India showed incredible defiance to bat out the final day in a memorable draw with Australia in the third Test and take a thrilling series into a decider.
The tourists resumed on 98-2, chasing an unlikely 407 to win, and lost captain Ajinkya Rahane early on. Rishabh Pant countered with a sublime 97 and Cheteshwar Pujara dug in for 77 during an absorbing second session in which it seemed India could even pull off the third highest fourth-innings chase in Test history.
But after both fell before tea to leave Australia needing five wickets in the final session, Hanuma Vihari and Ravichandran Ashwin battled superbly to survive 256 balls to steer India to 334-5 at the close. Vihari’s unbeaten 23 off 161 balls was even more impressive given he batted for most of his innings with a hamstring injury, while Ashwin made 39 not out off 128 deliveries.
Australia captain and wicketkeeper Tim Paine dropped three catches, while his vaunted fast bowlers and off-spinner Nathan Lyon toiled on a pitch that did not deteriorate as much as expected. When sledging goes wrong – Paine’s insults backfire
The series remains level at 1-1 heading into the fourth and final Test in Brisbane starting on 15 January. India, who were bowled out for 36 in the first-Test defeat, need only a draw to retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy, while Australia have not lost at the Gabba since 1988. This was an enthralling finale, but the third Test will also be remembered for allegations of racist abuse against India players by members of the crowd at the SCG.
Cricket Australia said on Monday it could issue “indefinite” bans to any spectators found to have racially abused India players. Given Rahane fell to Lyon in the second over of the day, that India looked on course to execute one of the greatest run-chases of all time during the second session underlined what a special knock Pant played.
He had not kept wicket since being hit on the elbow by Pat Cummins on day three, but was promoted to number five and played his natural attacking game with aplomb to put the pressure back on Australia. Paine missed a catch to remove Pant for three and he punished the mistake ruthlessly, carting Lyon for three massive sixes as he reached his third Test fifty from only 64 balls.
He was dropped again by Paine on 56 – also off Lyon – and continued to attack, leading himself to the brink of a stunning century and India to 250-3 with plenty of time to score the further 157 required. But in the last over before the new ball, he skipped down the pitch to Lyon and sliced to Cummins at gully.
Pujara proved an excellent foil in characteristically watchful style as he steadily accumulated 77 off 205 balls before he was bowled by a sublime delivery from Josh Hazlewood. Vihari was injured and out of form, Ravindra Jadeja would have had to bat with a dislocated thumb if required and India’s tail is weak.
But Vihari and Ashwin, who has four Test centuries, played a defensive masterclass to stave off Cummins, Hazlewood, Lyon and left-arm fast bowler Mitchell Starc, while substitute fielder Sean Abbott also dropped Ashwin on 15. With their chances of victory fading, Matthew Wade and Paine in particular became increasingly vocal in trying to put off Vihari and Ashwin by sledging them, with the stump microphone picking up several barbed comments.
Yet the next over after an exchange with Ashwin, Paine dropped an edge from Vihari off Starc and, with it, Australia’s hopes of taking a 2-1 series lead, before he decided to shake hands on a draw with one over remaining.—Agencies