Smith proud as ‘magnificent plans’ come off

20 Mar

Play 01:44

‘India must be hurting’ – Smith

Steven Smith believes “momentum” is with Australia and India would be “hurting” after a day-five resistance mission in Ranchi kept the series level at 1-1.

Australia refused to crumble on the final day – just like the pitch, despite some dire pre-Test predictions – and their great escape was made possible chiefly by a fighting 124-run partnership between Peter Handscomb and Shaun Marsh. The pair had come together at a precarious time for Australia, at 64 for 3 after Matt Renshaw and Smith had fallen in the space of four balls towards the end of a morning session.

“I’m very proud. They had magnificent plans,” Smith said. “They backed their defence for a long period of time and to see the game out for as long as they did, it was an outstanding performance. I’m really proud of the way they did that.

“That’s one of the things we’ve been talking about – being resilient and sticking out the tough times. The way Petey and Shaun did that was absolutely magnificent.”

As a left-hand batsman, Marsh was particularly tested by the foot marks outside his off stump, which Ravindra Jadeja relentlessly tried to exploit.

“It was tough,” Marsh said. “I was just trying to play the ball. If a ball dipped, I was just trying to play the ball. He’s a quality bowler and I thought he bowled fantastically well and it was a great challenge out there against him.

“We just tried to keep it as simple as possible. Just to watch the ball and keep playing to our strengths and our game plan, and we didn’t try and think about the end result too much – just about playing each ball on its merits. I thought we did that really well together today and I really enjoyed being out there with [Handscomb].”

Australia have already exceeded the expectations of many on this tour, and a draw in the deciding Test in Dharamsala will be sufficient for them to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. India must win the final match to claim the silverware and Smith believes the fact Australia was able to withstand every onslaught from India’s bowlers on the final day in Ranchi gives them a slight edge over Kohli’s side.

“If there’s anything called momentum in cricket it’s probably with us at the moment. India coming today would have expected to bowl us out. I’m sure they’re hurting a little bit,” Smith said. “But having said that it’s one-all and we’re playing a decider in Dharamsala. Really exciting. Group’s looking forward to it.”

While Smith rued the fact that Australia had probably left themselves 100 runs short in the first innings, he felt the rearguard action to force the draw would lift his players heading to Dharamsala.

“Petey’s looked very good in every game so far without going on to make a score,” he said. “And today the way he did that, his 70 not out is worth 150 in my eyes. I thought he played beautifully and Shaun as well.

“I’m sure that all of the boys that batted out in the middle – Renshaw, Shaun and Handscomb – the three that did very well, they’ll take loads out of what they’ve been able to do in this second innings.

“It’s never easy batting in the fourth [third] innings of a game in India and trying to save the game, and I was exceptionally proud of the way they all went about their business. They backed themselves to the hilt, we backed them and it’s great that they were able to do what they did.”

Australia’s batsmen ensured that the back-breaking work done by their bowlers on the third and fourth days was not in vain but there is no doubt the toil and grind in the field will have taken a toll on the attack. Smith admitted as much. “I’ve never spent 210 overs in the field before,” he said. “SOK [Steve O’Keefe] was actually joking for a minute there, he bowled 78 overs, if he bowled two more he was going to throw the ball off and get himself a new one from one end.

“It was a long time in the field and credit to India, they played beautifully. [Cheteshwar] Pujara and [Wriddhiman] Saha batted exceptionally well. It was a long time in the field, so credit to our boys the way they came out today after having such heavy legs and spending that time in the field, to still be able hold out for the draw.”

Melinda Farrell is a presenter with ESPNcricinfo

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