Unexpected Aussies stand tall in Ranchi epic

Tim Lane Columnist

By Tim Lane, Tim Lane is a Roar Expert

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    This column started as a lament, and finished as a song of praise. When writing began, before play on the final day in Ranchi, few gave Australia a hope of avoiding defeat. India appeared to have gained control of the match and, in all probability, the series.

    The upbeat tone of coach Darren Lehmann, after the fourth day had gone bad, was widely viewed as false bravado. In the end however, the news was good and it wasn’t fake.

    It’s nice to be forced to do a re-write; enjoyable to see an Australian team defy the odds as underdogs. This is particularly so given that the final-day battle against a rampant India was won by two of the less-likely suspects for such an achievement.

    What transpired was epic. It might have been the most thrilling draw achieved by our national team since Ken ‘Slasher’ Mackay and Lindsay Kline held out the West Indies for 110 minutes at the Adelaide Oval in 1961. That defiant stand remains immortalised, so it’s a serious compliment to utter the names Shaun Marsh and Peter Hanscomb in the same breath.

    Ultimately, the outcome vindicated Steve Smith’s tactics. Much has been said about the Australian skipper’s reluctance to bowl Glenn Maxwell during India’s marathon innings, with Smith appearing to not believe the Victorian all-rounder capable of containing opposition batsmen.

    Perhaps Smith simply doesn’t rate Maxwell as an international bowler. In the recent five-match ODI series against Pakistan, Maxwell was at no stage summoned to the crease, with the less-experienced Travis Head’s part-time off-spin regularly preferred.

    While the circumstances of a five-day Test were vastly different, Smith didn’t waver. Yet this was a situation in which you’d have thought a spare-parts player was a vital component.

    Glenn Maxwell bowling against Pakistan

    Meanwhile, Nathan Lyon and Steve O’Keefe returned a collective 4-362 – the figures Arthur Mailey once ‘achieved’, then complained a bloke in a bowler hat in the pavilion had dropped a couple of sitters.

    Maxwell played two Tests in India in 2013 and took seven wickets at a cost of just under 28 runs for each. The downside was that he conceded close to five runs per over. Presumably, Smith feared that to employ him might let India off the chain once and for all. He didn’t bowl himself for the same reason.

    It seemed from early on Day 4 the Australian captain’s mindset was defensive, even with India more than a hundred behind. So, four specialists supplied 206 of the 210 overs bowled. If India was to build a significant lead, they would bat for as long as Smith could make them do so.

    That one of the quartet was the injury-prone Pat Cummins, whose every delivery caused almost audible winces of discomfort all over Australia, speaks of how fixed the team’s leadership was on its plan.

    Now Smith finds himself requiring no better than a draw in the final Test to become the second Australian captain in 30 years to break even in India. In that event, his team would retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, which would provide immense satisfaction in more ways than one.

    The Indians, now as in the past, have demonstrated an unrivalled capacity to get under the Australians’ skin. The home team’s captain, Virat Kohli, hasn’t aggregated 50 runs in the series but has made his presence felt in other ways. Ravi Jadeja’s sword-twirling (with his bat) upon reaching 50 last Sunday was as flamboyant a moment of self-congratulation as one would see. His ignoring of the umpire when appealing is worse. Ishant Sharma, too, hasn’t been averse to provocative protestation and celebration.

    Whatever, it’s making for some of the most tense and riveting Test cricket in a long time. It’s a reminder of why playing India in India is as challenging as it comes in modern cricket.

    It’s also a reminder, if one cares to be open-minded, that our players also aren’t bad at triumphalism when on their home patch. Just like the Indians, they know a thing or two about subjecting umpires to maximum pressure. Australian teams, too, aren’t always humble in victory and those who have succumbed here would be inclined to leave these shores thinking, “Just wait until we get you in our conditions.”

    All of which makes the next series between the countries in this part of the world a mouth-watering prospect. It will occur late next year and might be more keenly anticipated than any series ever played between the two nations.

    But that is to get ahead of ourselves. It still hasn’t been finally determined which country will hold the Border-Gavaskar Trophy at that time.

    The final Test of the current series, in Dharamsala, is now as titillating a one-off prospect as any single Test in recent time.

    Tim Lane
    Tim Lane

    Tim Lane is one of the most respected voices in Australian sport, having gained a strong following for his weekly AFL column in The Age. Tim has also called 32 AFL/VFL grand finals and was behind the microphone for Cathy Freeman's memorable gold medal at the Sydney Olympics. You can catch him on Twitter @TimLaneSport.

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    The Crowd Says (15)

    • March 22nd 2017 @ 6:21am
      qwetzen said | March 22nd 2017 @ 6:21am | ! Report

      “Meanwhile, Nathan Lyon and Steve O’Keefe returned a collective 4-362 – the figures Arthur Mailey once ‘achieved’, then complained a bloke in a bowler hat in the pavilion had dropped a couple of sitters.”

      Good pickup Tim.

      • March 22nd 2017 @ 7:21am
        Jrod said | March 22nd 2017 @ 7:21am | ! Report

        Thanks Tim. High quality article as one would expect from you.

