India Save The Sydney Test: Die-Hard Vihari-Ashwin Partnership Frustrates Australia!

The last recognized Indian batsman Cheteshwar Pujara got out in the 89th over making it 5-down at 272 runs (target 407) with nearly two sessions still left for play in the fifth and final day of the third cricket Test between India and Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground. R Ashwin, coming in place of injured Ravindra Jadeja who had been crucial in both the Melbourne and this Sydney Tests, then joined Hanuma Vihari, and they fought a historic battle for over four hours facing more than 40 overs, with the mandatory 20 overs in the last hour, finally saving the Test match for India at 334/5. Vihari remained not out at 23 off 161 balls while Ashwin at 39 not out off 128 balls. The greatest part of this incredible partnership was the indomitable spirit and patience shown by both batsmen, never going for an improbable win and concentrating on defending each and every incoming ball till the end when the match was accepted as a draw by the hosts with the last mandatory over remaining.


The Border-Gavaskar Trophy Test series thus remains level at 1-1 with the fourth and final Test starting from January 15 in Brisbane the uncertainty about which in view of the COVID-19 situation was ended mutually by the two cricket boards.


India had an uphill task of seeing off a minimum of 131 overs on the fourth day afternoon when Australia declared at 312/6, setting a target of 407 runs to win. Instances of a team chasing a huge target in the last innings of a test with more than a day to go and winning or drawing it are indeed rare in the history of test cricket. India had done it on only three important occasions: the historic win against the West Indies in West Indies in 1975-76 successfully chasing a target of 406 runs; the historic tied match against Australia in Madras in 1986 as India failed to reach the target of 348 runs in the last over of the last day by just one run; and saving a match against England in England in 2007 when Dhoni stuck on even as the team lost 9 wickets.


When stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane got out early today the stakes against India were at the steepest. However, injured wicket-keeper Rishav Pant finally did what he has been known for: launching a brutal counterattack he made an explosive 97 runs off just 116 balls, and with Pujara anchored at the other end brought India back in the match, almost clearing the ways for an incredible win. Owing, as always, to his aggressive impulses he could not complete what could have been a most memorable century, and got out in the 80th over at the team score of 250/4. With all the recognized batsmen gone there was no realistic hope of winning the match now, and therefore, Vihari and Ashwin focused on saving it, and they were successful.


The frustration of the Aussies was apparent; the grimaces, the despairing looks on the faces of their top striking bowlers, fielding lapses, deliberately throwing the ball at the bodies of the Indians and the ultimate of the man-of-the-match player Steve Smith trying of smudge off Pant’s guard mark on the crease during a drinks break, perhaps with the purpose of applying mental pressure. Fortunately, it didn’t serve the supposed purpose as Pant searched for the mark, and not finding it took guard from the umpire again. Not to speak of the ugly racists that lurked in the stands, though reduced by the pandemic.


It has been tremendous cricket of bouncing back by Team India, overcoming the 36-run-all-out syndrome, winning the next one, drawing this one against all odds and now looking forward to the defining Brisbane test.


But it still has to be said that given a little consistency and application from the top batsmen the visitors could indeed have won this match too. The Indian batsmen are not performing consistently yet: Rahane seemed to have bloomed into form becoming one of the main architects of the Melbourne victory, but failed in both of the innings in this test; Rohit, Pujara, Pant were playing well, but not to the extent desired. Most importantly, the Indian batting seems to be over after being just four down with no recognized batsmen to follow. Perhaps it is due to the absence of Kohli, but it is still not acceptable to indefinitely keep KL Rahul rested, a player who has been used to the Australian conditions; although Vihari has finally justified the trust put into his all-round abilities. With the Indian batsmen playing to their potential India should be the favorites to win the Series 2-1 in Brisbane.


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