The Ball that melted hearts

India’s Tour of Australia 2014-15, 1st Test

The most lethal fast bowler in world cricket had his tail up. He had just dismissed India’s best test batsman of 2014.

In walked India’s new-age hero—more of a rockstar really—the stand-in captain and India’s best all-round batsman by a mile. Already a limited overs legend, this young leader was brought back down to earth with a thump on English pitches, where he averaged a paltry 13 over 10 Test innings.
His overseas credentials, like many other young Indian batters, were questioned again. Many forgot that he had scored his first test century at this very ground, the Adelaide Oval, and had also started the New Zealand and South Africa tours with a Test century. England became his waterloo, and quite frankly, India needed the Virat Kohli of ODIs to inspire the Virat Kohli in Test cricket. India needed him to make a statement, the way captain Ganguly had done at Brisbane in the first test back in 2003.

 

So much on the line after a terribly lean season.

He walked in with a swagger. Up and ready to do battle. He didn’t fear anybody, least of all Johnson, who he said posed little threat to Indian batsmen on any pitch.
He is partly right.
Johnson had done little to suggest that the Indian batters would cower like Englishmen, which is ironic, because the English bowlers made sitting ducks out of the Indians.

Johnson steamed in to bowl his first ball to Virat Kohli.
Best bowler to best batsman.
This is what test cricket is about.
The crowd chimed in.
Surely, given Kohli’s horrid test form, it’d only be a matter of time before he nicked one to gully or slips.
Johnson bowls.
Kohli sees the ball. He has little time to think.
This isn’t a bowler he faced during the mild practice games. This is Mitchell Johnson, without the moustache.
Kohli ducks. But he ducks too late.

He takes his eye off the ball and ducks into the ball. The ball is heading straight to his face.
Thankfully, and I know this sounds bizarre, the ball smashed into his helmet.
If he had taken natural evasive action after actually sighting the ball, it would have most likely hit the back of his neck. And Brad Haddin, Steve Smith, David Warner, Mitchell Johnson and a few others who were at the SCG two weeks ago, knew exactly what would be in store if that happened.

Immediately, the players who many refer to as ‘wild dogs’, ‘vile mouths’ and ‘aggressive wolves’ descended upon a shaken Kohli.

Johnson’s face went white.
Warner asked Kohli repeatedly if he was okay. He almost held up four fingers to ask him if he could see.

Kohli wanted to shake it off as a minor blip in battle, as a first round won by his opponent. But the Aussies—now mild, pained warriors and more shocked than Kohli—didn’t let him do his own thing. They worried like a mother would, because two weeks ago, they had their little brother taken away in the exact same manner, to a ball far slower and less dangerous than this one.
Johnson seemed stunned by the impact, the crunch, and the crowd went silent. The commentators knew exactly what was at the back of everyone’s mind. Hearts collectively stopped for a second.

This didn’t look like Test Cricket in Australia. The Aussies weren’t known to care so much.
A year ago, they threatened Anderson and co. to get ready for a ‘broken leg’ and had badgered Faf Du Plessis into submission. This was unnerving to watch for any viewer who wasn’t an Australian.

They were displaying qualities, human ones even. They displayed emotions, and not the angry types. They displayed concern, and not for their own players.

Kohli, for a moment, must have been wondering how to get used to this transition.
First of all, the bowler willingly bowls a lethal bouncer to intimidate the batsman. Best case scenario, he wants the ball to hit the batsman on his body, or shake him up with a knock on the helmet. That was the intention, of course. Then why is he apologizing? What is happening?

Perhaps this is Phil Hughes’ final contribution to a game he loved so dearly.
Perhaps this is to be his legacy—a final act that would transform his mates into gentlemen on the field—something no Aussie coach captain had ever managed to do for decades, something Steve Waugh had hoped would never happen, something Ponting and Border would have laughed at, at their primes.

Hughes made the Australian Cricket Team a bunch of nice guys. Who would have thought?

However, a day later, as Aaron gave Warner a send-off on a no-ball, and Warner responded with his own taunts after coming back to the crease, to everyone’s relief, the Aussies got ugly again.

And to everyone’s relief, Virat Kohli couldn’t contain himself. Not even as the Captain. Order has been restored.

For now.
 

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