India overcame some anxious moments on a tricky fifth day track before salvaging a tense draw in the fourth and final cricket Test against Australia who sealed the four-match series with a 2-0 margin, here today.
Chasing a stiff target of 349 for a win, India started off well but suffered a dramatic collapse in the post tea session to just about eke out a draw by finishing on 252 for seven in 89.5 overs on an absorbing fifth day’s play at the SGC.
India were comfortably placed at 160 for two at tea and needed 189 runs off 33 overs for a win in the final session.
The complexion of the game changed completely after the tea break with Murali Vijay (80), in-form captain Virat Kohli (46), Suresh Raina (0) and Wriddhiman Saha (0) and Ravichandran Ashwin (1) departing in quick succession to give Australia a sniff of victory.
But Ajinkya Rahane (38 not out) and Bhuvaneswar Kumar (20 not out) played out almost 12 tense overs to save the game for the Indians, who were badly let down by their wayward bowlers right through the series.
The 2-0 series verdict meant that Australia regained the Border-Gavaskar trophy by virtue of their victories in Adelaide and Brisbane. The Boxing Day Test at Melbourne ended in a draw.
For Australia Josh Hazzlewood (2/31), Mitchell Starc (2/36) and off-spinner Nathan Lyon (2/110) shared six wickets between them.
The stage was set for a pulsating fifth day’s play with Australia declaring their second innings at the overnight score of 251 for six, giving India a target of 349 in 90 overs to register their first win in the series.
India lost young opener Lokesh Rahul (16) early but Vijay and Rohit Sharma (39) stitched 56 runs for the second wicket to stabilise the innings.
Coming on to bat after lunch, Vijay and Rohit looked to carry on their good work, but their partnership didn’t last long.
Rohit came out positive but perished when he chose to guide one from Watson down past the slip cordon and Australia captain Steve Smith took a brilliant one-handed catch diving to his right to dismiss the batsman.
Vijay was then joined in the middle by Kohli and they batted with maturity, looking to pick up runs whenever the opportunity arrived.
The 100-run mark for India came up in the 37th over and then Vijay had a huge moment, when on 42, he was dropped by Shaun Marsh at short cover off Ryan Harris.
In the very next over, on 46, Vijay survived another LBW shout as umpire Richard Kettleborough was not convinced even though TV replays showed that he was out.
Vijay soon completed his fourth half-century of the series as India went to tea placed at 160 for two.
Needing 189 runs in the last session with two set batmen at the crease and eight wickets in hand, the Indians came out with a positive intent and looked to give themselves a chance.
Vijay, who scored his runs off 165 balls with the help of seven boundaries and two sixes, and Kohli played positively and it seemed they were looking for an improbable last-session victory.
But it wasn’t to be as the former got out in a bid to up the ante, caught behind off Hazlewood after sharing a 74-run partnership for the third wicket with Kohli.
India reached the 200-run mark in the 67th over but shortly therafter Kohli departed, caught at first slip by Shane Watson off Starc.
Kohli’s dismissal put paid to any hopes of Indian victory and from there onwards it was just about saving the match for the visitors.
But Raina, who made a golden pair, and Saha were dismissed quickly by Starc and Lyon as the visitors lost three wickets for just seven runs.
Ashwin then played out 22 deliveries even as Rahane was solid at the other end and they started eating up overs in a stand that lasted 7.1 overs worth only nine runs.
But tension rose again when Ashwin was trapped LBW by Hazlewood.
However Bhuvneshwar came out and played some attacking strokes to defy the hosts as he and Rahane added 35 runs and played out 69 tense deliveries to save the match for India.
Earlier, India produced a solid batting performance to reach 73 for at lunch.
The day started with Australia skipper Smith declaring at the overnight score and giving India full 90 overs to register their first win in the series.
Vijay and Rahul then walked out to the crease, full of purpose, but they started slowly. They were both watchful against the new ball and hence the runs came in a trickle. Only nine runs came in the first seven overs, with Lyon being introduced into the attack as early as in the sixth over.
In the 10th over of the innings, Vijay broke the shackles as he hit Lyon for a four and a six to pick up 16 runs from that over.
But while he was looking good at the crease, Rahul was struggling and after adding 48 runs for the opening wicket with Vijay, he ended up gloving one off Lyon in the 14th over to David Warner at backward short leg.
Rahul’s dismissal brought Rohit to the crease and he could have been out first ball, but survived a huge stumping chance by the narrowest of margins.
Thereafter, he took his time to settle down as there were no runs scored for 6.4 overs after the fall of Rahul. The 50-run mark came up when the Indians finally broke through the silence in the 20th over. Rohit then lashed out against Lyon hitting him for a four and a six in the 24th over, moving the scoreboard along to catch up for the lost time.
The two batsmen then saw off the little passage of play until lunch without much fuss.