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Nanjing Night Net

???RANCHI: Australia have passed a searching examination of their mettle by overcoming India’s spin masters on Ranchi’s so-called craters of doom to secure a backs-to-the-wall draw in the third Test.

The visitors appeared destined for a morale-sapping defeat when Steve Smith’s off stump was sent cartwheeling before lunch but the maligned Shaun Marsh and newcomer Peter Handscomb saved the day.

Australia were comprehensively outplayed in the second half of the match but displayed a level of resilience seldom seen by the men in baggy green in this part of the world. Impressively, they accomplished the mission without a major rearguard from Smith.

Playing for draws has not been the Australian way. The last time they overcame a significant first-innings deficit for a stalemate in Asia was in 2011 when the late Phillip Hughes and Michael Clarke scored centuries in Galle to keep Sri Lanka at bay.

Australia lost just four wickets on the final day on a pitch that was far from unplayable despite the ominous signs late on the fourth day.

Ravindra Jadeja captured 4-54 from 44 pressure-packed overs but could not produce enough of the magic balls that sent alarm through the Australian dressing room on Sunday night.

There was a late twist when Marsh and Glenn Maxwell departed in quick succession with Australia leading by only 38 with a minimum of seven overs remaining but India had run out of time to conjure a miracle. Australia were 6-204, leading by 52, when the match was called off with two overs left.

India had their opportunity to finish off Australia but lacked the knockout blow. They will be ruing Karun Nair’s dropped chance off Handscomb when he was on six. It was difficult but one they could not afford to squander on a surprisingly benign fifth-day track against an opponent up for the fight.

There will now be renewed confidence in the Australian camp they can retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy when this stirring series reaches its climax in the foothills of the Himalayas in Dharamsala.

That the series is locked at 1-1 with one to play is a feather in the caps of the Australians, whom many believed were staring at another humiliating whitewash in India.

Few would have given them any chance of escaping such a dire situation 24 hours ago but Smith’s inexperienced team showed character beyond their years.

For that they can thank Marsh and Handscomb, two men at opposite ends of their international careers but still proving their worth at the highest level.

The pair added 124 for the fifth wicket but more important was the 374 balls they took out of the game. First they had to tame a rampant Indian team that had their tails up after rolling Matt Renshaw and Smith in the space of four balls.

They were also brave enough to attack anything loose, which was vital in erasing the deficit and preventing Virat Kohli from suffocating them with a ring of fielders in close.

They also overcame a testing period of reverse swing as well as the constant danger of the rough, which was more concerning to the left-handed Marsh.

“You try not to think about it too much, you play the ball,” Marsh said of the rough.

The Western Australian’s 53 should go a long way to ending his reputation as one of the underachievers in Australian cricket. Marsh, who is in the finest phase of his career, batted for nearly four hours in a performance up there with any of his Test centuries.

Marsh narrowly survived a stumping chance on 38 in the first over after tea but was otherwise stout in defence.

His partner, Handscomb, made a seamless transition to Test cricket during the home summer however this tour had thus far been punctuated with starts but nothing of substance.

That changed here after a 261-minute long display of defiance. It will not go down as his prettiest knock but was arguably more important than any of his efforts against the hapless Pakistan.

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