Defiant India forces a draw in tense 3rd test vs Australia

·4-min read

SYDNEY (AP) — A battered and bruised India lineup survived the full fifth day to force a draw in the third cricket test against Australia and leave the series hinging on the final test in Brisbane.

India resumed Monday at 98-2, needing a further 309 to win at the Sydney Cricket Ground, and finished 73 runs short on 334-5 despite having only eight fit batters.

The India lineup was pushing for victory while an injured Rishabh Pant (97) and Cheteshwar Pujara (77) combined in a 148-run stand that put all the pressure back on Australia.

When Nathan Lyon removed Pant in the 80th over — the last over with the old ball — and Josh Hazlewood bowled Pujara eight overs later to make the total 272-5, the hosts had the edge going into the last session.

But Hanuma Vihari, hampered by a hamstring strain he picked up early while running through for a single, and Ravichandran Ashwin stonewalled together for 258 deliveries in a 62-run stand after India switched plans and pushed for a draw rather than risk chasing an unlikely win.

Ashwin, who was given out but successfully overturned the caught-behind decision, was hit on the body by a short ball and survived a dropped catch but finished unbeaten on 39 from 128 balls. Vihari faced 161 balls for his unbeaten 23, getting a late reprieve when he edged Mitchell Starc and Australia captain Tim Paine put down a catch behind the stumps.

“This was as good as winning a test match,” said Ajinkya Rahane, who is leading India in Virat Kohli's absence. “When you come abroad and play like this, it was really special.

“I’m really proud as captain.”

If the fourth day at the Sydney Cricket Ground was overshadowed by allegations of racist abuse from the crowd, the fifth was memorable for the courageous Indian innings to defy test cricket’s leading bowling attack.

Rahane said India's approach was more about being resilient than focusing on runs, considering Pant had been sidelined for the entire fourth day with an elbow injury, Ravindra Jadeja had a fractured thumb.

“Our talk this morning was about showing character — fight to the end and not to think about results, so really happy the way we fought," he said. “Special mention to Vihari and Ashwin. In the end the way they batted, showing that character, was really good to see.”

He also had praise for how Pant, who was promoted to bat at No. 5 despite his sore elbow, took on the Australian bowlers. He was dropped on 3 and 56 but was unperturbed, blazing 12 boundaries and three sixes in 118-ball knock.

“Credit to him. We made that strategy, but in the end it’s all about the player showing that character,” Rahane said. “The way he batted, attacking innings, backed himself really well.”

Going into the last hour of play, India had five wickets in hand and Australia’s bowling attack was frustrated and ragged. No more wickets fell.

Jadeja was next on the list to bat, waiting in his protective kit in the pavilion, but wasn’t needed.

In the last innings, four catches were uncharacteristically put down. If it felt like a marathon for the Indian batsmen, it almost was.

The 131 overs was the longest India had batted in the fourth innings of an away test match since 1979.

Australia had the upper hand in the match after winning the toss, posting 338 and taking a first-innings lead by bowling India out for 244. The hosts extended the lead to 406 before declaring at 312-6 in its second innings, giving India four sessions to either pursue a near record fourth-innings chase or settle for the draw.

Paine said he'd been confident of an Australian victory, given a bowling attack featuring Pat Cummins, Hazlewood, Starc and Lyon on their home ground, but fielding errors proved costly.

“It's a tough one to swallow. Nathan tried everything, the quicks were awesome,” Paine said. "Just didn't hold our catches — myself in particular.

“Our bowlers tried their absolute hearts out. I’m bitterly disappointed — I pride myself on my wicketkeeping and I haven’t had too many worse days than that."

Steve Smith earned the player of the match award for his innings of 131 and 81, which helped set Australia on course for a declaration.

The series is tied 1-1 after lopsided wins — Australia by eight wickets in Adelaide, India by eight wickets in Melbourne — before the finale at the Gabba starting Friday.

Australia hasn't lost a test at the Gabba since 1988. India, despite a series of injuries and players unavailable, is aiming to end that streak.

Cricket Australia and New South Wales state police are still investigating allegations made by India paceman Mohammed Siraj of racist abuse from the SCG crowd, including six men who were ejected on Sunday.

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