RANCHI: Indian bowlers were thwarted by Australia's perseverance as Steve Smith's men survived a battle of nerves today to force a draw in the third cricket Test here and keep the series alive.
Starting the day at a nervy 23/2 in reply to India's 603/9 declared, Australia were 204/6 in 100 overs in their second innings when the two teams decided to end the proceedings.
The visitors managed to hold on thanks largely to Peter Handscomb and Shaun Marsh's gritty vigil at the crease.
Handscomb (72 not out) and Marsh (53) combined to share a 124-run fifth-wicket partnership to steer Australia to safety after the cheap dismissal of skipper Steve Smith (21) and Matt Renshaw (15) had given the visitors' dressing room moments of anxiety.
Marsh was eventually dismissed by India's bowling star Ravindra Jadeja, who continued his purple patch to finish with figures of 4/54.
Handscomb, on the other hand, played the anchorman role to perfection and remained unbeaten after holding the fort for 200 deliveries.
The Indian bowlers, especially pacer Ishant Sharma (1/30), looked menacing in the pre-lunch session but the Aussies managed to hold their ground in the last two sessions.
With today's result, the series remained locked at 1-1 setting up a mouth-watering finale in Dharamsala, starting March 25. The hill town would be hosting its maiden Test match.
The simmering tensions between the two sides have only added to the drama with today being no exception.
There was animated chatter between Renshaw and Ishant in the latest round of verbal altercations before the Indian pacer had the last laugh by trapping the opener LBW.
Having turned the tide yesterday, riding on Cheteshwar Pujara and Wriddhiman Saha's marathon partnership, India were in contention for an unassailable lead in the series.
However, Handscomb and Marsh absorbed the pressure with their calculated knocks to deny the hosts, who apart from the sizeable crowd, were also cheered on by former captain and local favourite Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Premier off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin was a major disappointment for the home team. He managed just one wicket in the second innings to go with his solo scalp in the first essay.
On the docile surface, Jadeja, however, followed up his five wickets in the first innings for a match haul of nine wickets.
But Handscomb and Marsh, whose 53 came off 197 balls, ensured that the Australians stayed afloat to fight another day.
Earlier in the morning session, India looked good for a win by claiming Renshaw and first innings unbeaten centurion Smith in the space of four balls.
The Australians found themselves at a rather precarious 63/4 in a gripping end to the first session on the fifth and final day.
But thereafter Australia got a grip of the situation while India struggled to break the partnership on an eased-out track of the JSCA International Stadium.
But just when the crowd went silent, Ranchi's icon Dhoni lifted the atmosphere when he made an entry and watched the match from the second session onwards.
Back from Delhi after leading Jharkhand in the national one-dayers, Dhoni was seen in a relaxed mood and waved at the cheering crowd.
On the field, Smith's ploy to give his top four the maximum workload when they bowled 206 overs meant that Indian could not score quick runs.
By batting 200-plus overs and with a lead of just over 150, India had no more than 100 overs to force a result.
But Jadeja gave the side a good shot at a result by using the wearing track brilliantly. He cleaned up Smith after Ishant's dismissal of Renshaw in an eventful 29th over.
The breakthrough came after Smith and Renshaw held on for one and half hours in the morning.
Smith, who scored a spectacular 178 not out in the first innings to lead Australia to 451, misjudged a probing line from Jadeja with the ball pitching between middle and leg.
He shoulder-armed the delivery and the ball turned viciously after landing on the roughs of the footmarks to uproot his off-stump.
Just in the previous over, Sharma set it up brilliantly to dismiss the left-handed Aussie opener.
Noticing some activity near the sight-screen, Renshaw decided to pull out. Ishant, having already bowled four overs at a stretch, threw the ball in his follow through out of frustration.
The throw went wide off Renshaw but it led to an exchange between Ishant, Renshaw and Smith. The umpire, however, quickly defused the situation by calling in Indian skipper Virat Kohli.
Following a couple of minutes delay, Ishant finally resumed his over and charged Renshaw with a short-pitched ball which hit the youngster's thigh pad.
The delivery climbed straight up to hit Renshaw's chin through the gap of the helmet grill. Ishant followed it up with a bouncer that swung past Renshaw from a middle stump line, putting the opener under pressure.
Finally, the breakthrough moment came for India when Ishant cramped Renshaw for room with a full length delivery that trapped the left-hander right on front.
Ishant exulted with an animated celebration and capped the brilliant over with a bouncer to Marsh, which hit the batsman's ribs.
Jadeja then delivered the biggest wicket by claiming the Smith with the first ball of the next over. Following the dismissals, the Indians had a spring in their step before Handscomb and Marsh's recovery act unfolded.
Surprisingly, Kohli brought Jadeja only after 11 overs in the post-lunch session even though Ashwin looked ineffective on the flat deck.
The return of Jadeja led to India bowling four maiden overs in a row from 50th to 53rd overs.
But the Aussie duo did not mind the slow flow of runs and were successful in the recovery act in the second session that yielded 66 from 33 overs but more importantly without any wicket.
Handscomb survived a scare on six when his flick to short leg was nearly caught by Karun Nair, the only blip in an otherwise clean knock.