Having watched two teams bat for 347 overs in their respective first innings over four days, almost surprisingly, this game was set up for an exciting finish as the final day in Ranchi got under way. India had batted for 210 overs to get themselves a 152 run lead. That was enough to have them in the position of being the only team that could win this Test, and Australia needed to bat the majority of the fifth day to secure themselves a draw. In the end they managed to do just that, but the morning session gave some hope of something happening other than batsmen grinding out patient runs.
This was a fifth-day pitch, but it was still easier to bat on than the Pune pitch on day one or the Bangalore pitch was on day three. Even when Ravindra Jadeja was bowling into the rough outside the left-handers off stump there wasn’t massive turn, but with Jadeja that is no bad thing. We have seen over the course of this Indian “grand” home season that when the pitch turns big he is less of a threat. The ball does too much. He is at his best when the ball deviates just enough. As England showed in their chastening series defeat to India, even on a fairly decent fifth day pitch India’s bowlers are very dangerous.
While Jadeja bowled from the very start of the day’s play, Virat Kohli had seamers from the other end. Neither Ishant Sharma or Umesh Yadav looked threatening for the first hour as they bowled wide outside the off stump and the Australians happily left the ball alone.
There were any number of theories as to why the captain was doing this, none made much sense. Ravichandran Ashwin is India’s premier bowler. In the 11 matches that India have played before this one got under way Ashwin had 76 wickets, 18 in the first two Tests of this series. India’s best chance of victory rested with him, surely
Then Ishant took a wicket. Once he actually attempted to bowl at the stumps he, unsurprisingly, looked more of a threat, and a ball that kept low did for Matt Renshaw who had looked in really good shape until a grubber crashed into his pads to dismiss him LBW.
Still, Australia had Steve Smith at the crease. Smith had batted for 361 balls without getting dismissed in the first innings. His 178 not out has been over shadowed by Cheteshwar Pujara’s marathon innings but it was a hugely impressive effort from the Australian captain.
Three balls after Renshaw had been dismissed by Ishant something inexplicable happened. Smith, the man who has judged line and length better than anyone in world cricket for the last two years, left a ball from Jadeja that pitched outside leg stump and crashed into his off peg. Australia had battled so hard for almost the whole first session and that good work was undone in the space of three minutes.
Ashwin bowled one over just before the lunch break, and he looked threatening from the very start. But with Ishant getting the solid Renshaw it is very hard to be critical of India’s persistence with him.
With Australia reeling at 63 for four there was real excitement that this ponderous Test would have a decent finish, but in the end the pitch had the last say. On days four and five there were three wicketless sessions. The hope for deterioration in the surface never arrived and in the end Australian saw out the draw with ease. For all the wringing of hands and clutching of pearls about pitches that turned in Pune and Bangalore, it is ones like that in Ranchi hat are the real danger for Test cricket.
Slow and low pitches that give nothing to the bowlers and make stroke play nearly impossible lead to terrible cricket. 1258 runs and 25 wickets in 437.3 overs across five days does far more harm to the sport than a Test where the ball turns from the beginning and the match finishes in three days.
Credit needs to be given to Australia for the way they fought for this result having fielded for 210 overs. That they lost the tenacious Renshaw and the brilliant Smith and still saw out the match for a draw is impressive.
Peter Handscomb continues to impress in his short Test career. In seven Tests the 25-year-old has made two centuries and three fifties. Before this innings his series was one of unconverted starts, but his stubborn resistance that saw him face 200 balls for his 72 not out took his team to a draw when they could have stumbled to an embarrassing defeat.
Shaun Marsh, picked for this series ahead of Usman Khawaja, made his second half century of the series. Many questioned this decision, but Marsh has contributed. It is doubtful that he will ever be the batsman that the Australian management think he can be, but two fifties in trying circumstances is a decent return.
Handscomb and Marsh put on 124 runs in 62.1 overs to secure a draw for their team, but when both Marsh and Glenn Maxwell fell in quick succession that was a little frisson of excitement, but it was too little too late.
Kohli kept the players in the field until the very last moment, much to the chagrin of umpire Ian Gould who seemed keen to get off the field for a beer and smoke. These teams go to Dharamshala with the series level at 1-1. Let’s hope these two teams get a pitch that gives them a chance of one or other side winning this series.