Rishabh Pant blazes the field with a counter-attacking score of 97

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While Rishabh Pant’s wicket-keeping skill set is not up to scratch and he may have struggled to make it to the limited-overs squads for the series preceding the Tests against Australia, his aggressive batting is turning out to be the X-factor for India a la Virender Sehwag. The 23-year-old left-hander’s counter-attack on the fifth day of the third Test on Monday laid the platform for a great Indian escape.

India pushed Pant up the order, ahead of Hanuma Vihari at No. 5, immediately after the dismissal of Ajinkya Rahane in the day’s second over and he obliged by taking the attack to the Aussies at the Sydney Cricket Ground while scoring an 118-ball 97.

The result was an Aussie attack turning defensive and trying to not bowl at stumps in order to stem the flow of runs. That allowed India batsmen respite, and then the lower order duo Vihari and R Ashwin ensured India earned a respectable draw by their dour grit.

Skipper Rahane said later that the decision to push Pant up was made to bring left and right-hand combination at the crease and confuse the Aussie bowlers.

“The left hand-right hand combination was very crucial for us, especially today. He was promoted at No.5; the way he played the counter-attacking knock was really good. Credit to him for the way he conquered the attack; the way he managed the innings. We know that he can win the game for us from any situation. We have that belief,” said Rahane.

This is not the first time that Pant has taken the attack to the opposition in the fourth innings. His 97 on Monday is the second highest by an Indian wicket-keeper in the fourth innings of a Test. The highest also belongs to him. That was in 2018, against England at The Oval in 2018, when he hammered 114 as India were reduced to 121 for five wickets. Sensing there was no point in sticking around, he went after the bowling. India though lost that game.

On Monday, Pant was severe on the man who was supposed to make a difference on the fifth-day wicket, off-spinner Nathan Lyon. He did survive a couple of dropped chances off the bowler, but then hit him for three sixes and four fours.

“About his batting number (sending him above Vihari) — yes, we discussed about that, we had that strategy and it paid off,” added Rahane.

Leading up to this Test series, Pant was having a bad time. After the 2019, 50-over World Cup last year, where he was played as a specialist batsmen but was criticised for throwing away his wicket, especially in the semi-final defeat to New Zealand when he was settled, Pant was seen as someone who would step into a finisher’s role, quite like MS Dhoni.

Former chief selector and India wicketkeeper MSK Prasad had been critical of Pant who probably saw himself as the next Dhoni. The comparisons didn’t help.

“Look, when people start comparing, you naturally fall into that trap. Every wicketkeeper is different. He should have his own way and style of playing. With Pant, he should be his own and not consider himself as the next Dhoni,” Prasad told IANS.

Pant’s childhood coach Tarak Sinha elaborates it. “He started thinking of himself as the finisher. We told him: you have to go for strokeplay. It was self-imposed pressure. He started thinking that he has to be a finisher and he started to analyse his game too much. His stroke-play suffered, he couldn’t play the drives and judge the ball,” Sinha told IANS.

Sinha called the third Test as a do-or-die game for Pant while the left-hander thought that after injury, he probably got a bit more conscious of his place. He feels the performance has given him a lifeline.

The team backed him. Rahane concurred.

“Credit [goes] to him actually for going out at No.5. As captain and team management you can make strategies, but it is up to the player to go out there and deliver for you,” said the India skipper.

Pant had, after the end of the second day’s play in the third Test, immediately gone to nets to work on his batting. The next day he came up with a fighting 36, though he was hit on the arm.

After an average outing in the Indian Premier League, where his strike rate went down to 114 as compared 163 the previous year, with just one fifty. The result was that he wasn’t picked in the Indian white ball squads for the ODI and T20 series in Australia.

“Sitting out can frustrate any player. I had spoken to him in the interim and told him to keep practicing and playing at nets, with whatever opportunities you get. When a player is mentally down, he has to practice hard,” said former Delhi wicketkeeper Devender Sharma, another of Pant’s childhood coaches. “We asked him to play his natural game and play shots.”

Pant’s wicketkeeping skill has been questioned. His fitness (as wicketkeeper) as well as his habit of not watching the ball till the end was questioned.

But Rahane doesn’t seem to be overly worried. “Anyone can drop catches, but as long as you are learning as a wicketkeeper, or as a cricketer… that is very important. I am very happy for Rishabh,” he said.

3rd Test: Ashwin couldn’t stand up straight on Day 5 morning, reveals wife

All-rounder Ravichandran Ashwin was in “unbelievable pain” on Sunday night and “could not stand up straight” when he woke up on Monday morning on the final day of the third Test against Australia, his wife Prithi has said.

Despite that, Ashwin, along with Hanuma Vihari (23* off 161 balls), showed great grit and resilience to help India secure a famous draw at the Sydney Cricket Ground and set up a compelling finale to the ongoing four-match series later this week.

Chasing a mammoth target of 407, India reached 334/5 batting for 131 overs before both the teams decided to shake hands on the final day of the Test match.

Ashwin scored unbeaten 39 runs from the 128 deliveries he faced and along with an injured Vihari — who was barely able to move due to injury — he shared an unbeaten 62-run partnership, batting for more than 40 overs and ensured the hosts didn’t take a 2-1 lead in the series.

“The man went to bed last night with a terrible back tweak and in unbelievable pain. He could not stand up straight when he woke up this morning. Could not bend down to tie his shoe laces. I am amazed at what Ravichandran Ashwin pulled off today,” tweeted Prithi after the end of the Test match.

Ashwin, elevated in the batting order because Ravindra Jadeja copped a fractured thumb when hit while batting in the first innings, suffered various blows on his body when Australia’s fast bowlers resumed after Tea with fire in their bellies and blood in the nostrils.

Talking to the broadcasters after the match, the off-spinner said it was difficult to bat, especially against right-arm pacer Pat Cummins.

“…Cummins was bowling in a different league altogether. There was a bit of double bounce, so it was difficult against Cummins,” said the off-spinning all-rounder.

The 34-year-old also posted a couple of pictures on Instagram after the conclusion of the match with a caption: “The picture says it all. A feeling that I cannot express in words. Thanks to all my teammates and well wishers.”

Ashwin has scalped 12 wickets and scored 78 runs in the three matches that have been played so far in the series.

With the series tied at 1-1, Australia and India will now face each other in the final Test beginning Friday at The Gabba in Brisbane.

Australia, India retain top two spots in ICC WTC standing

Australia and India have retained the top two spots in the ongoing ICC World Test Championship (WTC) standings after playing out a thriling draw in the third Test of the ongoing four-match series at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG).

“An incredible battle in Sydney has helped both teams retain the top two spots in the ICC World Test Championship standings. A difference of 0.2 per cent between India and New Zealand,” tweeted ICC just after the third Test between Australia and India ended in a draw on Monday.

New Zealand had gained the maximum of 120 points from the two-Test series against Pakistan, taking their points tally to 420 out of a possible 600 after having also beaten West Indies and India by the same margin in their two previous series.

The Black Caps are placed at the third spot with 0.700 percentage points won, the factor that determines the final placings rather than total points won, following a change to the points system owing to the Covid-19 disruption. India are placed second with 70.2 percentage points won while Australia stand at the top with 73.8 percentage points.

The top two sides at the end of the league on percentage points will contest the final, currently scheduled to be played at The Lord’s in June this year.

With the series tied at 1-1, Australia and India will now face each other in the final Test beginning Friday at The Gabba in Brisbane.

Tough one to swallow, says Paine after SCG Test ends in a draw

Australia captain Tim Paine on Monday rued the missed chances as India edged out a historic draw in the third Test of the ongoing Border-Gavaskar Trophy at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Chasing a mammoth target of 407, India reached 334/5 after batting for 131 overs, riding on gritty innings of Rishabh Pant (97), Cheteshwar Pujara (77), Ravichandran Ashwin (39*) and Hanuma Vihari (23*) before both the teams decided to shake hands on the final day of the Test match.

Starting the day having an edge over the visitors, Australia dropped many catches, including three by Paine himself as they ended taking just three wickets during the entire fifth day of the Test match.

“I thought we created enough chances to win the game. This one’s a tough one to swallow,” said Paine at the post-match presentation ceremony.

Josh Hazlewood was the pick of the Australian bowlers in the second innings as he scalped two wickets, giving away 39 runs in the 26 overs he bowled. Off-spinner Nathan Lyon also picked two wickets while conceding 114 runs in the 46 overs he bowled. Pat Cummins picked one wicket while conceding 66 runs in the 26 overs he bowled while Mitchell Starc went wickets in his 22 overs.

“Our bowlers were superb, Lyon bowled well. Just that we (especially me) didn’t hold onto our catches,” said Paine.

“There were a few positives for us, our bowlers created plenty of chances. Today was a whole-hearted effort from the boys, just that things didn’t go our way,” he added.

Australia had posted 338 in their first innings and then bowled out India for 244, thus attaining a 94-run lead. The hosts then declared their second innings at 312/6, setting a 407-run target.

Paine also praised youngsters Will Pucovski and Cameron Green. While Pucovski returned with scores of 62 and 10, Green played knocks of 0 and 84 in the Test match.

