Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni (24 not out) played a responsible knock to force a draw for India against Australia on a tense fifth and final day of the third Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) .
Dhoni’s patient innings, together with spinner Ravichandran Ashwin (8 not out) put on a brave 32-run seventh-wicket partnership to bail out India from a tight spot and avoid a third consecutive defeat against the hosts. The match ended with India reaching 174 for six.
But the draw wasn’t enough for India to retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy as Australia now have a unbeatable 2-0 lead after three Tests in the four-match series. The fourth match begins from Jan 6 in Sydney.
Australia declared their second innings at 318 for nine courtesy of middle-order batsman Shaun Marsh’s 99, to expand their lead to 383 runs.
Chasing a stiff target of 384 in 70 overs, India’s run chase began on a disastrous note, losing the wickets of openers Shikhar Dhawan (0), Murali Vijay (11) and Lokesh Rahul (1) in quick succession.
Australia’s pace trio of Mitchell Johnson, Harris and Hazlewood collectively wrecked havoc as they shared the three wickets to fall.
However, the Indians pulled things back, posting 104 for three at tea, with in-form first innings centurions Virat Kohli (54) and Ajinya Rahane (48) holding fort at the MCG.
But pacer Ryan Harris (two for 30) took the massive wicket of Kohli with the first ball after tea, that snapped the 85-run strong fourth-wicket partnership, to give Australia the upper hand.
The hosts stepped up the pressure after the Indian vice-captain’s departure and got further impetus from the quick dismissals of Cheteshwar Pujara (21) and Rahane that reduced India to 142 for six with 15 overs still to play.
India needed a strong foundation in their stiff run chase to give them any hope of a win but began on a disastrous note, losing the struggling Dhawan for zero, trapped leg before wicket off Harris.
Debutant Rahul was promoted up the order but fared no better, hopelessly mistiming an attempted pull off Johnson to be caught by a back-pedalling Shane Watson.
The crisis deepened when in-form Vijay was adjudged out leg before off Hazlewood to reduce India to 19 for three.
Kohli and Rahane were faced with the tough task of rebuilding the innings and scoring at a fast clip to keep India in contention for the win.
They began in an enterprising fashion, pulling Johnson for boundaries through the mid-wicket region.
Kohli survived a run out chance on four after a terrible miscommunication. That brought to the fore the animosity between Kohli and the Australians, spearheaded by Johnson, that has been one of the highlights of the series so far.
That started a continuous flow of chattering in the middle but Kohli and Rahane hung in there till tea to steady India’s innings.
But once Kohli was dismissed pressure mounted intensely until Dhoni-Ashwin stood tall.
Earlier in the morning session, Shaun Marsh missed his maiden Test century on home soil, getting run out on 99 runs, but steered Australia to 318 for nine declared at lunch, to set India a tall order.
Marsh was dismissed by a direct hit from an onrushing Kohli from mid-on while trying to complete what would have been his third Test century with a quick single.
Harris, unbeaten on eight overnight, was first batsman dismissed during the morning session that was halted twice by rain. He was out for 21 by Mohammed Shami, who picked up his second wicket of the innings to give two wickets each to India’s four bowlers.
Rain stopped the action twice but Australia weren’t willing to declare their innings despite the time loss. They waited till Marsh’s century to declare their innings, but Marsh was dismissed just on the stroke of lunch.
India didn’t take the second new ball as the old one was offering some reverse swing. Australia were uncharacteristically slow as they batted without any urgency, intending to nullify India’s chances of a win.