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R Ashwin: 'I was ready for the fight' despite the massive odds

Ashwin batted 128 balls in partnership with Hanuma Vihari to script one of India's great rearguards

Nagraj Gollapudi
Despite four Test centuries to his name, R Ashwin, who returned battered and bruised from the barrage of short-pitched bowling at the SCG on Monday to help India draw the third Test, said his undefeated 128-ball 39 was one of his best batting efforts in what was a "fantastic" result for India, even if his desire was to hit the winning runs.
Ashwin said India were "relieved" after the great escape - earned with a lot of grit an determination - and talked up the mood in the dressing room. "The atmosphere in the dressing room is absolutely electric, everyone is relieved to a certain extent," Ashwin told Fox Sports after the match. "At the same time, we are so very happy, I haven't seen such smiles in a long time. Yes, the last game [Melbourne] was a lovely win, but I think this draw… in Test cricket you don't get a lot of lovely draws and this was one of those fantastic draws."
The day started with India, chasing 407 to go 2-1 up in the series, at 98 for 2, with Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane in the middle. Rahane didn't last too long, but Pujara battled for 205 balls in scoring 77, Rishabh Pant walked in at No. 5 and smashed 97 in 118 balls, and then it was over to Hanuma Vihari and Ashwin, who batted through the entire final session to clinch the draw when an Australian win looked the likeliest outcome. India batted 131 overs in the fourth innings - the most for them in the final innings since 1979, when they drew The Oval Test ending nine runs short of the target of 438.
What was even more remarkable is that Pant batted with an arm injury , Ravindra Jadeja was unlikely to bat because of a fractured thumb, and Vihari wasn't able to run because of a right hamstring injury.
'Ready for the fight'
Australia's seamers attacked Ashwin relentlessly with short-pitched deliveries aimed at the body. At one point, Ashwin nearly doubled over after being hit in the ribs by a Pat Cummins' delivery. Yet, he ploughed on.
"They bowled some amazing lengths and lines, Nathan Lyon was there or thereabouts, it was a very exciting session to play out," Ashwin said. "I just went to Pujara and said, 'you just sold me out on both the innings', because I felt Cummins was bowling in a different league altogether, especially when he sensed the tail was coming through, he just goes one gear higher.
"It was pretty difficult to counter because I think the pitch started to slow down, there was a bit of double bounce, so it was not that easy to get down underneath his back-of-length bouncers… it was quite the deal but once you got through those 20-30 balls I was ready for the fight."
All the while, Ashwin was battling not just the Australians - the bowling and a lot of chirping - but also a "tweak" in his back that had left him in "unbelievable pain", as his wife Prithi gave away on Twitter. Ashwin was seen standing and stretching in the dressing room balcony throughout the afternoon before coming out to bat.
"For me, personally, that innings is very, very important because I haven't got a lot of scores in the last 18 months or so but I've been batting well in the nets, even batted well in the first innings, so it was quite pleasing to get that knock," he said.
Pant 'keeps you on tenterhooks all the time'
In terms of balls faced, Ashwin's performance was the fifth-longest by an India No. 7 in the fourth innings. Not surprisingly, it came at a ground he has done well before with the bat too - in his two prior outings at the SCG, Ashwin had innings of 62 (2012) and 50 (2015).
At one point, while watching Pant and Pujara put India in a position of strength, Ashwin said he even alerted India batting coach Vikram Rathour that he could end up hitting the winning runs. "I was telling him [Rathour] I've never left Sydney without making a 50, because this is one of those grounds where I've made 50 every single time I've batted in the past. So I said the winning runs may come from my bat… it wasn't to be today but hopefully this knock kind of sets it up - I've faced Cummins, [Josh] Hazlewood and [Mitchell] Starc, along with [Nathan] Lyon, and it gives you the confidence and it makes you feel that you can go out there and start playing those shots again.
"I felt like my flow was back. It was very important - at the end of the day, cricket is a confidence game so every single ounce you can gather is important."
India might have started the day planning to settle with a draw, but the attack from Pant gave them the confidence to think about going for a win. "Chasing 400 in the final innings in Sydney, the wicket started going up and down from day three or day four, so it was never going to be easy, but that knock from Rishabh really set us up… that's the sort of player he is, he's quite electric, he excites you. You don't want to be in both dressing rooms watching him bat because if you are in the opposition dressing room you're thinking you want his wicket and we are sitting here thinking he shouldn't play rash shots. He keeps you on tenterhooks all the time but that knock set us up," Ashwin said in response to Shane Warne querying whether it was India's great escape to earn a draw or Australia's to deny India the win. "But we lost Rishabh and Pujara back to back, which set things back, I tweaked my back last evening, Vihari tore his hamstring in the middle, so it was difficult for us to go for the win after that."
Ashwin had strong praise for Vihari, too, who was possibly batting to save his Test career after failing to get a big score in five innings before this one - he scored 23* in 161 balls batting 20 minutes short of three hours.
"Touring Australia is never easy for anyone, but Hanuma is here on his second tour and as he went out to bat, there were so many things being flashed about - how many runs he'd made in the series," Ashwin said. "He might have made just 20 today but I think that was as good as making a hundred. I think he should be really proud of himself. He's one batter that we've really banked upon - he's quite solid, he can make those big scores so I think this will mean the world to him."

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo