Steve Smith said India’s inability to bowl Australia out on the final day of the drawn third cricket Test will be hurting the hosts and the momentum will be with the visitors going into the series deciding final Test in Dharamsala.
“If there’s anything called momentum in cricket it’s probably with us at the moment. India coming today (Monday) would have expected to bowl us out. I’m sure they’re hurting a little bit,” Australia captain Smith said at the post match press conference.
Peter Handscomb scored a gritty unbeaten 72 and Shaun Marsh made 53 as the middle-order duo put on a match saving fifth wicket partnership of 124 runs to bail Australia out under testing conditions in little less than four hours to force a draw.
“I’m very proud. They had magnificent plans. 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,” Smith said.
“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 touch times. The way Petey (Handscomb) and Shaun Marsh) did that was absolutely magnificent,” he said.
“It’s probably on our side at the moment, but having said that it’s one-all and we’re playing a decider in Dharamsala. The group’s looking forward to it.”
With all of their batters barring David Warner in form, Smith said: “It’s great signs for us that everyone is contributing.”
But in the hindsight he felt that they were about 100 runs short in the first innings, with Indian left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja making the difference with his five for 124-run spell.
“Everyone is in good form, we’ve have a good three Test matches but to be honest we probably left ourselves 100 runs short in the first innings,” Smith said.
“We probably should have got ourselves 550 and been able to get in front of the game from there. Things could have ended a bit differently.
“But that’s the game of cricket. It’s great to see all the batters working very hard on their plans and are contributing and scoring runs.”
Having described the pitch as a “never-seen-before” one with mud “rolled together”, Smith said he didn’t expect the match to last five days.
“I didn’t expect the game to go five days, certainly before a ball was bowled it didn’t look like it would hold together at all,” the Australian skipper said.
“Credit to the groundsman, the wicket held together beautifully. He said it would last five days and he was correct.
“It was a really nice wicket, a little bit of rough outside the right-hander’s leg-stump, left-hander’s off stump for Jadeja and (Steve) O’Keefe to hit. It was a nice wicket,” he said.
Australia, however, had a different scenario after India declared their innings for a mammoth 603 for nine and made them bowl a 37-year high of 210 overs.
India also took key wickets of David Warner and nightwatchman Nathan Lyon as Australia ended day four at a precarious 23 for 2 in 7.2 overs with a deficit of 129 runs. They were further down two wickets after a set Smith and Matt Renshaw got out in a space of four balls before lunch.
“It wasn’t ideal to lose two set batters at once. That’s one thing we always talk about here in India, to try not to lose wickets in clumps,” Smith said.
“But I had faith in the boys behind me. Petey’s looked very good in every game so far without going on to make a score.
“And today (Monday) the way he did that, his 70 not out is worth 150 in my eyes. I thought he played beautifully and Shaun as well. They stuck to their plans throughout and never shied away from it,” he said.
On the feel of bowling 210 overs on Day 4, he said: “Tired. I’ve never spent 210 overs in the field before. “SO’K (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.”
Showering praise on Cheteshwar Pujara and Wriddhiman Saha, Smith said: “It was a long time in the field and credit to India, they played beautifully. Pujara and Saha batted exceptionally well. It was a long time in the field.
“So credit to our boys the way they came out after having such heavy legs and spending that time in the field, to be able hold out for the draw.”