With the series level at 1-1, India and Australia headed to Ranchi for the penultimate test match of the Border-Gavaskar trophy. This was going to be a crucial encounter for either of the teams. A victory for Australia would have meant that they would retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy, whereas an Indian victory would ensure that they would go a long way to reclaiming back the coveted trophy.
There were changes in the line-up of both the teams. For India, Abhinav Mukund made way for the fit again Murali Vijay. For Australia, Glenn Maxwell and Pat Cummins came into the side to replace the injured duo of Mitchell Marsh and Mitchell Starc.
With the pitch being the centre of attention in the past two tests, the build-up to the Ranchi test was filled with discussions regarding the nature of the pitch. There were apprehensions that it would be a rank turner like the last two tests, and the team that would have to bat last was in for disaster. Thus, naturally there were sighs and groans form the Indian fans when Smith won the toss, and decided to bat first.
However as the game progressed, it soon became clear that this pitch was not like those in the previous two tests. It was more favourable for batting and was expected to degrade as the game progressed. Australia took advantage of the favourable batting conditions and put up a decent 1st innings total of 451, after batting for close to 5 sessions. The main contributors of the Australian innings were Smith (178) and Maxwell (104). For India, Jadeja picked up a five-for.
When the Indians came out to bat, the pitch was still very much good for batting. Vijay and Rahul started off on a positive note and provided just the start India needed. They put on 91 runs for the 1st wicket before Rahul was dismissed for 67. The Indians headed into stumps on day 2 with the score reading 120/1.
Day 3 of the test match was going to be a crucial one from the Indian team’s point of view. They had to bat out the entire day and get as close to the Australian total as possible. On the other hand, the Aussies would be looking to bundle out the Indian batting line-up as quickly as possible and get a crucial 1st innings lead. Pujara and Vijay started the day on a positive note and kept the scoreboard ticking. Vijay finally departed after having scored 82 runs and the scorecard read 193/2.
From then on, there was a momentary blip in concentration and wickets kept falling at regular intervals. Pujara fell short of partners at the other end as he saw Kohli, Rahane, Karun Nair and Ashwin all depart cheaply. At 328/6, the Indians were in a spot of bother and it looked as if it would be Australia who would gain a crucial 1st innings lead.
However there was a different story in store. Pujara was joined in the middle by Saha, and they stitched together a record breaking partnership of 199 runs that extended into the final session of Day 4. These two virtually took India into a position where it would take only a miracle for the Indians to lose the 3rd test.
India finally declared at 603/9 after having taken a lead of 152 runs. Pujara scored his 3rd double century (202) while Saha scored his 3rd century (117) in test match cricket. In the process Pujara broke 2 records – the most balls faced by an Indian in a test innings and the most balls faced by a batsman in a test innings in India. He faced 525 deliveries. They were ably supported in the middle by Rahul, Vijay and Jadeja, all of whom scored half-centuries.
When Australia came out to bat in their 2nd innings, 8 overs still remained in the day’s play. Jadeja quickly snapped up 2 quick wickets, extracting sharp turn and bounce from the rough, and Australia were clearly on the backfoot. They went into stumps on day 4 at 23/2, still trailing India by 128 runs.
Day 5 was going to be one of survival for the visitors. Two of their best batsmen in the series, Renshaw and Smith were out there in the middle. They negotiated the early part of the opening session brilliantly. They soaked up a lot of pressure by playing out a number of deliveries. The Indian bowlers bowled their hearts out but to no avail. However just at the stroke of lunch, Ishant and Jadeja picked up the wickets of Renshaw and Smith in quick succession. The score read 63/4 and the Indian had Australia by the scruff of their neck. Two new batsmen, Shaun Marsh and Peter Handscomb were at the crease. The momentum was clearly with the Indians.
However, the batsmen in the ,middle seemed to have other plans. They stitched together a partnership of 124 runs, and in the meantime played out 62.1 overs. Thus, the possibility of an Indian win was clearly wiped out and only one result was probable from thereon; a draw. Australia ended day 5 at 204/6 with the match ending in a draw. Handscomb remained unbeaten on 72 after having faced 200 deliveries while Marsh scored 52 runs of 197 deliveries. It was an innings of top notch quality from both the batsmen which required application of grit, patience and perseverance of the highest order.
All in all, as has been the case throughout the series, a brilliant test match was played at the JSCA International Stadium Complex in Ranchi. Both the sides will have a lot of positives to take from this test match. The Indians will be happy that they had the upper hand for most of the match even after losing the toss. However, they will be a tad bit disappointed that they could not eke out a win, after having the Australians on the mat. The Australians will be happy with the application that their batsmen showed in the 2nd innings to avoid defeat. To lose just 4 wickets on a 5th day Indian pitch is something to be really proud of.
We look forward to the 4th test in Dharamshala, which is going to be a potential series decider. India will be needing an outright win to reclaim the Border- Gavaskar trophy. On the other hand, another draw will be enough to ensure that the Australians retain the much coveted trophy. However knowing the Aussies, it is safe to say that it is not what they will be playing for. They too will be going for an outright win. After all, if they manage a series win against the No 1 ranked test team on their home turf, that is something that they can really boast about.
The 4th test promises to be a cracker of contest. A lot will be at stake. Do look forward to it starting 25th March, 2017.