Though it was cloudy and pleasant throughout the day, it was clear that India’s batting effort left the Australians exhausted. “To produce some of the balls that he produced to get wickets was exciting”, said Australia’s assistant coach David Saker. Impressively, they accomplished the mission without a major rearguard from Smith.
After a few overs to get settled, both players found a flawless balance between surviving and actually overhauling India’s 152-run lead by picking off loose deliveries.
The 124-run stand between the two batsmen where they played a little more than 60 overs will remain fresh in the memories of cricket fans for years to come.
Chasing a 152-run deficit in the first innings, Australia were at one time struggling at 63/4. So, finally, Australia lost their all wickets by scoring 451 runs. Two huge blows in two consecutive overs for Australia.
Ravichandran Ashwin almost got Marsh stumped in the final session, while Handscomb survived a review after being hit on the pad by a ball that, replays suggested, would have hit the top of the middle stump.
The tourists eventually reached 204 for 6 at stumps on the fifth and final day, after the hosts made a mammoth 603-9 declared in their first innings. Looks unlikely but someone did say that cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties.
After Handscomb, it was Marsh’s turn to bring up his fifty. “If we can get closer to the target and possibly extend the lead from there, I think it’s going to be a good game on hand”, Vijay told reporters.
However, Australia kept things tight leaving Vijay and Pujara (130 not out) just 13 runs in the first 10 overs of the day.
They were also courageous enough to attack anything loose, which was vital in erasing the deficit and preventing Virat Kohli from suffocating them with a ring of fielders in close. Reverse swing? “Hopefully”, Saker says. Repeat. I’m wearing whites, standing on grass, with an Australian logo on my chest, watching Cheteshwar Pujara bat. Marsh and Handscomb have batted really well and a draw is on the cards from here onwards.
Marsh narrowly survived a stumping chance on 38 in the first over after tea but was otherwise stout in defence.
The India medical staff will do everything in their powers to get the captain fit and ready for the final Test match, and India desperately need their skipper to be in the right frame of mind, in all facets, in Dharamsala.