“I can’t wait to get you to the Gabba, Ash, tell you what,” Paine said from behind the stumps.
Ashwin replied: “Just like we want to get you to India. It would be your last series”, prompting Paine to snap back: “Maybe – are you a selector here as well? At least my teammates like me, d—head. I’ve got more Indian friends than you do.”
A few balls later Paine went again: “How many IPL teams wanted you when you asked every single one of them to have you?”
Ashwin and India had the last laugh, holding on with five wickets remaining before a crowd of 5852.
Paine gave Ashwin a high five after play but the captain was left smarting after twice being unable to grasp chances to remove the brilliant Rishabh Pant, who overcame a badly bruised elbow to light up the SCG with a breathtaking near-century, and later putting down another of India’s wounded heroes, Hanuma Vihari.
India lost only three wickets all day as Vihari and Ashwin, himself nursing sore ribs inflicted by Pat Cummins, survived for more than 42.3 overs together to finish 5-334 and force the draw before a last-day crowd of 5852.
“I’m bitterly disappointed. I pride myself on my wicketkeeping and I haven’t had too many worse days than that,” Paine said.
“It’s a horrible feeling knowing that our fast bowlers and our spinner bowled their hearts out and gave it all for the team and I certainly feel I let them down. I’ve got to wear that. But I’m a big boy and I get another crack at it next week.”
Paine, who was fined 15 per cent of his match fee from Sydney for swearing at umpire Paul Wilson earlier in the match, said his run-in with Ashwin was “just a bit of byplay”
“They were wasting a bit of time, we were getting a bit frustrated. We let him know and he had a bit to say back,” he said. “I think it’s all part of the game and there is no harm done.”
A 148-run partnership between Pant (97) and Cheteshwar Pujara (77) reduced India’s required runs to win to 157 with seven Indian wickets in hand early on Monday afternoon as even the victory target of 407 seemed within their grasp.
Moments before the second new ball was due for Australia and as Pant swung for his century Nathan Lyon produced the much-needed breakthrough, with the 23-year-old caught for at gully by Cummins, the man who had wounded him two days earlier.
When Josh Hazlewood bowled Pujara Australia had the edge and a hamstring strain suffered by Vihari reset India’s objective as they aimed to just hang on. Remarkably, they did just that.
Despite barely being able to move between the wickets, Vihari withstood all Australia could fire at him for more than three hours, facing 161 balls for his 23 runs.
Ashwin, meanwhile, was only batting as high up the order as he was because Ravindra Jadeja had his thumb dislocated by a Mitchell Starc delivery earlier in the match.
Jadeja was padded up on Monday outside the Indian team dressing-room, ready if required despite being ruled out of the fourth Test already, but Ashwin’s unbeaten 39 from 128 balls ensured he wasn’t.
The epic survival effort, which stretched back into the fourth afternoon of the match, was the longest India have batted in a fourth innings in a Test match away from home in more than 40 years.
It won’t only lift their spirits and dent those of Paine’s men, who must win the series to reclaim the trophy, but could provide a significant ongoing value. Australia’s bowlers will have only three days to rest before the fourth Test starts at the Gabba, where the home side has not lost since 1988.
“This was as good as winning a Test match,” India captain Ajinkya Rahane said. “When you come abroad and play like this, it was really special. I’m really proud as captain.”
Chris Barrett is Chief Sports Reporter of The Sydney Morning Herald.