“We didn’t play our best in the last two games, but we were somewhat good with the bat in this Test. I think having two young kids (Pucovski and Green) playing Test cricket, it’s a great thing as they were sensational. I thought Green was fantastic yesterday,” said the Australia skipper.

Australia had registered an emphatic eight-wicket win in Adelaide during which they bowled out India for their lowest-ever Test total of 36. However, Team India made a stunning comeback in the Boxing Day Test, winning the game by eight wickets in Melbourne.

With the series tied at 1-1, the two teams will now face each other in the final Test beginning Friday at The Gabba in Brisbane.

Really happy with the fight we showed, says Rahane

India skipper Ajinkya Rahane on Monday lauded his team’s fighting spirit and character after the visitors batted the entire fifth day to draw the third Test against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Chasing a mammoth target of 407, India reached 334/5 batting for 131 overs before both the teams decided to shake hands on the final day of the Test match.

Australia had posted 338 in their first innings and then bowled out India for 244, thus attaining a 94-run lead. The hosts declared their second innings at 312/6, setting a 407-run target.

Starting the final day at 98/2, India needed 309 runs and had their backs against the wall.

“Our talk coming this morning was to show character and fight till the end and not to think about the result. I am really happy with the way we fought especially today but also throughout the game, even in the first innings when Australia were 200/2 and getting them all out for 338 was really good,” Rahane said at the post-match presentation ceremony while talking about the mindset of the Indian team before entering the final day.

India lost Rahane very early on Day Five and put the hosts in a commanding position. But Cheteshwar Pujara (77) and Rishabh Pant (97) shared a 148-run partnership for the fifth wicket and brought the visitors back into the match.

After their dismissals, Hanuma Vihari (23*) and Ravichandran Ashwin shared an unbeaten 62-run partnership, which batting out for 259 balls as India denied Australia with an opportunity to go 2-1 up in the ongoing four-Test series.

Rahane, while praising Vihari and Ashwin, said that there are a few areas where the team needs to improve before the last Test.

“There are few areas we can improve on but special mention to Vihari and Ashwin. The way they batted in the end and showed character was really good to see,” said the stand-in India skipper.

Australia had won the first Test by eight wickets in Adelaide while India registered a stunning comeback in Melbourne, winning the Boxing Day Test by eight wickets.

The series, currently tied at 1-1, will now be decided in the final Test beginning Friday at The Gabba in Brisbane.

Contrasting half-centuries from Rishabh Pant and Cheteshwar Pujara, followed by an exemplary display of grit and determination by Hanuma Vihari and Ravichandran Ashwin helped India draw the third Test against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Chasing a mammoth target of 407, India reached 334/5 after batting for 131 overs before both the teams decided to shake hands on the final day of the Test match. Vihari, who batted with a sore hamstring throughout the course of his innings, showed great resilience and remained unbeaten on 23 after facing 161 deliveries. He was supported brilliantly by Ashwin who also suffered a lot of blows on his body but didn’t throw away his wicket and remained not on 39 from 128 deliveries.

Earlier, Pant and Pujara shared a 148-run partnership for the fifth wicket after the visitors lost skipper Ajinkya Rahane (4) very early in the day. The duo scored runs at a brisk pace and in fact, not only put India in a position to draw the Test, but also gave the visitors an unlikely hope of an improbable win.

But Pant — after scoring 97 runs off just 118 balls with the help of 12 fours and three sixes — got out against Nathan Lyon in the second session and provided Australia an opening. The game tilted further in Australia’s way when Pujara — who scored his second half-century of the match during his 77-run knock — got out bowled, courtesy a peach of a delivery by Josh Hazlewood.

However, it was then that Vihari and Ashwin came into their own and first helped India end the second session at 280/5 on the final day.

The experienced pair continued to show great character during the final session as well and survived some nervy moments during the course of their unbeaten 62-run partnership which saw the team end the match in a historic draw. Both the batters batted for more than three hours each during the course of their innings and declined Australia with an opportunity to go 2-1 up in the ongoing four-Test series.

Openers Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill also made notable contributions in the second innings by scoring 52 and 31 runs respectively and helped India gain some confidence as they began their chase of the gigantic target on Day Four.

Australia had posted 338 in their first innings and then bowled out India for 244, thus attaining a 94-run lead. The hosts declared their second innings at 312/6, setting a 407-run target.

Australia had won the first Test by eight wickets in Adelaide while India registered a stunning comeback in Melbourne, winning the Boxing Day Test by eight wickets.

The series, currently tied at 1-1, will now be decided in the final Test beginning Friday at The Gabba in Brisbane.

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