Peter Handscomb and Shaun Marsh during their partnership in Ranchi on Monday. (PTI)
Ranchi: Whether Steve Smith suffered another "brain fade" considering the manner of his dismissal is debatable, but Shaun Marsh and Peter Handscomb ensured Australia's prospects in the series didn't fade away.
Together, they shared a match-saving 124-run partnership for the fifth wicket, denying India what could been a magnificent victory in the maiden Test here at the JSCA International Stadium on Monday.
The game ended with Handscomb remaining unbeaten on 72, having played the most important knock of his career so far as he resisted India for 261 minutes on the fifth and final day as Australia erased the deficit and reached 204/6 to salvage a respectful draw.
To bat out the final day of a Test in India requires a monumental effort, and Marsh and Handscomb put in exactly that. Perhaps, that is what the world knows as the Aussie grit and stubbornness.
Locked 1-1, the series now moves ahead to Dharamsala for the fourth and deciding Test, which also promises to be another riveting contest between these two immensely competitive sides.
For sure Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who was present at the venue since morning sporting a white t-shirt and blue jeans, would have been very pleased had his former Test team-mates not left their mission unaccomplished.
It's not that the Indians were flat and lacked penetration in their bowling. Yes, Ravichandran Ashwin was unable to force the issue when Ravindra Jadeja continuously created pressure from one end, bowling tirelessly throughout the day.
Jadeja, in fact, bowled 18 overs at a stretch from the Southern End in the day's first session, asking plenty of questions.
Pacers Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav too did their bit, bowling at the stumps consistently and on the corridor of uncertainty, forcing both Marsh and Handscomb to be on their toes. But Ashwin simply failed to live up to the expectations.
On a wearing fifth-day wicket, it's pretty justified to expect a team's leading bowler to have better figures than 30-10-71-1. It took him as many as 28 overs to get his first wicket in this innings. Barring the fourth innings in Bangalore, Ashwin hasn't quite been at his best against the Aussies.
Jadeja's persistence did pay off as he managed to break the Marsh-Handscomb stand at last when the left-hander perished at forward short leg.
But unfortunately for India, the pair had already batted out 62 overs that more or less doused hopes of India's victory.
All said and done, one must admit that the pitch here bowled a googly to all its doubters. Not only did it last all five days, but kept everyone interested till the Test's final hour.
Marsh and Handscomb also deserve credit for not panicking after Australia lost their overnight batsmen - Matt Renshaw and captain Smith - in back-to-back overs to Ishant and Jadeja, respectively.
The odd ball from Ishant and Umesh kept low, and the Aussie duo got beaten on a few occasions as well. Marsh alone survived three reviews, twice off the bowling of Umesh and once of Ashwin.
Virat Kohli and Co.'s occasional barbs too affected their concentration, but both the batsmen remained resolute and kept resisting.
Earlier, Renshaw and Smith too did a commendable job, being stoic in their defence to keep India wicketless in the first hour.
Thereafter, a fired-up Ishant - stopped midway by Renshaw while running in to bowl, had an exchange of words with the left-hander and trapped him plumb in front to give India the breakthrough.
In the very next over, the skipper did something least expected of him, half-heartedly using his pads only to see Jadeja's cleverly-bowled delivery landing on the footmark and spinning past to castle the off-stump.
Jadeja and his teammates' celebrations signalled that India were well on way to take an unassailable 2-1 lead.
But Marsh and Handscomb ensured that matters stay even till Dharamsala.