A tale of fightbacks

TEST MATCH DRAWN - three words that can get a fan thinking about how interesting Test matches are in nature. The International Cricket Council (ICC) has been looking to attract crowds in large numbers for Test cricket, but seldom do we see full houses in stadiums. Day-Night Tests were one of the proposed fixes, but the idea hasn't caught on in India yet. However, the question that stands in front of cricket fans is: would you prefer watching a Test match that ends inside three days with a result, or would you prefer watching one which goes into the final day, but ends in a tense or a battling draw?

What transpired in Ranchi certainly points to the latter. India did have the upper hand until the start of Day 5 when Australia got their guard up and didn't allow the host bowlers to run through their batting on a dusty wicket that was spinning. Most of the credit ought to go to Shaun Marsh and Peter Handscomb. Marsh has never succeeded in acquiring a lengthy stint with the Test team, while Handscomb's Test career is still in its infancy while being in the eye of a recent storm during the series.

The Aussies got a lot of the pieces of the puzzle right in their first innings. They scored 451 runs and the all-rounder's spot in the batting order, that hadn't yielded runs for them, worked wonders too. Steven Smith and Glenn Maxwell got together to bail their side out of a spot of bother and guided the score to respectability. Little did the visitors know that their total would be overhauled and how! A very good opening stand laid the perfect foundation for India to get close to the Australian total. Barring Cheteshwar Pujara, the Indian middle order succumbed to some good bowling and the patient batsman was left with Wriddhiman Saha who walked in at number 8, with India still over a hundred runs behind.

What followed was a true testament of how Team India has batted during their prolonged home series. 199 runs later, Pujara and Saha had scored a double century and a century, respectively; and India had a meaningful lead. Pujara also entered record books as he faced the most balls by an Indian batsman in an innings, en route to his third double ton in Tests. To cap things off, Ravindra Jadeja's counter-attacking 54 only added to Australia's existing woes! By the end of Day 4, India already had their sights on an unassailable lead, having picked up David Warner and the nightwatchman, Nathan Lyon. Despite this turn of events, no one could possibly have predicted the eventual outcome on Day 5.

The morning session of the final day belonged to India as they managed to dismiss Matt Renshaw and Steven Smith; the former's wicket having an air of déjà vu to it. Four years ago, Smith was dismissed by Jadeja in similar fashion - bowled leaving the ball With the backbone broken, it could have been that moment in the Test when one could sense a collapse - a very common occurrence on Day 5 in Tests.

Marsh and Handscomb had other ideas! They were in the mood to soak in some heat and grind the Indian bowlers. Grind and tire they did! They may have scored half-centuries, but these knocks will be right up there with their best Test hundreds. One more wicket and anything could have happened, Jadeja and Ashwin may have pounced over the remaining batsmen and it could have all ended in a flash. To their credit however, the Aussie duo stood their ground to put together a partnership lasting for 62.1 overs to guide their team home to a respectable draw.

With this draw, the Test series is now evenly poised. With one Test remaining, the two teams have all to play for, to push for a win, to end the series on a dominating high. While India will be ruing the fact that they couldn't get the unassailable lead, Australia will be relieved at getting out of jail. Dharamsala is the final frontier and a gruelling battle awaits us there.

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