        I feel the spin is our biggest issue going into the 5th. The Indians have started showing each spinner some respect and since they have done that their likelihood of taking wicket has fallen materially. They don’t seem good enough to really threaten.

        • March 22nd 2017 @ 9:57am
          rock said | March 22nd 2017 @ 9:57am | ! Report

          The Indian’s don’t really look threatening either most of the time, especially Ashwin. Jedeja was ok in the first innings without being really threatening & good for 8 overs on day 4, but he was not that crash hot on day 5 when played with respect.

          • March 22nd 2017 @ 2:36pm
            Perry Bridge said | March 22nd 2017 @ 2:36pm | ! Report

            All comes down – it would seem – to the hardness of the ball.

            • March 22nd 2017 @ 2:54pm
              rock said | March 22nd 2017 @ 2:54pm | ! Report

              I see what you did there

        • March 22nd 2017 @ 2:31pm
          Don Freo said | March 22nd 2017 @ 2:31pm | ! Report

          Jrod…how’s your memory? 1st Test, 2nd Test? Our spinners have been better than equal to the #1 and #2 bowlers in the world.

        • March 23rd 2017 @ 1:19am
          davSA said | March 23rd 2017 @ 1:19am | ! Report

          The primary role of a spinner is to build pressure . Should they do that , wickets will fall whether by the spinner himself or his teammates. Australians were spoilt by Shane Warne who was a rarity in that he could do both simultaneously.

    • Roar Guru

      March 22nd 2017 @ 3:22pm
      Pumping Dougie said | March 22nd 2017 @ 3:22pm | ! Report

      Great article, Tim.

      Common wisdom seems to suggest Smith’s bowling tactics were vindicated, although at the cost of our bowlers’ collective short-term health. Would you consider bringing Stoinis in for Warner or S.Marsh, or even Wade (leaving Handscomb to keep) for the 4th test, to lend support? Or even putting Cartwright on a plane?

      In addition, it looks like Lyon will need to be replaced; I guess either Agar or Bird getting his spot, depending on the pitch.

      I’d bring in Bird for Lyon and leave it at that. Pattinson should be on standby for Cummins.

      • March 22nd 2017 @ 3:45pm
        Simoc said | March 22nd 2017 @ 3:45pm | ! Report

        Pattinson is not available for test cricket at present.

        I can’t recall Australia fighting out a day for a draw in memory, and the turn around since the Hobart test is massive. Well done to the team. Fantastic effort.

        It was a mistake by Smith not to bowl Maxwell more but he has always had an inherent dislike of spinners. They are a last resort albeit vital in India.

        Great work by Handscomb to get runs in India. I didn’t think his technique would stand up to the spinning ball.
        And lets hope we fight out the fifth test for a win. That would be special.

      • March 23rd 2017 @ 12:35pm
        Tanmoy Kar said | March 23rd 2017 @ 12:35pm | ! Report

        The Dharmashala pitch would be a normal pitch only the condition would be quite different like English condition, cold a bit windy favourable to pace bowling. Australia should play Bird in place of Lyon. India will probably play Shami in place of Ishant Sharma.

    • March 22nd 2017 @ 3:32pm
      Joel said | March 22nd 2017 @ 3:32pm | ! Report

      Was hoping if they called up Cummins, they may have sent over Pattinson for the last Test. Cummins, Pattinson and Hazlewood if the pitch somewhat suits the quicks, would have been nice. Dont think there is any chance of Warner, S. Marsh or Maxwell coming out at all for this test

    • March 22nd 2017 @ 3:43pm
      Joel said | March 22nd 2017 @ 3:43pm | ! Report

      On a Cartwright note, i dont think he is actually going to bowl too much anymore anyway. Think they may just concentrate on making him full-time number 3 batsman now for W.A. The list of All Rounders for next year at the moment would be Turner, Agar, Stoinis, Greene and Short, with the bowling of Berendorf, Richardson, Paris, Coulter Nile, Moody and Mackin. Don’t think he will be an all rounder anymore

    • Roar Rookie

      March 22nd 2017 @ 6:20pm
      Niranjan Deodhar said | March 22nd 2017 @ 6:20pm | ! Report

      Perhaps the most defining factor of the Ranchi Test Match was the knock played by Maxwell in the first innings. Australia were 4/140 when he walked in and could have easily played a rash shot leaving the Australian tail exposed right on the first day itself. But he hold his nerve, played an uncharacteristic Maxwell innings, showed lots of patience and ably supported his captain who was as solid as a rock at the other end. Along with Steve O’ Keefe’s exuberating bowling display in the first Test, this innings by Maxwell will certainly turn out be a series defining event if Australia indeed go on to win this series or even manage to draw this series. Its indeed everything to play for at Dharamshala in the fourth and Final Test of what has already been a mouth-watering series for all the Cricket fans.

    • March 22nd 2017 @ 10:58pm
      AJ said | March 22nd 2017 @ 10:58pm | ! Report

      Nice story Tim. I wasn’t born, but love the stories of The Slasher taking an over of Wes Hall on his unprotected chest rather give a chance off the bat.

      Hope we’ve turned a corner with our batting (mind you we should have made more in the first dig) which has been terrible when under pressure for years. Bowled out in a session in England……

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