India A 505 (Bharat 106, Easwaran 86, Samarth 83, Tremain 3-41) and 55 for 4 (Bawne 28*, Samarth 5*) beat Australia A 346 (Marsh 113*, Head 68, Kuldeep 5-91) and 213 (Handscomb 56, Head 47, Gowtham 3-39, Kuldeep 3-46) by by six wickets
India A pulled of a six-wicket win on the final day of the second Test to draw the two-match series 1-1. Having put Australia A under pressure on Monday with a 159-run lead, India were made to toil by various Australian partnerships through Tuesday, most excruciatingly by the lower order. But with about 45 minutes left in the day, India wrapped up the tail and needed to chase down 55 in a maximum of eight overs. Ankit Bawne hit an unbeaten 18-ball 28, managing to squeeze out a win with 10 minutes left in the game.
With Australia employing all 10 of their fielders in the deep and banging the ball in short of a length on a slow pitch, India were effectively forced to try and hit sixes, and they didn’t get on till the third over, when KS Bharat whipped a short ball over square leg. He hit a four off his next ball too but his innings ended in the fourth over, with India 25 for 4.
R Samarth, coming in at No. 6, seemed to have brought a message from the dressing room – to use the open gaps to pinch runs. That’s what he and Bawne went about doing, before Bawne swept Chris Tremain for four and followed it with a slice past point to get 16 off the fifth over. With five to get and two overs left, India only had the fading light to battle. Bawne slapped a short ball over midwicket and sealed the win.
Earlier, Travis Head was dropped twice in a short span during the first session – once by Shreyas Iyer, and once by wicketkeeper Bharat – and India felt the effects of that till the lunch interval. Head’s attacking approach brought more and more rewards as the day went on, with the sun coming out and taking away any sting in the wicket. At the other end, Peter Handscomb chose to go the opposite way, dead-batting his way into some kind of form. At one point, Handscomb had played more than 70 balls to score only four runs. He barely played any attacking shots in the opening hour, but when he did decide to free himself up, it was in trademark style, with jumps down the pitch to unsettle lengths, chips over the infield, and deft boundary strokes behind square on both sides.
The pair batted through till lunch, when they were likely informed that Head had made Australia’s Test squad for the UAE and Handscomb hadn’t. Upon return, it was Handscomb who went on to get fifty, after Head and Marnus Labuschagne – who was also called up for the Tests – were both caught looking to play the flick. Head was caught on the inside edge against Shahbaz Nadeem, and Labuschagne failed to get off the mark for the second time in the match when he got a leading edge to slip looking to flick Deepak Chahar.
At 117 for 4, Australia were 42 behind, but Mitchell Marsh came out blazing, starting his innings with a string of boundaries, including an imperious slap over mid-on off Chahar. But he was forced to dig in when Handscomb’s move to attack was halted by Kuldeep Yadav, whose half-tracker was pulled straight to midwicket. In his next over, Kuldeep got a loopy delivery to spin past Ashton Agar’s stride and had him stumped to leave Australia six down with about an hour to go before tea.
The collapse would’ve been given another boost when Michael Neser skied another Kuldeep half-tracker towards Nadeem at deep midwicket. But the left-arm spinner, tracking backwards a couple of steps, seemed to be caught unaware by the ball’s trajectory. His hurried grab meant he dropped what was a simple take. That seemed to trigger a complete shutdown for Australia, as far as runs went, and both Marsh and Neser played through till tea.
India’s spinners had assistance throughout the day, but in a bid to attack the rough outside the right-hander’s leg stump, Nadeem was largely used in a conservative role. Kuldeep’s spells were scattered across the day, and K Gowtham was contended with rather easily as well.
The spinners were persisted with even when the new ball was taken, and with a more prominent seam, Gowtham got an offbreak to beat Marsh (36) on the inside edge and knocks his stumps back. Then came the partnership that had India scrambling desperately by the end of the day. Neser and Tremain were dogged in defence, surviving many lbw appeals as they pushed forward against the spinners. In the 93rd over, Neser also survived a bat-pad appeal against Gowtham, one that the Indian team were not happy about in the least.
India managed to make three bowling changes in the space of four overs after that, in another sign of hurried desperation as the eighth-wicket stand began indulging in time-wasting tactics. But one of those changes brought the breakthrough, and it was medium-pacer Chahar, coming in after 41 overs, who got Tremain to edge his second ball to gully to end the 83-ball stand.
Gowtham returned to take out Neser and could have had Brendan Doggett if Bharat had held on to an outside edge two balls later. But Kuldeep got Swepson in the next over and India had given themselves 55 to chase to level the series.