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Handscomb hangs on as Australia salvages a draw in 3rd test

Australia's Peter Handscomb watches his shot during the fifth day of their third test cricket match against India in Ranchi, India, Monday, March 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)

Australia's Peter Handscomb watches his shot during the fifth day of their third test cricket match against India in Ranchi, India, Monday, March 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)

RANCHI, India — Peter Handscomb batted for most of the last day for an unbeaten 72 and shared a match-saving 124-run partnership with Shaun Marsh as Australia salvaged a draw Monday in the third test against India.

Handscomb faced 200 balls after going to the crease in the first session of the fifth day with Australia in trouble at 63-4. He guided Australia to 204-6, ensuring Australia erased the 152-run first-innings deficit and built enough of a cushion in the second to ensure India had no chance to snatch a late victory.

The lively and acrimonious draw means the series is level at 1-1 ahead of the fourth and last match starting Saturday at Dharamsala.

India skipper Virat Kohli, who spent much of Australia's first innings on the sidelines after injuring his shoulder when he dived to save a boundary, said the Indian team got itself into position to win but couldn't quite finish the job.

"Credit to Australia for playing out the draw, but we played ourselves into a position where we could win," he said.

Australia won the toss and scored 451 in the first innings, but a masterful 202 from Cheteshwar Pujara and his 199-run seventh-wicket stand with Wriddhiman Saha (117) helped India reach 603-9 declared and gave the hosts control of the match. It was India's match to win, and Australia's to lose.

But the Australians, who won the first test by 333 runs and lost the second test by 75 runs at Bangalore after a second-innings collapse, batted with determination and grit to ensure the series will be alive in the last game.

Skipper Steven Smith said he was nervous throughout the last day but proud of his team. The Australians entered the series as longshots to trouble India in any way, let alone win a test against a team that had been unbeaten in its previous 20 tests on home soil and is ranked No. 1.

The Australians were swept 4-0 on their previous tour to India, but Smith's squad has shown they're up for the contest.

"That's what we want to be — resilient," he said. "Massive game in Dharamsala, can't wait to get there."

Handscomb and Marsh (53) started their partnership before lunch when Australia, having resumed at 23-2, lost the vital wickets of opener Matt Renshaw (15) and Smith (21) in successive overs. Smith had scored an important century to keep the Australian first innings together and his departure early was a setback for his young team.

But the fifth-wicket pair took the innings deep into the last session before Marsh was out to Ravindra Jadeja (4-54), caught by a close fielder, and setting up a suspenseful last half hour.

Marsh, who had made a modest contribution of just 93 runs in his five previous innings in the series, did enough to ensure even the loss of Glenn Maxwell (2) three overs later didn't throw the Australians too far off course.

Handscomb's best previous score in the series had been 24 but he was completely composed as he raised his third test half century.

He had a half chance on six when Karun Nair had a difficult chance at short leg off Ravi Ashwin, but otherwise he defended confidently.

The innings on Monday by Handscomb and Marsh, combined with the centuries by Smith and Glenn Maxwell in the first innings, have bolstered the Australian batting and should ensure neither team is a hot favourite to win ahead of the fourth test.

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