Ranchi serves an intriguing fare
In the lead up to the Ranchi Test of the ongoing India-Australia series, there was plenty of talk about the pitch. They said it would keep low, that it would deteriorate and even contribute to an early finish.
In a stark contrast to all the predictions, the pitch held up well, the Test lasted the full five days while providing great entertainment and ended in a hard fought draw.
As Ravi Shastri would say, "India was all over Australia like a rash." A 2-1 lead in favour of the hosts looked inevitable at one stage but as has been the case this series, the Australians showed that they are no pushovers.
Credit to Steve Smith's men for the manner in which they played out a draw on a difficult day-five wicket. Australia's preparation in Dubai certainly seems to have worked in their favour. Their approach to tackle the Indian spinners must be applauded.
It was an important toss to win on a wicket which looked very good for batting. The dark brown pitch offered very little to the bowlers. It was devoid of lateral movement, turn and bounce. The Indian bowlers therefore, were visibly frustrated.
Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav failed to swing the shiny red cherry. Even the world’s two top-ranked bowlers in R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja failed to run through the Australian lineup.
Steve Smith, throughout his captaincy stint has grown as a player and a leader. His ability to take up the burden of batting responsibility and lead from the front is truly remarkable.
Glen Maxwell's introduction to the side came like a breath of fresh air. His partnership with Smith left the hosts clueless. India couldn't conjure up an effective strategy to get rid of the duo. Needless to say, by the time their stint in the first innings ended, the damage was done.
Cheteshwar Pujara proved just why he is so integral to this Test team. His knock oozed determination and courage - tenets that we have now come to associate with the man.
It never is easy for a batsman to concentrate when wickets were falling at the other end. Australia, powered by Pat Cummins, bowled to their fullest potential. If you were to take Pujara's knock out of the equation, India would perhaps have found themselves in a hole.
Virat Kohli's dry patch with the bat is truly uncharacteristic. Therefore, the manner in which the other batsmen have stepped up is truly commendable.
The Saha-Pujara partnership is one that defines this Indian outfit and their aggressive mentality. That 199 run partnership crushed the Australian spirit while setting
up the match for the hosts. Jadeja getting into the act with a quick-fire fifty showed how the dressing room was transformed after the Saha-Pujara joint-venture.
A missed trick?
With Australia starting the final day having lost two wickets, India were favourites to win. A day five track, more often than not turns in favour of the bowlers. The outcome, therefore, was hugely surprising.
I have to admit that the Indian bowlers were not up to the mark. Ashwin lacked lustre and form. He tried a variety of deliveries and even resorted to the odd leg-spin. But success evaded him.
On the other hand, Jadeja continued to be the real threat for Australia. While he was impressive all the way, you couldn't help but feel that the lack of support from the other end made all the difference for the hosts.
The four-bowler theory will come back to haunt India as they look back on the Ranchi Test. On a pitch such as this, it was never going to be easy for the two spinners to bowl marathon spells and be penetrative at the same time.
The delay in bringing Ashwin to bowl in Australia's second innings will be talked about as well. Starting the final day being two-down, the visitor would have been under great pressure and the time was ripe for Ashwin and Jadeja to bowl in tandem.
The overnight ball would still have been hard enough for the duo to make a collective impact from both ends. Alas, this didn't happen and by the time Ashwin came on to bowl, Australia had found their footing.
In 1980, Australia had saved a Test against Pakistan while batting out the entire final day. At Ranchi, led by Handscomb and Shaun Marsh, they rolled back the years. The India fans meanwhile, will remember the match for Pujara's 525 ball epic.
Not very many pundits gave Australia a chance when the series began and very few would have predicted the scoreline going into the Dharamshala Test.
Needless to say, Steve Smith's men have defied the odds. Not only have they fought hard, they've had the hosts on the rope on more occasions than one.