tired mind, the over after Matt Renshaw had also fallen. Australia were still 89 runs short of making India bat again; the hosts were circling hungrily.
Five hours later, Handscomb was still there and Marsh not long departed. The Test match was drawn, and the Border-Gavaskar Trophy bout remained locked at 1-1. Through batting of commendable calm and sure-footed technique, the Australian duo had thwarted India in a manner that will be a source of enormous satisfaction to the tourists. By getting out of a predicament few expected them to survive, they took the series to its final match.
Equally, India will be left to ponder why they were unable to close out this match in the manner of others during this elongated home season after the sublime innings by Cheteshwar Pujara. Certainly the Ranchi pitch stayed playable, but R Ashwin was unable to find a way through the Australian batsmen to provide the counterpoint to Jadeja's danger. Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav both bowled useful spells, but could not follow up Renshaw's wicket.
Ultimately, Australia's selection of a sixth batsman in place of the injured Mitchell Marsh gave them the batting depth they needed, not only to make a decent first-innings total but also to wriggle out of trouble on the final day. Before this match the visitors had gone 38 Test innings without a fifth-wicket stand worth 100 or more. In Ranchi, they managed to do it twice. Marsh and Handscomb's stand was worth 124, soaking up 62 priceless overs.
Smith and Renshaw had begun simply trying to bat for as long as possible, taking occasional scoring opportunities but stripping their games of risk. India's captain Virat Kohli began with Jadeja at one end and Yadav at the other, not calling on the offbreak's of the world's No. 1 ranked bowler Ashwin until the ball had lost much of its earlier hardness.
The plan to Smith appeared to be bowling wide of the stumps while trying to test the Australian captain's patience. He was comfortable in leaving plenty of balls alone while scoring from the occasional ball that strayed onto the stumps. Renshaw had a few awkward moments against Jadeja but overall held his shape well in dealing with the left-armer's variation between sharp turn and skidding straight balls.
Kohli replaced Yadav with Ishant, and he found a hint of movement from around the wicket. Renshaw's decision to pull away from the first ball of the 29th over of the innings seemed to raise Ishant's ire, and he hurled down a pair of bouncers in the same over to push the opener back, before thudding one into his front shin for the lbw verdict.
Smith had been safe in padding away anything Jadeja served up from over the wicket, but next over he failed to get his front leg far enough down the pitch or in line and heard the sickening noise of the off stump tumbling over. That error put Cheteshwar Pujara's enormous concentration in perspective, and left Marsh and Handscomb with much to do.
There were plenty of reasons for Marsh and Handscomb to feel overwhelmed when the afternoon session began, but neither was in the mood to give anything away. Their methods offered a contrast of left and right, plus Handscomb's penchant for getting down the pitch versus Marsh's long stride down the wicket and outside off stump.
A key over arrived midway through the session when Handscomb took 13 from an Ashwin over, compelling Kohli to take him out of the attack and switch Jadeja away from the end from which he had found spiteful turn to defeat David Warner and Nathan Lyon on the penultimate evening.
Handscomb and Marsh continued to accumulate either side of the interval, neither batsman doing anything outlandish but simply showing strong concentration and tight technique to frustrate the hosts, who had seemed so confident of victory little more than two hours before.
A pair of lbw appeals were referred by India but the day was going with Australia: Handscomb was struck on the back foot but the ball was not striking enough of the bails to avoid being deemed too high, and Marsh's miss of a flatter Ashwin delivery was not fatal because the ball had not quite straightened enough to strike leg stump squarely.
Both batsmen went on to half centuries and negotiated the early passages with the second new ball - India's last real hope of securing the rush of wickets they needed. Finally, Jadeja added a fourth victim when Marsh bunted a catch to short leg, and Glenn Maxwell soon squeezed Ashwin to silly point. But by then the match had all but petered out.
Kohli kept his men going beyond a point that others might not have, perhaps still believing in a miracle. Handscomb, though, was unperturbed, leaving Kohli to finally seek his hand in a gesture of concession and so send these sides to Dharamsala for the decider.
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