2nd test cricket match, India v/s Australia, Border-Gavaskar Trophy
Till lunch on the fourth day, Virat Kohli was a perplexed man. He was losing, after winning for so long. And losing against the run of form, logic, quality, skill and play. On paper, this wasn’t meant to be. Being outplayed for 15 out of 17 sessions at the beginning of a home series – it was unheard of.
Things had gone downhill for him as India’s cricket captain in perhaps their greatest home season ever faster than he scores ODI centuries for fun while chasing. After recording 8 test wins out of 9 over the last four months, and 15 overall – including three double centuries in consecutive home series – Kohli had carried an aura of invincibility as he entered the series against a weak and young Australia as a record-breaking batsman and leader. Yet, after the first session of the penultimate day of the second test in Bangalore, his team had been outplayed in all but the previous session. The wicket-less post-tea session on the third day, in which Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara cobbled together an invaluable century partnership (the first of the low-scoring series), had given him hope. Order had been restored; India had once again turned to their famous 4th wicket partnership against their favourite cricket rivals. But Dravid and Laxman they were not.
Their efforts had immediately been undone on Tuesday morning with the new ball – where India suffered yet another collapse (their third of the series so far), losing 6-34, limping to a lead of 187 runs. These collapses had become worrisome for a team that had twice beaten England after conceding more than 400 runs in the first innings, just a month ago.
After the giddy heights of becoming the no. 1 ranked test team again, within less than 7 days of cricket, India were on the brink of perhaps their most humiliating defeat in recent history. They had been blindsighted by a team that was expected to lose heavier than England and New Zealand – by a team that hadn’t won a test in India in 13 years. As if the first test in Pune wasn’t enough, Kohli and his men were 188 runs away from falling to a 2-0 deficit in the 4-match series – making him the first recent Indian captain to lose 3 out of his first 4 tests to Australia, without winning a single one. But 37 overs later, Kohli won his first test against Australia, despite failing in his fourth consecutive innings at home against them. India had completed one of their finest comebacks, similar to what Sri Lanka inflicted on the Australians last year at Galle, and squared the series 1-1. This was only the third time India had defended a score so low. There were five remarkable twists in the epic cricket match:
For the second time in consecutive innings, Virat Kohli shouldered his arms to a ball he misjudged. This time, it was a spinner – a man who had claimed that if you get the “head of the snake, the rest of the body will wither away” while referring to the importance of getting Kohli early. Nathan Lyon’s second out of 8 wickets in the innings was notable – not only because India were comfortable at 87/2, but because of the demons it created in incoming batters’ minds. Kohli left a straighter one, which smashed into his backpad, before he moved away beyond leg stump quickly, trying to disorient the umpire. Kohli ended up way outside leg, which is why he reviewed – again, wrongly. This ball convinced many that this Bangalore pitch was such that even the spinners themselves wouldn’t know which way it’d go, as Lyon was later to admit. This set the stage of an Indian collapse. They were all out 100 runs later.
The Day of Snails
After bowling India out on the first day and moving to 40/0 on the first day, Australia ended the second day on 220/6 – just 180 runs were scored on a day the Indian bowlers refused to give the Aussies an inch. Two tough half-centuries had been scored by Matt Renshaw and Shaun Marsh, but they scored at 2 an over for the majority of the day. Smith himself scored 8 off 52 balls, and the Aussies found themselves only 30-odd runs ahead at the end, with 4 wickets in hand. This lack of momentum saw them take a lead of only 87 eventually, which looked fine until Pujara and Rahane came together.
The Ghosts of Dravid and Laxman
Pujara had started his innings by edging the ball thrice to Nathan Lyon, with two dropped chances and a lack of confidence against spin that was threatening to derail his career. Rahane came in after the bewildering move of sending Ravindra Jadeja as a ‘pinch-hitter’ at the fall of Kohli’s wicket, when they were only 25 runs ahead. They were effectively 34/4 when Rahane came to the crease; he was virtually playing for a spot in the next test, with a healthy-again Rohit Sharma waiting in the wings. Yet, over the next four hours, the two proved why they were India’s most technical and reliable test cricket batsmen. They battled, ducked, weaved, edged, drove and flicked the ball for an entire session – which was as good as an entire day on a pitch where the ball was acting like a superstar on cocaine. When they walked back at the end of the third day, India were 145 runs ahead with 6 wickets in hand. Anything above 200 looked ungettable on this pitch, and they had made sure that the Aussies wouldn’t sleep well that night.
Steve Smith and the C word
Oh no, we don’t mean the Indian ‘C’ word. Kohli stopped short of calling Smith a cheat in a heated post-match conference, referring to the Aussie captain’s actions when he was struck plumb in front of the wicket by Umesh Yadav. At 74-3, scoring at almost 5 an over, Smith was on the verge of snatching the chase away and running home, with India finding no answers to his resourceful footwork. He was on 28 when Yadav got one to swing in and rap him on his pads. It looked out. The umpire gave it out. And Smith – who doesn’t quite have the face of a ‘cheater,’ unlike, say, the win-at-all-costs smirks of Ponting or Slater or Michael Clarke – turned to the pavilion to signal to his dressing room, asking if he should review it or not. This seemed like an instinctive mistake, and one that showed that none of the Aussies seemed aware that this was against the rule books. They were effectively cheating. And Kohli had noticed it, too. The umpire calmed things down, sent Smith on his way, but not before pumping up the Indians – who survived the counterattack by Mitchell Marsh and Peter Handscomb to dismiss the Aussies for 112. At 104/4, it felt ominous for the Indians again, until R. Ashwin decided to finally show the world again why he was the best spinner currently. The next 6 wickets fell for 8 runs. The rest, as they say, is Indian history books.
Oh, Karun Nair!
The next morning, with the new ball zipping around, and with Rahane falling to a Mitchell Starc special, India still looked comfortable with their lead almost 160, and with Nair in great touch – coming off a fluent 26 in the first innings (and a triple century in the last test against England). He took guard, ready to play the cameo that was expected of him, and to put the game beyond Australia’s reach. He drove extravagantly off his first ball against Starc, and nicked it straight onto his stumps. A golden duck gave back the momentum to Australia, and a boy who had scored only India’s third triple century two months ago was vilified and criticized for his ‘brain-fade’ – and looks to be on the chopping block for the next test in Ranchi.