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India probably missed the fifth bowler in Ranchi, feels VVS Laxman © IANS

Australia turned in an excellent rearguard batting display on the final morning, with their backs to the wall, to come away with a well-deserved draw in the third Test. At stumps on Day Four, with David Warner out of the equation, I was confident that India would drive home the advantage, and when Jadeja dismissed Steven Smith before lunch, it appeared as if it was just a matter of time. FULL CRICKET SCORECARD: India vs Australia, 4th Test at Dharamsala

But Shaun Marsh and Peter Handscomb played the kind of innings that make men out of boys. Marsh is an experienced campaigner, who has been in and out of the side, and the kind of confidence he would have got from this effort would be massive, but the benefits will be even more for someone like Handscomb, who is just feeling his way in international cricket. This tour of India is a great education for a 25-year-old, and Handscomb has already learnt several lessons quite well. He will be a much better batsman for this innings, and looks to have everything needed to be a successful Test batsman for a long time.

Smith’s second-innings dismissal was a rare lapse in concentration from a batsman for whom my respect has only increased every time I have watched him bat. He won a crucial toss on the first morning, and while Australia might be a little disappointed that they did not manage more than 451, much of that total owed itself to their captain. To have produced that innings amid all the distractions of that brain fade in Bangalore speaks volumes of Smith’s mental toughness and his character. It is not easy to relegate such controversies to the backburner, but Smith managed to find that pointed focus which is the hallmark of a champion cricketer.

Smith has got excellent hands, and his footwork is exemplary. He can quickly judge the length and then use the feet to either get to the pitch of the ball or go deep in his crease and use the length to his advantage. He is a very wristy batsman who is almost sub-continental in his style, which allows him to manoeuvre the ball and manipulate the field.

To the pace bowlers, he has a pronounced shuffle, but the one thing he has improved in recent times is the positioning of his leading foot. The left foot goes down the pitch rather than outside the right foot, so he is able to play with a straight bat whereas if the foot went across, he would often end up playing around the front pad. That has put him in a position where, using his wrists, he can play the ball from outside off to the leg-side with minimum risk, and it makes the bowlers’ job that much more difficult.

As much as Smith, I was extremely impressed with Glenn Maxwell. He walked in to a mini crisis on his Test comeback, and would have been tempted to hit his way out of trouble, but he put his head down, no doubt helped by the calming influence of his captain at the other end. It was a completely uncharacteristic Maxwell innings, dotted by watchful defence for the first part before the Maxwell everyone knows surfaced in the second half.

Maxwell will now have the belief when it comes to Test cricket. A hundred in India is a huge achievement, and it will make him feel he belongs at this level. His team-mates and the selectors will feel likewise, because now, Maxwell has clearly shown that he is not just a one-dimensional player. Even in limited-overs cricket, no matter the situation, Maxwell has played his natural attacking game. By modifying it to the demands of the team in the Test arena, he has sent out a clear message that not only is he willing to change, but he can also adapt with some degree of ease.

The Indian bowling in the first innings was pretty honest. The bowlers all toiled hard but there was little for them by way of assistance, which puts Jadeja’s five-wicket haul on a higher plane. He was extremely good in the second innings as well when he made capital use of the footmarks outside the left-handed batsman’s off-stump, but the softness of the ball and the skills of the Australian batsmen meant he could not bowl the team to the victory they were so desperately seeking.

I was extremely impressed with the overall Indian batting effort, with of course Pujara and Saha as the most celebrated contributors. After a long time, both Indian openers came good in the same innings, and their 91-run partnership was the just the base the team required when in pursuit of a massive total.

KL Rahul continued to show the rapid strides he has made, striking that happy balance between proper Test match batting and an innate desire to impose himself on the bowling. He got out to a brute of a delivery from Pat Cummins, but he has no reason to be disappointed with himself. On Indian pitches, where the bounce is less than true, the first instinct is to look to play the ball and then leave it once you are sure of what it is doing. This one kept climbing and Rahul tried his best to get out of the way, so there is no shame in the way he got out.

Murali Vijay, however, has no excuse. He had the bowling at his mercy, moving beautifully, defending when needed and then hitting over the top when he was sure he could get under the ball and extend his arms. The sudden rush of blood in the last over before lunch on the third day is not what you expect from one of your most experienced batsmen. Not only did Vijay let himself down with that poor stroke, he also let his teammates down, both by the timing and the manner of the dismissal. It is a lesson for him not to take anything for granted a fact that was further illustrated by the quick dismissals of Virat, Rahane, Karun and Ashwin.

India needed a partnership to keep themselves in the game, and the two least-hyped members of the team got together to offer the stability and the composure needed at that time. Pujara has had a wonderful season, and he once again seldom put a foot wrong. His degree of comfort had to be seen to be believed, and his control was amazing. He played the situation beautifully, wearing Australia down physically and mentally, and when the occasion demanded, he put the bad ball away on his way to a richly deserved third double-century. For someone who plays only Test cricket for the country, every opportunity must be cherished and capitalised on, and I could not be happier for him.

Likewise for Saha. He has had a slightly difficult season with his hamstring injury, but he has clearly now shown that he is the number one wicketkeeper-batsman in the country (considering that Dhoni has retired from Test cricket). He kept very well on a pitch where the lines of the spinners made wicket keeping somewhat difficult, but it was his batting that stood out. Saha is also someone who looks to get on with the game, but he curbed his style because the need was different. It was a well-crafted century, and it was this partnership, together with Jadeja’s final flourish with the bat that set up the big lead and a charge at victory.

I am sure Ashwin will be a little disappointed with his bowling. Sometimes it is not just about the wickets column but how you have performed otherwise, and it is fair to say that he was below his best. A look at the pitch map will reveal that he was either too short or too full, and did not hit the good length often enough, something that Ashwin does when he is at his best. I know it has been a long season and the fingers and the shoulders and the trunk must be sore, but India will need one big push from him and the rest of the bowling group in Dharamsala if they are to come away with a 2-1 scoreline.

Looking at the workloads the bowlers have had to endure, I would advocate a fifth bowler in Dharamsala, depending on the conditions of course. India probably missed the fifth bowler in Ranchi, and I felt Virat could have used Vijay and Nair for five- or six-over spells in the first innings to keep his frontline bowlers fresh. It is important to take wickets, of course, but equally crucial that the bowlers are not fatigued. Maybe Virat missed a trick in Ranchi, which is why I feel an additional bowling option in Dharamsala will not be out of place. It will also send out the right signal — that India are here to win.