Ranchi: India captain Virat Kohli said his spinners could have been more effective in the drawn third Test against Australia but for the softness of the ball used in the contest.
Having reduced Australia to 63-4 in the final morning after taking a 152-run first inning lead, India looked in a great position to register their second successive victory in the four-Test series. But a wicketless afternoon session scuppered their hopes.
Peter Handscomb and Shaun Marsh collaborated for almost four hours to frustrate the hosts with a dour fifth wicket stand of 124 runs.
Kohli reckoned it could have been different had the balls used in the match retained their hardness.
"I think the hardness of the ball was a big factor," the 28-year-old told reporters at the Jharkhand State Cricket Association Stadium.
"When the ball was new last night, it spun well off the rough. Even this morning, it was spinning well. But in the middle session, the ball was not hard, so could not generate that kind of pace from the wicket."
After Kohli took the new ball, Ravindra Jadeja dismissed Marsh for 53, while spin partner Ravichandran Ashwin sent back Glenn Maxwell but Australia had reached safety by then.
"On day five, wicket slows down anyway. We took the new ball and got a couple of wickets. But the hardness of the ball in the middle session was a factor," added Kohli.
His counterpart Steve Smith was rather amused when asked about his opinion.
"I haven't really thought about it. We both use the same ball, you just got to do what you can with it," he said.
Kohli dismissed suggestion that he underbowled off-spinner Ashwin, currently the top-ranked Test bowler, while persisting with Jadeja, who claimed nine wickets in the match.
"The fast bowlers were more effective from the far end the spinners from the commentary end," Kohli explained.
"Whenever Jadeja came to bowl, he picked up a wicket or two every three-four overs. It was very difficult to change him at that stage because he was bowling in good momentum. That was one of the factors."
Kohli said Jadeja's second innings figures of 44-18-54-4 was the most economical he had seen and the left-arm spinner outperformed everyone on a pitch which did not offer much assistance to them.
"You can leave aside Jadeja, because he really stood apart among the bowlers. But I think generally bowlers found it difficult to make things happen from the centre of the wicket," he said.
Meanwhile, Australia skipper said Handscomb and Marsh lived up to his expectations after the middle order batsmen scripted the team's great escape.
Smith and overnight batsman Matt Renshaw denied India for about 21 overs before falling in a space of four balls, with the prospect of an innings defeat looming over the tourists.
Right-hander Handscomb and southpaw Marsh bailed out Australia with their nearly four-hour resistance after Smith's departure had left them reeling at 63-4 on an intriguing final day.
Marsh was dismissed for 53 but Handscomb, who made an unbeaten 72, stayed put to guide Australia to a remarkable draw.
"It wasn't ideal to lose two set batters at once," Smith said after the Handscomb-Marsh fifth wicket stand had all but ensured safety for the team.
"That's one thing we always talk about here in India, in the sub-continent, to try not to lose wickets in clumps. It wasn't ideal but I have 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 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. I'm really proud of the way they did that."
Smith made unbeaten 178 in the first innings but was beaten by a spinning Ravindra Jadeja delivery that uprooted his off-stump in the second.
"I probably could have got a fraction further down the wicket and used the outside of my pad. I just misjudged it, made a mistake and paid the price," he said.
Handscomb redeemed himself on Monday, having unwittingly triggered the biggest controversy in the four-match series in the second Test.
It was on his advice that Smith gestured to the Australian dressing room in Bengaluru whether to review a leg-before decision. Such decisions are meant to be taken without off-field input and Handscomb subsequently apologised.
Smith admitted to a 'brain fade' which drew strong criticism from India captain Virat Kohli, resulting in considerable acrimony between the sides.
Before the third Test at the Jharkhand State Cricket Association Stadium, both captains met match referee Richie Richardson, promising to uphold the spirit of the game.
Sparks flew more than once in Ranchi but Smith would not complain.
"There's always a bit of tension when you're playing Australia-India in Test matches," he said."As far I'm concerned it's being played in the right spirit out on the field and it's a hard and tough grind. That's how I would explain it and no issues with that."
Having described Ranchi 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.
Allegations and denials flew thick and fast between rival captains with the India skipper claiming that the home team physio Patrick Farhart was "disrespected" by visiting players.
Kohli alleged that some Australians unnecessarily taunted Farhart but Smith denied the claim.
"They (four-five of them) started taking Patrick's name. I don't know why. He's our physio. His job is to treat me. I don't find the reason behind it. I could not understand. You must ask why they have started taking his name," said Kohli at post match press conference.
While saving a run on the first day of the third Test here, Kohli hurt his shoulder and Farhart rushed onto the field to attain to his injury. Kohli eventually left the field with the physio.
Later Glenn Maxwell was seen mocking Kohli's injury when he imitated his action by clutching his right shoulder after his dive to save a boundary. The Indian skipper, too, gave it back with a similar gesture when David Warner got out on Sunday.
When an Australian scribe asked about the mocking incident involving himself and Glenn Maxwell, an upset Kohli said: "It's funny all our guys ask about cricket as the first thing and you ask about something controversial. But it's okay. These things happen on the field."
However, Smith insisted that they never disrespected Farhart, who himself is an Australian. "It was a bit disappointing. I didn't actually do anything. Virat was having a go at me saying I was disrespecting Patrick Farhart. I was probably the exact opposite.
"I think he probably did a pretty terrific job to be able to get Virat back on the field after that shoulder injury. He's a terrific physio and he obviously does a great job for them," said Smith.
Asked about his take on the spirit of the game, Smith said: "There's always a bit of tension when you're playing India in Test matches. As far I'm concerned it's being played in the right spirit on the field and it's a hard and tough grind. That's how I would explain it and no issues with that."
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