205-ball 77 - Cheteshwar Pujara "batted" without worrying about his strike rate.
118-ball 97 - Rishabh Pant "batted" aggressively.
161-ball 23 - Hanuma Vihari "batted" on one leg.
128-ball 39 - R Ashwin battled and "batted" with a never-say-die attitude.
The four aforementioned named "batted, batted, batted... and batted" on the final day of the third Test against Australia and helped India pull off a historic draw at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Monday (January 11). India played out 131 overs, the most they have played in the fourth innings of a Test since 1980, and managed to keep the four-match series levelled at 1-1. The two teams will now play the decider at the Gabba, Brisbane, starting from January 15.
Coming back to the third Test, India needed 309 runs with eight wickets in hand but not many expected them to put up a fight like they did on a surface that didn't deteriorate as much as Australia would have liked. The visiting side lost their captain early, and with Ravindra Jadeja injured, it felt like Australia would wrap things up quickly. However, Pujara and Pant (promoted to five) had other ideas. The two put on 148 runs for the fourth wicket and it felt like India could actually win this game. The two however departed in quick succession and there were still more than 42 overs to be bowled.
The onus was now on two men who haven't been in great batting form of late. Vihari had struggled throughout the series, and then to make things worse, he pulled his right hamstring very early in his innings. Meanwhile, Ashwin's decline in batting credentials is well-documented. The two however refused to throw in the towel and produced one of the most resilient partnerships in the recent history. The two put on an unbeaten stand of 62 but it was the number of deliveries they faced that mattered. The duo stuck around for 258 deliveries and batted out of their skin to save the game.
Australia had their moments but failed to hold onto those crucial catches. Australian captain Tim Paine, in particular, dropped three chances.
PUJARA, PANT GO FOR WIN
India needed Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane to bat long but the visitors got off to the worst possible start on the final day. Nathan Lyon was always going to a big threat on Day 5 and the veteran offspinner got rid of Rahane only in the second over of the day to put India on the back foot straightaway. The Indian captain could only manage a score of 4 and was caught at forward short leg while trying to defend a delivery turning into him from just outside off.
Pant, who didn't keep in the second innings after getting hit on his elbow while batting in the first essay, surprisingly came out to bat ahead of Vihari. The wicketkeeper-batsman started tentatively and was dropped once off Lyon. Lyon looked in great rhythm and was set to bowl a long spell before Pant managed to break the shackles and whacked him for three fours and a six in his next two overs. The 23-year-old took some time at the start but then took the attack to the Australian bowlers.
Promoting Pant ahead of Vihari worked for India. It was important that India kept the scoreboard moving and with Pant at the crease, that was never going to be an issue. The left-hander from Delhi was super aggressive against Lyon and that unsettled the offspinner a bit. Lyon was taken out of the attack for a few overs, and when brought back, Pant once again took him on. The dasher smoked him for consecutive sixes and brought up his fifty off 64 deliveries. Pant, who was given two lifelines by Paine, was pouncing on anything full or short and managed to keep Australia on their toes. Meanwhile, Pujara did his "thing" but batted with a lot more intent. There were a couple of deliveries that bounced awkwardly but the surface was still pretty decent to bat on.
Pujara, who scored a 176-ball 50 in the first innings, played a couple of audacious shots and in the process became the 11th Indian batsman to complete 6000 runs in Test cricket. Lyon was trying to target Pujara with a leg-side dominated field but the right-hander from Saurashtra looked unconquerable. Pujara too brought up his fifty but it was Pant who took on Cameron Green before the new ball was taken. The left-hander got a couple of boundaries off him before smashing Lyon for two more to get into the 90s.
The offspinner however had the last laugh as Pant, who wanted to get to his hundred before the new ball was taken, was undone by a flighted delivery which he ended up top-edging to Pat Cummins at backward point. Pant smoked 12 fours and three maximums in his 118-ball 97 but missed out on a well-deserved century. Lyon was unlucky with those dropped chances but fittingly he was the one who brought an end to that partnership - the highest-ever fourth-wicket stand for India in the fourth innings. Pujara however was going strong and crafted Cummins for three consecutive boundaries. But that's when Josh Hazlewood produced a superb delivery and knocked him over for 77. It wasn't an unplayable delivery but Pujara ended up playing down the wrong line.
VIHARI, ASHWIN SAVE THE DAY
Pant's departure meant that Vihari, who's playing for his spot in the team, was exposed to the new ball. Having pulled his right hamstring, Vihari tried to defend or leave every delivery. Ashwin at the other end received a couple of blows to his body but did well to survive and get his eye in. Cummins and Hazlewood were brilliant with the second new ball, with Ashwin constantly riding his luck. The two fast bowlers tried to bounce him out but Ashwin managed to see them off. Meanwhile, Vihari looked compact with his defence and hardly focused on the strike rotation because of his injury.
Lyon had five men around Ashwin and Vihari but couldn't get that one wicket. Ashwin, who hasn't faced more than 100 deliveries in a Test innings since December 2016, countered Lyon pretty well. The two forced Australia to think out of the box and skipper Paine even tried his luck with Marnus Labuschagne. The equation was pretty simple, you play one over and I will play one and it went well for Ashwin and Vihari.
Vihari was covering the line of the ball perfectly and playing everything late. Australia soon started running out of options and shoulders began to drop. Both Vihari and Ashwin displayed tremendous grit and determination. There have been lots of question marks raised over Vihari's presence in the XI and he might not even be fit for the final Test but the 27-year-old played the knock of his lifetime. Vihari did give them a chance in the 123rd over off Starc but Paine failed to hold on to it.
Starc, who was lacklustre throughout the day, was breathing fire in his last spell but Vihari managed to survive it and brought up the 50-run stand. The runs never really mattered, it was the number of deliveries that they faced. The two stayed there till the very end and got the job done for India.