Australia missed out on an opportunity to take a 3-0 lead in their series against India when the third test concluded in Melbourne yesterday, favouring instead, a safety first approach and an unassailable lead.
Much of the final day centred around Steven Smith’s declaration, and rather than give his bowlers plenty of time to bowl India out, Smith opted strangely to put the series beyond doubt (in the process possibly trying to give Shaun Marsh the opportunity to register a first home century) and ensure his side could not lose. He declared Australia’s second innings at 318/9 to leave India a chase of 384 in 70 overs.
The total was never an option, especially as India fell to an alarming 19/3. They did however manage to hold out. They were six down when the game was abruptly called off by Smith and MS Dhoni; Australia running out of time but still winning the Border-Gavaskar trophy.
It was up to Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane to do the bulk of the rescue work, not for the first time in the match. The two look the most assured as Australia struggled to take the final wickets on a flat MCG wicket that produced its first draw for 17 years. While they both fell in the final session, Dhoni, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravichandran Aswin all took up enough valuable time to avoid defeat. Earlier in the match Kohli and Rahane had also starred in a 262 run first innings partnership that saw India respond to Australia’s first innings 530 with 465 of their own. Rahane had 147 and Kohli 169 in highly entertaining knocks both for their batsmanship and the confrontations with Mitchell Johnson.
Australia should never been allowed to set the first innings foundations for the fifth day win. They were 216/5 when new boy Joe Burns was dismissed, but as there tail has done so often during the series, wagged as if it were a labrador at a dinner party. Australia’s lower order (partnerships 6-10) have contributed 784 runs this series, India’s 389, and that difference was glaringly obvious as the Aussies recovered. Steven Smith was yet again the hero for Australia. He dug in for another century (third of the series, fifth of the year, seventh of career) and scored 192 important runs. Ryan Harris was also a surprise package with the bat, enhancing his reputation as the hardest training bowler of his batting, and scoring 74.
Harris was also the most likely to take Indian wickets on the final day. He, along with Johnson and Josh Hazlewwod, had two wickets, but he easily look the most threatening. He didn’t have the ball in his hand at the time but he undoubtedly found Steven Smith’s decision not to bowl the final four overs of the game bizarre.
Four wickets in twenty four balls was a distinct possibility given India’s fragile lower order. In the end, he must have determined the best retirement gift for MS Dhoni was to save him a possible loss.
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Australia 530 (Smith 192) and 9 for 318 dec (Marsh 99, Rogers 69) drew with India 465 (Kohli 169, Rahane 147, Harris 4-70) and 6 for 174 (Kohli 54)