With Australia needing seven wickets from the final session at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, their bowlers could only manage three as Dhoni and Ashwin survived a nervous final hour to push India to safety.
India were 174-6 when Australia captain Steven Smith conceded the draw with four overs remaining, with Dhoni unbeaten on 24 and Ashwin on eight. The tourists were 210 short of their victory target.
Australia declared on 318-9 at lunch, setting India 384 to win in 70 overs.
For a time after lunch, that appeared more than adequate for the hosts, whose pacemen scythed through India’s top order with three wickets in the first nine overs of their innings.
Opening batsman Shikhar Dhawan was out lbw for a duck off Ryan Harris in the second over and Lokesh Rahul, surprisingly sent in at number three, was caught in the next over for one by Shane Watson who bolted back from the slips when the nervous debutant sent a top edge high from a poor pull shot.
Opener Murali Vijay was dismissed lbw for 11, somewhat harshly by umpire Kumar Dharmasena, off the bowling of Josh Hazlewood before Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane steadied to take the tourists to 104-3 at tea, 280 runs short of their victory target.
Harris removed India’s tenacious Kohli for 54 on the first ball after tea to open the door, but a stubborn Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara dug in for a valuable hour before Mitchell Johnson struck with 19 overs remaining to break the partnership.
He rattled Pujara with a ball that struck him clean on the grill of his helmet, then bowled him two balls later with a slower delivery that jagged back viciously off the seam to have him out for 21.
Perhaps unnerved by the loss of India’s last specialist batsman, Rahane became jumpy, and nearly played on to his stumps off Watson the next ball.
He was out a few overs later, throwing away his wicket for 48 with a horrible pull off Hazlewood that floated straight to Shaun Marsh at midwicket.
Joining Dhoni at the wicket, number eight batsman Ashwin was nearly caught behind on one by Shane Watson who dived across from first slip but put down a sharp one-handed chance.
Both batsmen survived a number of false shots but showed grit to play out the remaining overs.
Australia may ponder the wisdom of their relatively late declaration, having already constructed a lead of 326 runs by stumps on day four, but were in no mood to hurry proceedings with only a draw needed to make the Sydney test starting on Jan. 6 a dead rubber. (Reuters)