Sport

Unlikely heroes save Test for Australia

Shaun Marsh, right, and Peter Handscomb run between the wickets during in their match-saving parthnership.
Shaun Marsh, right, and Peter Handscomb run between the wickets during in their match-saving parthnership. Aijaz Rahi

SHAUN Marsh and Peter Handscomb last night engineered one of the great saves in Australian Test history to push an all-time epic series to a thrilling decider.

The third Test in Ranchi will go down as a draw, but for an Australian team on the ropes, this felt like the sweetest of victories.

Two down at the start of the day and four down at lunch, the warrior-like 124 run partnership between Marsh and Handscomb which soaked up 232 minutes and 374 balls may well be looked back upon as the stand that created history for Australia in India.

When Marsh finally succumbed for 53 off 197 balls Australia only had 10 overs left to hold on, with Handscomb seeing the fight of his life right out to the end, finishing unbeaten on 72 off 200 balls.

In total Australia survived 100 arduous overs on a surface where a wicket at any point could have sparked a match-ending collapse.

Now one of the most dramatic, venomous and see sawing series since the 2005 Ashes has been given the spine-tingling finale it deserves, with warring arch-enemies Australia and India locked 1-1 heading into the fourth and final Test starting on Saturday at the foot of the Himalayas in Dharamsala.

India were yesterday charging head-on towards a triumphant win on day five when captain Steve Smith had his off-stump catapulted out of the ground by a rampant Ravi Ashwin half an hour before lunch to leave Australia reeling at 4-63.

The image of Australia's most reliable and inspirational figure staring down at his flattened castle having not even offered a shot was enough to send any dressing room into a state of panic, particularly given Matt Renshaw had just departed the over before.

But from a point where recent Australian teams would have plummeted off the precipice, unlikely heroes Marsh and Handscomb picked up the pieces and rescued their side with courageous, backs-to-the-wall performances.

The No.1 bowler in world cricket Jadeja was breathing fire but somehow, Marsh and Handscomb extinguished his domineering presence and struck a killer blow to India's bullet-proof attitude.

Australia finished 6-204, but by the end even if they were bowled out India wouldn't have had time to chase the 52-run lead Handscomb and Marsh had wrestled back.

Marsh is arguably the most maligned Australian cricketer of the past decade, and not always unfairly so given he has a first-class record that hasn't reflected his talent.

But yesterday on a dusty, dying track in Ranchi with his team at crisis point, Marsh delivered a knock for the ages that ranks above his three Test hundreds when it comes to what it means to his team.

This is why coach Lehmann was so adamant Marsh must be rushed back with a silver bullet as the sub-continental specialist for this tour.

Not since 2011 against Sri Lanka, when Michael Clarke and Phillip Hughes combined, has an Australian team batted out a final day to save a Test.

Before that, such a gutsy rescue hadn't happened on the sub-continent for an Australian side since before Handscomb was born, way back in 1989.

But after staring down the barrel of defeat, Marsh and Handscomb have breathed new life into Australia's extraordinary shot at breaking a 13-year drought on Indian soil.

Labelled by Harbhajan Singh as the worst Australian team to ever tour India, this fighting XI only need a draw in Dharamsala to retain the Border Gavaskar Trophy.

However, Smith and Lehmann are marshalling a fearless side that will go all out for victory.

There were some anxious moments for Marsh and Handscomb along the way before their partnership finally ended with Australia already virtually in the clear 38 runs ahead and time almost out.

Handscomb was dropped by short leg Murali Vijay on 6, a sharp grab which could have proved decisive.

Marsh was almost stumped the third ball after tea off Ravi Ashwin, while he and Handscomb both survived DRS appeals on umpire's call that replays showed were both hitting plenty of the stumps.

Australian coach Lehmann acknowledged the previous night that his top order had squandered any chance of winning the game by failing to go big enough in their first innings after winning the toss - with 550 instead of 450 what was required.

However, all things considered, this was a morale-boosting draw.

When the fall of one wicket could have easily led to a collapse, Australia was hanging on by the skin of their teeth after Smith was rolled by Jadeja. 

Coming just three balls after partner Renshaw had been trapped lbw by Ishant Sharma, Australia's most reliable operator had failed to offer a shot to send shockwaves through an already rattled dressing room.

Smith shouldered arms to a Jadeja ball that pitched just outside leg stump, but didn't thrust his pad forward with enough conviction to bump the ball away.

That said, it was a gem of a delivery.

It's the third off-stump Jadeja had knocked over in this innings, as Australia clambered to lunch at 4-83.

Smith and Renshaw started superbly on day five when Australia resumed precariously placed at 2-23.

An hour and a half into the session and Australia were yet to show a weakness, until pace demon Sharma found a way to get inside the head of Renshaw.

Topics:  peter handscomb shaun marsh steve smith test match cricket tour of india

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