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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

When a Draw is a Win

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What a pleasant feeling it is to be sitting here this morning, soaking up the glory of a battling draw in a Test match, defying the thoughts of most in seeing off the Indian bowling attack for the final day’s play in Ranchi. Those that suggest Test cricket is dying simply have no idea what cricket is about, and the five days of this Test have proved it is alive and well in at least some parts of the cricketing world.
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  1. Renshaw and Smith did exactly what they had to do. Their partnership was perhaps the toughest of the day, with Renshaw especially getting the ball jumping from the surface alarmingly one ball, and then dying lower the next. He was superb against Jadeja, getting forward and smothering or ball and watchful. He was dismissed to a ball that stayed low, but that he didn’t get fully forward to because of the smart bowling from Ishant. When Smith misjudged a ball from Jadeja in the following over to be bowled, the hard graft of over 90 minutes looked as though it may be going to be wasted.
  2. Back at the conclusion of the diabolical tour to Sri Lanka last year, the selectors pretty much handed to the media two names that were ‘locks’ for the tour of India. In their opinion, Shaun Marsh was their man for the sub-continent after his century in Sri Lanka, and the uncapped Peter Handscomb whom they considered the best young player of spin in the Sheffield Shield was the other certainty to go on tour, and perhaps debut there. The selectors stuck to their guns. Handscomb was already entrenched in the Test team by then, and Marsh had returned from injury and was chosen despite a lack of form in the white ball game. In the five innings completed before this innings, both had looked assured at times. Handscomb had made five starts without going on past 25, while Marsh had made one score and several other lower contributions. Today was the situation that the selectors would have had in mind when they chose these two for this series. Handscomb and Marsh came together with half an hour until lunch and still 89 runs in arrears. That they weren’t parted until they had put together 124 runs and batted for 62 overs together is a testament to their efforts and to the vision of the selectors. This pair drew the Test match for Australia from a position that in the past they have lost. Handscomb broke his 25 barrier to finish on 72 not out, while Marsh, who continues to baffle and divide opinion as to his place in the team, made a dogged 53. He must crave consistency as much as his detractors do, and it is innings like yesterday’s that shows he can play at this level. Both were superb.
  3. Much like in Australia’s victory in the 1st Test, the luck with umpiring decisions tended to run with them on this final day. LBW decisions referred to the DRS by India on both Handscomb and Marsh were judged to be ‘umpire’s call’ after Ian Gould had turned them both down, meaning both batsmen were reprieved, and India lost both reviews. This caused a similar conversation in the commentary box about ‘if it’s hitting the stumps it should be out’ and ‘you shouldn’t lose a referral if it shows it is hitting’. Those comments are for discussing on another day, but the upshot of it was that the ‘Gunner’ had given the batsman the benefit of the doubt, and the doubt was proven by DRS. On another day both may have been given, and the batsmen would have been out. Perhaps Gould’s focus was that the batsmen were working their guts out, and only deserved to be out if it was shown to be plumb (which he would have given out anyway). Kohli also burned one review himself, when a ball from Ishant to Marsh was shown to be pitching a foot outside leg stump, hitting him outside the line of off stump, and missing off stump by a foot and a half. So maybe that too played on the umpire’s mind. Whatever it was, those calls going Australia’s way helped enormously.
  4. After the nervous thoughts of most before the Test had started, the surface at Ranchi turned out to be a dud. Certainly batsmen had to focus and concentrate for long periods in order to score on it, and bowlers had to be patient and give nothing away in order to try and snare wickets, but the horror that some expected never came to pass. Only 25 wickets could be pried out in five full days of cricket. You wouldn’t want to see too many Tests like this one, but it was riveting viewing for the most part. It will be interesting to see what is dished up for the 4th Test, where Inida must now win to reclaim the Border Gavaskar Trophy.
With three Tests down, and the series locked at 1-1, what lies ahead for both teams? Will Virat Kohli’s shoulder miraculously heal itself so he can field for more than one afternoon? Will Australia’s bowlers be able to recover after their mammoth effort here in Ranchi to do the same again in five days time? Will any changes be made to either team? Will Australia surprise and throw in Mitchell Swepson for the final Test? None of us really believed we’d be here one a Test to go and series still able to have all three results available. Test cricket is alive, and Australia has the chance to make a statement on the sub-continent that it hasn’t made for 13 years. I for one can’t wait for the next instalment.
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