On a day when Indians Cheteshwar Pujara and Wriddhiman Saha sought to slowly bat Australia into the dirt, the visiting bowlers showed fantastic resilience, refusing to wilt on day four of the third Test in Ranchi.
Pujara and Saha are two of the most underrated players in Test cricket, the former a serenely compact first drop, the latter a slick gloveman and plucky batsman.
Yesterday they combined for a grinding five-hour partnership that would have broken most bowling attacks. The intent from India in this innings was clear – occupy the crease for as long as possible, no matter how slow the run rate, and slowly sap the spirit of the Australians.
They executed this strategy perfectly, keeping the tourists in the field for an extraordinary 210 overs. Yet they never managed to break the Australians. It is very, very rare that a team has to spend more than 200 overs in the field in one innings.
Often, once a side has been bowling for beyond 130 or 140 overs things swiftly go downhill – they lose their lengths, they lose their lines, they lose their patience. Again and again I’ve seen teams bowl solidly on a flat deck for four sessions only for their energy and execution to wane and sessions five and six to become a bloodbath.
Australia will have earned respect from the Indians yesterday by avoiding this slide and offering very few loose balls even once they had been in the field for more than 12 hours.
Pace bowlers Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, and left-arm spinner Steve O’Keefe, each turned in herculean efforts which were as much a display of willpower as skill.
Combined, that trio conceded a miserly 2.55 runs per over across the innings. This was particularly impressive given that Hazlewood had never bowled as much as 44 overs in a Test innings before, Cummins wheeled down 39 on the back of only one first-class match as a warm-up, and O’Keefe broke records as he completed a monstrous 77 overs.
It may seem strange to be praising three bowlers who formed part of an attack which conceded a total of 9-603.
But on a lifeless deck against a commanding and deep Indian batting line-up there was not much more Cummins, Hazlewood and O’Keefe could have done. They encountered some wonderful batting.
But they emerged from that nightmare innings in the field with their heads held high. And, crucially, their ability to keep things tight even across that marathon stint has denied India many more overs in which to force a result.
If Australia do manage to scrap their way to a draw today it will be in no small part thanks to that trio of bowlers and their unrelenting effort. It is yet another example of a fresh, bloody-minded mentality the Australians have exhibited in this series.
After surrendering meekly during their past three series in Asia, Australia have displayed admirable gumption with bat and ball against a dominant Indian team which started this series having not lost a match at home in four years.
It was the dogged efforts of their batsmen in the first Test, as much as O’Keefe’s heroics, which allowed them to humiliate the Indians at Pune. Then they fought hard for the first three innings at Bangalore before their first really poor display of the series, collapsing in a heap batting last.
But the toil of Cummins, Hazlewood and O’Keefe will count for little if Australia’s remaining batsmen do not match their dedication today.