A brave exhibition from Ravichandran Ashwin and Hanuma Vihari ensured a vital draw for Team India against Australia at SCG in the concluded third match of the Border-Gavaskar 2020-21.
Considering what all the Indian cricket team had to endure in the last few days in terms of injury reports, then the racial abuse from the public and the constant sledging from their Australian counterparts, this draw at SCG is no less than a victory, something that will be remembered by the fans for years whenever there would be a talk of this Australian tour. India did the unthinkable act of batting 131 overs in the 4th innings for the first time in the 21st century.
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Coming into Day 5, there seemed little to no chance of a victory. The situation looked intense soon after stand-in skipper Ajinkya Rahane was out early in the session for merely 4 runs in 18 deliveries, but Cheteshwar Pujara accompanied by wicket-keeper Rishabh Pant started crunching out the numbers, thereby shifting the momentum in the visitors’ favor. While Pujara continued his defensive approach, Pant, on the other hand, started to whack the Aussie bowlers across the stadium. The duo added 148 runs for the fourth wicket, with Pant clobbering 97 runs off 118 deliveries comprising 12 fours and 3 sixes that brought India closer to the chase.
Pant, who was all set to tonk his way to a hundred at SCG, lofted the Aussie spinner Nathan Lyon’s delivery only to get caught by Pat Cummins stationed at backward point. Pujara too was en route to the pavilion after a few overs to a peach of a delivery from Josh Hazlewood, but not before the Saurashtra cricketer had played 205 deliveries and scored crucial 70 runs.
The atmosphere in the dressing room was electrifying: Ravichandran Ashwin
The onus was now on Ashwin (39) and Vihari (23) to enforce a draw as chasing down 135 runs with just five wickets in hand could have gone either way. They forged an unbeaten 259-deliveries stand for the sixth wicket, with Vihari resorting to an absolute defensive play, denying any chances for the Aussies to get an edge. He, however, was dropped by Australian wicketkeeper Tim Paine when batting on 15, a drop that proved fatal for the hosts in the must-win game.
“The atmosphere in the dressing room is electric. In Test cricket we don’t get a lot of draws, it was a really exciting last session,” said Ashwin.
Australian pacer Pat Cummins has troubled the Indian batters a lot in the ongoing Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Cummins has been proficient so far in extracting the pace and bounce from the wickets offered and is currently atop the bowling charts with 15 scalpings in 3 matches at an average of 18.13, The current No 1 ranked ICC Test Bowler had barged through India’s top-order in the first innings to finish with figures of 21.4-10-29-4. However, he could affect just a solitary dismissal in the form of Rohit Sharma over a short delivery in the second innings.
“Cummins was bowling in a different league altogether. There was a bit of double bounce, so it was difficult against Cummins,” said the Tamil Nadu-born, who has picked 12 wickets in the ongoing Test series at an average of 28.33.
Ashwin then spoke about how facing Bumrah in the nets helped him prepare to tackle the Aussie pace attack and thus, spend some time in the middle. He further added that post-Pujara’s gritty exhibition, Pant’s departure after a whirlwind 118-ball 97, and Vihari copping a hamstring injury in the middle, a win seemed difficult amidst those situations.
“I think facing Bumrah in the nets is not easy. We have bowlers who can bowl in the 150s. I have been batting well in the nets, so it was great to spend some time in the middle. Chasing 400 in Sydney was never going to be easy, as the ball was going up and down. That knock by Pant set us up. After Pujara and Pant’s wicket and with Vihari injured, it was going to be difficult to go for the win,” said Ashwin.
Prior to the third Test, there were a lot of criticisms over the internet regarding Vihari’s addition into the playing XI. He had amassed 45 runs in 3 innings at an average of just 15.00. The talks grew when the right-hander was run-out on merely 4 runs off 38 deliveries in the first innings at SCG. Nonetheless, the Andhra cricketer shut his critics with absolute grit and determination in the second innings, as he battled through the immense pain incurred by the hamstring.
Ashwin too was finding it difficult to keep up the fitness ahead of the final day’s play at SCG. He had a terrible back tweak and yet, to come out and deliver against the odds was indeed special on his part. Interestingly, the all-rounder has got two fifties at this venue, 62 during India’s tour of Australia in 2011-12, and a 50 during the tour in 2014-15.
“Touring Australia is never easy so Vihari can be proud of himself. It was a knock equal to scoring a hundred. I was just telling the batting coach during the lunch break that I have never left the SCG without a fifty, this is a venue where I have done well with the bat and today’s innings is right up there,” Ashwin concluded.
India’s stand-in skipper Ajinkya Rahane, when asked in the post-match presentation regarding the approach in the final innings of the Test, stated that it was all about showing character and fighting till the end, and not to think about the result. He lauded the gutsy efforts of Vihari Ashwin and credited Pant for his swashbuckling knock in the middle.
“Our talk coming this morning was to show character and fight till the end. Not to think about the result. Really happy with the way we fought especially today but also throughout the game, even in the first innings when Australia were 200 for 2 and getting them all out for 338 was really good. There are few areas we can improve on but special mention to Vihari and Ashwin. The way they batted in the end and showed character was really good to see,” said the 32-year-old.
“Credit to him (Pant). We made that strategy but in the end, it is all about the player executing the plan,” Rahane concluded.
With the Border-Gavaskar 2020-21 still alive at 1-1, both the teams would look to play hard for the series finale starting from January 15 at the Gabba in Brisbane.