The ‘old’ Australia would today be nursing their wounds after a routine capitulation under pressure in the third Test against India. But that flighty Australian team has not been sighted since the debacle at Hobart in November.
That disgraceful innings defeat in the second Test against South Africa was Australia’s fifth loss on the trot and triggered sweeping changes to the Australian line-up.
Five of the cricketers who played crucial roles in Australia’s rousing performance at Ranchi were not present at Hobart – young batsmen Peter Handscomb and Matt Renshaw, veteran Shaun Marsh, all-rounder Glenn Maxwell and pace prodigy Pat Cummins.
Renshaw and Handscomb have quickly become key members of the top six as Australia have won five Tests and lost only one since Hobart. Maxwell set up Australia with a brilliant ton in the first innings at Ranchi before Marsh led them to a draw yesterday with a wonderfully calm and composed knock of 53 from 197 balls.
In between that pair of fine innings, Cummins bowled with tremendous intensity, perseverance and skill, helping to ensure India’s batsmen could not sprint to a match-winning total. It was indicative of the impressive development of this Australian side since Hobart that they got pivotal contributions from a range of players.
To scrap to a draw in India with minimal or no input from mainstays David Warner, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon is a great sign for Australia. In salvaging this Test they provided further evidence of a new, steely resolve. Australia perfected the practice of the meek surrender during their five consecutive losses last year.
That’s why, even after their fighting efforts in this series, it still came as a surprise that they managed to wrangle a draw under immense pressure yesterday. The Australians of old would barely have lasted past lunch. Instead, when Smith and Renshaw were dismissed just before the main break, the tourists didn’t waver.
Handscomb and Marsh produced one of the most bloody-minded stands by an Australian pair in many years. The former had threatened all series to play such an influential knock. Handscomb had typically looked at ease in his first five innings but had not capitalised.
Yesterday he underlined just why many Australian pundits and fans thought he could do well in India. Handscomb has a very good technique against spin, built around his swift and assured footwork.
The 25-year-old is supremely confident in his ability to skip down to the spinners and get to the pitch of the ball. This assertive approach then earns him shorter deliveries as the spinner overcorrects their length. When Handscomb can’t get to the pitch of the ball or rock back to cut and pull, he stretches out to smother the spin from his crease.
At the other end Marsh exhibited a similarly assertive approach against spin. Controversially picked ahead of in-form first drop Usman Khawaja due to his superior record in Asia, Marsh proved the selectors right yesterday.
After finding form in the second Test, where he made a sublime 66 on a nightmare pitch, Marsh expertly countered India’s main threat, Ravi Jadeja. The star left arm spinner had a huge patch of rough outside Marsh’s off stump at which to aim.
Being the remarkably accurate bowler that he is, Jadeja hit this area constantly when operating against Marsh. But the West Australian did not let the rough get into his mind and played each delivery on its merits. By the time Marsh was finally dismissed, after almost four hours at the crease, Australia had all but saved the Test.
Quite incredibly, the last time Australia batted their way to a draw in such trying circumstances was way back in 2005 in England. Making their effort even more significant is the fact it is six years since a visiting team in India conceded a first innings deficit and then managed to force a draw without the help of bad weather.
The Pune Test showed the Australians that they had the talent and temperament to win in Asian conditions. Yesterday’s plucky effort was almost as significant, banishing memories of their 2016 capitulations.
It was nearly as good as a victory for Australia. The pressure has now shifted on to the home side who must win the fourth Test at Dharamsala in order to regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.