India v Australia, 3rd Test, Ranchi, 2nd day March 17, 2017

Australia's battle of patience

Despite Steven Smith's remarkable ton, despite Glenn Maxwell's barely believable knock, despite having 451 on the board, it seems the Ranchi Test is still in the balance for Australia
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Steven Smith recorded the highest score by an Australian captain in India © Associated Press

It is tough for Australia to win in India. The knowledge is passed down from one generation of cricketers to the next like a poisoned chalice. It's hot. It's dusty. You can't trust the food, and the grounds are cauldrons.

In 50 years, Australia have won only two Test series here. In search of the next success, their players are drilled with a mantra that former legspinner Jim Higgs found written on a wall in Chennai. "To lose patience is to lose the battle." Australia do not do patience well; not as a team and perhaps not even as a country, if the recent Prime Ministers shuffle is anything to go by.

On the face of it, there was very little remarkable about Steven Smith's 178 not out in Ranchi. He has played similar innings in England, New Zealand, the West Indies and Sri Lanka. From the moment he was set, it looked like something weird would have to happen for him to be dismissed.

It was Smith redux: the steady accumulation of runs using a technique he had fashioned out of spare tin cans in his nan's shed. But rarely, no, never, has a score this size been made in India with the batsman making it look so easy. That made the knock remarkable.

Dean Jones scored more runs than Smith, leaving parts of his spleen and soul behind. Matthew Hayden made a double-hundred, after conquering the bowlers with a sweep shot he had spent years perfecting. He had to reinvent himself while out of the team, and then play one of cricket's riskiest shots as his partners failed around him. And as brutal as he was, Australia still lost the series.

The Jones double-century has almost become a noose around Australian cricket: their players are taught that success in India comes when you are ready to piss yourself, ignore common sense and bat until you almost die. And then, when over 10% of your body weight is mashed into the Madras dust, all you can do is tie the match.

Think about the many Australian batsmen who have played on flat pitches in India before - some good players of spin, others who could handle reverse swing, many who had been among the fittest players of their era - and yet not a single one of them jogged their way to a daddy hundred.

Everything was a struggle; a grind against the odds with dust in their eyes and a billion people against them; a win for the Australian spirit in the face of adversity. And then Smith just strolls through to 178 not out like it ain't no thing.

What this innings, should, or at least could, do, is let Australia know they can play here and thrive without having to do something superhuman.

For all of Smith's casual genius, his team couldn't really crush the opposition. They did get to a total of 451 but it was constructed entirely out of the captain's efforts. He milked runs out of the tail. He led the largest partnership of the innings. He was the last man standing.

Granted, Glenn Maxwell played magnificently - bizarrely unbizarrely even - but today he was just on the slow crawl to his maiden Test hundred. Matthew Wade couldn't press on from a start. And Steve O'Keefe got out just as Smith could have hurt India. Australia's bowling too was along similar lines. They tried hard but couldn't really make a large enough dent.

Josh Hazlewood was good. Pat Cummins was miserly. They made sure it wasn't one of those times when the Indian top order scored so quickly that they made Australia's total look silly. But at the end of the day, they only had one wicket to show for their work.

India's opening partnership - which has been in a coma for a long time - woke up and went about a gentlemanly pursuit of runs and as they crossed fifty there was a worry that the runs on the board weren't enough. After all, Australia have scored over 400 on these shores eight times and have won only once. Suddenly, despite Smith's continued brilliance and Maxwell's barely-believable knock, the bookies and win predictors decided that India were favourites.

The score wasn't even up to 100.

For the odds to even out, the fast bowler they had shipped at the last minute, a 23-year-old who had played one Sheffield Shield match in six years, had to bowl a wicked offcutter bouncer that took KL Rahul's glove and went through to the wicketkeeper.

So to recap, their captain scored the third-most runs by an Australian in an innings in India, their most unpredictable batsman made a Test hundred, two other players found some form, they scored over 450 and their gun quick has figured out a way to force wickets on an unresponsive surface. And it's odds about even. As usual, the remarkable wasn't enough. As usual, Australia were facing a battle of patience.

Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Gopal on March 18, 2017, 10:12 GMT

    Prime minister shuffle? Hope we have one here in India and have some peaceful life. We have had enough with the incumbent.

  • Peter on March 18, 2017, 8:33 GMT

    spot on mate but we are learning... India aint a mystery anymore

  • b.misl9017082 on March 18, 2017, 1:49 GMT

    Another great read by JK. I think we are short by about 100 runs. Our top order let us down in perfect conditions. 500 is a far bigger psycological barrier than 450. Still it was a good effort and a few early wickets could get the indians tense. It really has been a fantastic series so far. Well played to both teams, but i think we really need to give Smith credit. He's fighting a lone hand almost. His top and middle order have been average at best yet they have kept themselves in it through smith. Given it was meant to be a training drill for india, i cant praise our boys and smith in particular enough.

  • Max on March 17, 2017, 23:53 GMT

    Smith is the best batsman on the planet. That's just how it is. The scary thing is that he is still improving.

  • Rohan on March 17, 2017, 23:27 GMT

    Has everyone forgotten that India are batting last? They need to bat all day just to break even today, and score atleast 600 to put any pressure on us at all! It can be done of course, but gee, that's a big mountain to climb!

  • Sanjay on March 17, 2017, 23:02 GMT

    Great stuff Jarrod. Aus were a 100 short of where they wanted to be. Smith was not happy with this as the team could have made a great statement. It's time the bowlers review their plans overnight. Game evenly poised. Who said test cricket is dying.

  • sri on March 17, 2017, 18:03 GMT

    More than Smith we are hurt by Maxwell. The were 140 for 4 and one lucky wicket within 100 runs from there would have put us favorites. We should have restricted the with in 370. Let us see how the game folds in the next 2 days.

  • Appireddy on March 17, 2017, 17:55 GMT

    Kohli is due for his double hundred of the series! So, go team India!!!

  • mukesh7671359 on March 17, 2017, 17:54 GMT

    smith is so successful against india because india never make a plan against him and don't have any strategy.Time and again our bowlers are lured into bowling into his pads which makes it so easy for him.Poor think tank I must say.

  • Ganesh S on March 17, 2017, 16:59 GMT

    Looks like either a draw or Oz win to me - Kohli's injury the chief factor, imho.

    On the other hand, if our newly minted triple centurion rises to the occasion, India could be in with a chance. This happens to be the kind of pitch he likes.

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