Third Test, Melbourne. Stumps day five. Australia resumed 7/261, leading by 326. AUSTRALIA 9 dec/318 (S.Marsh 99; Mohammed Shami 2/92). INDIA 6/174 (V.Kohli 54, A.Rahane 48; R.Harris 2/30, M.Johnson 2/38, J.Hazlewood 2/40). Match drawn.
It had threatened to be a thriller, but in the end Australia and India conceded the stalemate with four overs remaining on day five.
The Boxing Day Test finished in a draw for the first time since South African allrounders Shaun Pollock and Lance Klusener held out on the last day back in 1997.
India skipper MS Dhoni was there at the end on Tuesday, and he fronted the media post match as well.
But the 33-year-old neglected to mention to the assembled scribes that he’d decided to call a halt to his 90-Test career, instead leaving that to a media release from India’s cricket board.
The statement said Dhoni was retiring from Tests, at 33, to concentrate on the shorter forms of the game.
The news was stunning, although perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised given how many times Dhoni flashed his blade while trying to save a Test match.
He finished with 24 off 39 balls – not long ago a respectable one-day strike rate.
Virat Kohli, who has been the star of the series with bat and mouth so far for India, will lead the side in Sydney.
It would be easy to conclude that Australia batting for the entire morning session was the major reason the Test finished in the anticlimax that it did.
Shaun Marsh and Ryan Harris had added just 40 runs in the 18 overs before Harris was out for 21, less than five overs before lunch.
By batting on, Steve Smith removed any risk of losing the Test, with the draw ensuring Australia regained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy with an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series.
Likewise, there was some late criticism of the match being called off with four overs left to bowl in the day.
Memories must be so short that Michael Clarke’s three wickets in five balls to win the spiteful Sydney Test in January 2008 didn’t even register. Clarke struck in what would have been the penultimate over of the match.
India’s pursuit of their 384-run target got off to the worst possible start, with Shikhar Darwan (0) and debutant Lokesh Rahul (1) removed in the second and third over, respectively. Rahul, who made just three in the first innings, was surprisingly promoted to first drop in place of Cheteshwar Pujara.
When opener Murali Vijay (11) departed in the ninth over of the innings, India found themselves in deep trouble at 3/19. This of course reunited Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane in the middle, and after combining for 262 in India’s first innings, they always shaped as the key partnership if Australia were to win this Test.
And for a good chunk of the second session, it was looking like déjà vu for the Australian bowlers. Kohli and Rahane batted very well yet again, and added 85 for the fourth wicket into the tea break.
The pair survived a number of Australian bowling changes, with the only moment of real drama being a near run out, prompting yet another episode in the verbal wars between Kohli and the Australians.
“It’s all about you,” Australian wicketkeeper Brad Haddin could be clearly heard saying, repeatedly.
Kohli offered the Australians a sniff, when first ball after tea he turned Ryan Harris straight to Joe Burns at square leg. Kohli had made 54, and was poised to break 500 runs for the series. On a very good batting wicket, even for the fifth day of a Test, Kohli might have cause to rue the one that got away.
Pujara and Rahane then threatened to mount another partnership, before Pujara (21) was bowled by a fast straightener from Johnson.
Pujara had ducked into a bouncer only two balls earlier, and final ball of the over, Johnson pulled the fingers across the seam from around the wicket, with the ball pitching and straightening down the line to hit the top of off stump. It was arguably the ball of the Test.
Rahane (48) went shortly after, caught at midwicket by Marsh off the bowling of Josh Hazelwood, leaving Dhoni and Ravi Ashwin to see out the day.
Earlier, Smith declined the temptation to send India in straight after the early morning rain delay, and Australia showed no real sign of accelerating toward a declaration until around fifteen minutes before lunch.
Shaun Marsh took 12 off a Ravi Ashwin over to move to 98, but then ran himself out on 99 not two overs later, trying to scamper for the single needed to raise his first century in Australia. With nine wickets down, lunch was set to be delayed 30 minutes, forcing Australia to declare and ensuring two full sessions to take 10 Indian wickets.
That decision may be debated for a day or two, but with the Border-Gavaskar Trophy now back in Australian hands, any angst is likely to be short lived.
After three Tests in three weeks, both teams now have six days break before the fourth and final Test of the series, starting at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Tuesday January 6.
Australia have added one-Test Western Australian left-arm orthodox spinner Ashton Agar to their squad, in the only change from this match.