India vs Australia: When a no result is not a dull, dreary draw
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Not all high-scoring Test matches that end in a draw are insipid and boring. The recently concluded third Test in Ranchi between India and Australia shows that these can be very exciting too.
Without undermining the effort of players, it would be fair to say that at Pune and Bengaluru, the pitch was the major influence in the outcome. At Ranchi, while the pitch was the subject of much scrutiny and discussion, the onus soon shifted on to the players to win, lose or save the game.
Only 25 wickets fell over five days with 347.3 overs bowled and 1,258 runs scored. Given the current trend in cricket, the strike rate for bowlers and batsmen was niggardly. But there was hardly a dull moment in the match.
Barring the last half-hour on the fifth day, by which time the Australians had ensured they would head to Dharamsala for the final Test on level terms with India, a result seemed a distinct possibility.
True, only India looked to be the likely winner at that stage. But for the first three-and-a-half days of the Test, Australia looked the dominant side. How this changed made for riveting drama.
As it transpired, this Test produced an exhibition of extraordinary batting skills. It would be a travesty to the efforts of a clutch of batsmen from either side to think that the pitch had rendered bowlers ineffective.
Ravindra Jadeja claimed nine wickets and looked dangerous in almost every over. For Australia, Pat Cummins made a stunning comeback. He got only four wickets, but had batsmen on tenterhooks with pace, variations and the ability to extract steep bounce.
The upshot is that there was something in the pitch for both slow and fast bowlers. Other bowlers from both sides too gave little away, so there were only brief spells where batsmen could score freely. That too had to be done tactically, to ensure safety or superiority in the match. This made for a grim battle, with long stretches of mind-over-matter cricket that was marvellous to watch.
Steve Smith’s unbeaten 178 in the first innings was magnificent. Having won the toss, Australia had to post a big first innings total to stay relevant in the match. Smith kept one end going with superb, controlled aggression.
Glen Maxwell’s century resurrected his Test career, but after a severe test of character. The naturally attacking batsman had to curb his instincts for the team cause.
With 451 runs on the board, it appeared that Australia had secured themselves against defeat. But India’s reply, built on several fine knocks, with Cheteshwar Pujara’s double century as the fulcrum, was brilliantly conceived and executed.
Pujara’s 202 came off 525 deliveries. A strike rate of under 40 might suggest it was a dour, defensive innings. On the contrary, it was a tour de force; impeccably constructed, in step with the trend of play, keeping in mind the team’s objectives.
First, get as close to Australia’s score, then overhaul it, then extend the lead to an extent where the tables were turned on the rivals. His allies in this endeavour were Wriddhiman Saha, who has not been found wanting in filling M.S. Dhoni’s mighty boots, and Jadeja, who is challenging R. Ashwin as the team’s premier all-rounder.
Finally, there was the exemplary patience and concentration shown by Shaun Marsh and Peter Handscomb in thwarting India’s victory bid. After Smith fell in the first session, Australia’s goose looked cooked. By the end of the day, the psychological advantage lost in Bengaluru had been regained.
Dull and dreary draws (or DDD, as my Pakistani cricket-writer friend Qamar Ahmed, with a penchant for acronyms, would put it) are the bane of the five-day format. They can fill fans with despair and disdain.
But there are also keenly contested matches with no winner or loser, in which fortunes swing one way and then the other, bringing out the best in players in terms of skills and character. Where a no result is actually the best, fairest, most enthralling outcome.
Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.