Australia today regained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy after the third cricket Test ended in an exciting draw with a jittery India just about managing to avoid an embarrassing defeat here.
Set an improbable target of 384 in 70 overs courtesy Shaun Marsh’s 99, India’s batting frailty was again exposed and they survived some anxious moments before salvaging a draw. It ensured that India won’t suffer a ‘whitewash’ this time around.
India finished at a nervous 174 for six before both the captains decided call off play with four overs remaining, bringing an end to a gripping Test match.
Australia needed a draw to regain the coveted trophy and batted out the first session to shut the door on India’s chances of a possible victory.
With this draw, Australia maintained their unassailable 2-0 lead in the four-match series.
The fifth day’s play expectedly turned out to be an intriguing contest between bat and ball and had Australians given themselves some more time, they could have even pulled off a victory at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
When play was called off after 66 overs, skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni (24 no) and Ravichandran Ashwin (8 no) survived 11 tense overs to bring closure.
The highlight of the Indian innings was an 85-run fourth wicket stand between Virat Kohli (54) and Ajinkya Rahane (48) after three quick wickets saw them reeling at 19 for three at one stage.
Shikhar Dhawan (0) had another failure while Murali Vijay (11) didn’t fire this time round. KL Rahul’s baptism by fire cost his wicket as his atrocious shot selection for the second time raised doubts about his temperament at the highest level.
It was first innings centurions Kohli and Rahane, who brought about the stability. Kohli hit seven boundaries in his 99-ball innings while Rahane also showed composure during his three hour and 16 minute stay at the wicket hitting six fours.
Cheteshwar Pujara (21) was done in by a beautiful slower from Mitchell Johnson but Dhoni and Ashwin saw to it that India were safe at the end of the day.
The final Test will be held at Sydney from January 6.
The final session of the Test match turned out to be a tricky one for India as Kohli, who got his second 50-plus score, was gone first ball after the break, flicking Harris straight to square leg.
Pujara consumed 70 balls and although didn’t score many runs did eat up precious 16.5 overs help out in forcing the draw for his team. His strategy did work to an extent, putting on 37 runs for the fifth wicket with Rahane.
But it was Johnson, who dismissed the Saurashtra batsman with a beautifully thought out plan. Pujara was hit on the helmet by Johnson in the 51st over and two deliveries later, the shaken batsman was bowled by one that he delivered from wide. It pitched on the middle and then moved enough to clip the off-bail.
Four overs later, Rahane mistimed a pullshot off Hazlewood delivery straight to Shaun Marsh at midwicket and India were looking at trouble.
There were still 15 overs remaining and the final hour saw Dhoni and Ashwin tested a lot. The latter was lucky as he was dropped by Watson at first slip in the 57th over, when on 1.
The duo tightened up and persevered till the end to salvage a draw for their team thereafter.
Earlier, Dhawan and Vijay (11) opened the innings with both the Adelaide-chase and Brisbane-collapse fresh in mind.
And a top-order collapse was the story of this day, as Dhawan was out leg before in the second over to Ryan Harris. In his second Test innings then, debutant Rahul (1) was promoted to number three.
Much like in the first innings, Rahul played a poor shot to get out, this time pulling a wide delivery from Johnson as Watson ran back from first slip to complete the catch.
India were struggling at 5/2 and things could have been worse in the 5th over when Kohli, (on 4), could have been run-out as Vijay wasn’t backing up and looking at the ball instead.
His partner meanwhile had almost reached the non-striking end and only a poor throw from David Warner helped keep Kohli at the crease.
But Vijay left soon after in the 9th over, adjudged LBW by umpire Kumar Dharamsena off Hazlewood. It brought Rahane to the crease, pairing him up with Kohli once again.
Kohli and Rahane were aiming to repeat the magic from the first innings as they took on Johnson and attacked his short deliveries. The runs started coming along nicely and the session was running down, with the Indian 50-mark coming up in the 18th over.
Just 15 overs later, the 100-mark came up and in between Kohli had celebrated his 50 off 87 balls. There were a couple hiccups before tea though.
Rahane, then on 22, was dropped by Chris Rogers at point off Johnson in the 27th over. Then in the 34th, Kohli escaped being run-out once again whilst going for a second run, as Lyon failed to collect the throw.
In the morning, play started early by 30 minutes to make up for the time lost on day four. But only three balls into the day, rain came down to stop the proceedings. There was a 40-minute delay before resumption of play.
Shaun Marsh and Ryan Harris (21) continued to take their time and it looked like scoring runs was not on their agenda. Only 57 runs came in this morning session and the run-rate was nothing to write home about. It could be seen from the fact that the first boundary came in only the 83rd over, the 8th over of the morning.
India looked like they were waiting for the declaration to come about. Meanwhile Australia were looking to play for time as the pitch didn’t show enough variable bounce like in Brisbane or deterioration like in Adelaide.
It resulted in a slow morning as the 50-run partnership for the 8th wicket came up off 112 balls. The 300-mark for Australia came up in the 92nd over.
At the hour mark in the morning session, there was another 10-minute delay in play because of rain. But no overs have been deducted with play extended in the evening until 6:06 pm local time and another half hour possible afterwards.
When play resumed, Harris was the first to depart of the two batsmen, caught behind off Mohammad Shami (2-92). There were only 20-odd minutes left in the session as Nathan Lyon (1) came out to bat, but probably with the message that the team management intended to declare at the break.
That brought about urgency in Marsh’s play as he struck a six and a four in the 95th over bowled by Ashwin (2-75).
He had also been dropped that over, on 86*, by the bowler as the return catch hit him high on the wrist. Then, two overs later, in a rush of blood Marsh went for a quick single and was run-out by a direct throw from Virat Kohli from mid-off.
However by then Australia had set a target which certainly was out of reach for India.