The Indian bowlers let the game slip from their hands as Shaun Marsh and Peter Handscomb outplayed them on Day 5 of the Ranchi Test to keep Australia in the fray to retain the Border-Gavaskar series. With the match ending with a draw, Australia still hold the advantage as the holders of the trophy.
After a lot of debate about the condition of the wickets in the first two Tests of the series, Ranchi provided a proper Test track. After winning the toss, Australia elected to bat first, but India fought admirably to ensure that they stayed in the game with vital breakthroughs early in the day. With the pitch being nothing but placid, the Indian pacers maintained their line and length well, but all that everything was negated by Steve Smith and Glenn Maxwell, who forged an impressive partnership to win Day 1 for Australia, who ended the day at 299/4. En-route to his hundred, Smith also crossed 5,000 runs in his Test career.
Steve Smith is considered to be one of the best contemporary Test batsmen and he proved yet again why he has been regarded as one. He provided another master-class in batting, by knocking in an unbeaten 178 to help Australia get to a commanding total of 451 in the first innings. But in the day that saw the fortune fluctuated at every other moment, Jadeja took the honors by ending up with figures of 5/124.
Starting the first innings, India also got off to a great start with KL Rahul partnered with Murali Vijay making use of the good conditions. India looked on their way to finishing the day on top, but the Karnataka opener wasted another good start as he departed for 67. Vijay and Pujara played the remaining overs to end the day taking the Indian score to 120/1.
It was the day of the stoic Cheteshwar Pujara, who lit up Ranchi with a perfect display of patience as he struck his 11th Test century. Vijay, though, being his perfect ally for the major part of the innings, scoring 82 runs, losing his wicket while attempting an aggressive shot off Steve O'Keefe.
For Australia, Pat Cummins put up a fiery spell as he picked up 4 for 59 on his comeback to Test cricket, and also ensured that India did not take control of the match. However, that didn’t affect Pujara and later Wriddhiman Saha as the duo ensured that India finished the day at 360/6.
If Day 3 was the advert of things to come, then the fourth day was the day when the genius of Pujara was on full display for the entire cricketing world to see. Despite batting the entire third day, Pujara looked as fresh as ever.
Pujara and Saha put on a record seventh-wicket partnership of 199 runs, which helped India put up a colossal 603 runs in the first innings. After the duo took India to a position of strength, Ravindra Jadeja cracked a quick-fire fifty, which took the score past 600 while the lead was extended over 150.
After the hosts declared at 603 for 9, Jadeja picked two wickets in the form of David Warner and Nathan Lyon late in the day to end Australia’s miserable day at 23/2 while putting India in a strong position to win the match.
The Aussies came out for the last Day with a renewed sense of vigor as Renshaw and Steve Smith played with composure for nearly an hour and a half. However, that did not last long as Sharma trapped Renshaw LBW with a perfect inswinger after sending a barrage of short balls to unsettle him. The momentum shifted in India’s favor in the very next over, as Jadeja got rid of Smith as well
However, just as the Test match had progressed so far, Australia came back into the match through Peter Handscomb and Shaun Marsh who dominated the proceedings by sharing a 124-run fifth-wicket partnership in 373 balls. While Marsh negated the rough patch, exploited by Jadeja, Handscomb used his feet to a great extent to frustrate Ashwin. The duo batted for close to 62 overs, and despite Marsh and Maxwell falling at the fag end of the day, it was never enough to win the Test.
We now head into the last Test at Dharamsala, beginning on March 25, with Australia holding the slight advantage as the holders. India will have to win the match to regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy and the way the series has progressed one can only guess which way the series will go.