India vs Australia: Ranchi's flat pitch defeated both sides, but draw leaves series tantalisingly placed
Australia have done far better than anyone would have suspected, India have underperformed after a long season; the result has been some fascinating cricket.
It was a slog, but we got through it. 437.3 overs of cricket that saw 1258 runs and 25 wickets. There was a brief moment at the start of day five that suggested we could have a positive result, but in the end the Ranchi Test finished in a tame draw. The pitch, for all of the wailing from the visiting press before the match began, was flatter than a can of Coca-Cola after a trip on a rollercoaster.
The cricket being so ponderous allowed the associated nonsense that has been so rampant in this series to take hold. We had Virat Kohli injuring his shoulder, Glenn Maxwell make a joke about hurting his in a similar fashion and then people accusing Steve Smith of mocking Kohli’s injury when he did nothing of the sort. We have even had VVS Laxman unadvisedly mentioning the untimely death of Phil Hughes when talking about the incident. Once there were shoulder-grab truthers on social media, this bad-tempered series reached its nadir. And there is still one more Test to go for us to further scale the nonsensical peak.
It has become increasingly difficult to focus on the cricket with the circus that has surrounded this series, and in this Test it was even harder given that the slow and low pitch made it arduous to score runs or take wickets. The only bowler who seemed to have the ability to get something out of it was Pat Cummins. The 23-year-old quick bowler was back in Australia’s Test team after a six and a half year absence, and he was hugely impressive.
Injury has blighted his career since it began, but a fit again Cummins was straight back in the team when Mitchell Starc wasn’t available. Cummins took three of his four wickets with bouncers as he managed to get the batsmen jumping around where others failed.
Then there was Ravindra Jadeja who is now the leading wicket-taker in this series. He claimed nine wickets in Ranchi, but his economy rate was even more impressive. Jadeja has conceded 2.12 runs an over in this series, in the second innings in Ranchi he bowled 44 overs conceding just 54 runs as he sent down 18 maidens. For long stretches in this series, Jadeja has out-bowled Ravichandran Ashwin; few would have expected that from him.
While Jadeja and Cummins both found a modicum of success, this was a match that was dominated by batsmen grinding out runs by batting for long periods of time. Man of the match Cheteshwar Pujara was the player who did the most grinding on his way to 202 from 525 balls. No Indian has batted for longer in a Test match innings, and his marathon knock had its own beauty to it. The DVD highlights of him nudging the ball for a single won’t be on many people’s wish-lists, but the self restraint and perseverance involved in batting for that length of time was impressive even if it wasn’t enthralling.
Pujara is now the leading run-scorer for India in the 12 matches they have played at home this season. Bearing in mind how brilliant Kohli has been (before this series against Australia, if not during it) Pujara’s efforts are remarkable. If India do make it through this home season without losing a Test series, they will have a lot to thank Pujara for.
The other massive innings was from Smith, who reached 178 not out from 361 balls, as Australia managed 451 runs in their first innings. Smith’s contribution to his team is now bordering on the ridiculous. His Test average of 60.98 is otherworldly, his 5123 runs from 53 matches is outrageous, his consistency is beyond impressive. Smith is in the process of putting together one of the best ever Australian batting careers, if he can lead his team to a series win in India he will already be on his way to captaincy greatness as well.
Smith was partnered Maxwell in a stand that was worth 191 runs as Maxwell scored his maiden Test hundred. Maxwell is best known for his white ball exploits, but he has a fine first-class record that is comparable with his contemporaries. Despite others coming in to the side and failing, Maxwell has only been used as a spin-bowling all-rounder in Asian conditions. Of his four Tests, three have been in India and one has been in the UAE. While Australia persisted with Mitchell Marsh for 21 Tests over the last three years, Maxwell has sat on the sidelines.
In this match Maxwell finally did what so many have thought he was capable of. His 104 was measured and well constructed. It was the antithesis of what he is famous for. It should secure him a long run in the Test team, and given the chance to bat in more familiar conditions he could well bring his attacking approach to the side. Quick runs can win you Tests and few can score quicker than Maxwell.
In the end the flat pitch defeated both sides, but it does mean the series heads to its final match in Dharamsala with the score level at 1-1. Given a surface that provides something to batsmen and bowlers, these two teams are brilliantly matched. Australia have done far better than anyone would have suspected, India have underperformed after a long, long season; the result has been some fascinating cricket.
We can but hope that this edition of the Border-Gavaskar trophy gives us the conclusion that it deserves.
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