From a cracker of a Test match in Bangalore, Sriram Veera lists a few takeaways:
What does it take to win a Test?
Emotions ran high, nerves cracked and lips yapped; the Australian captain Steve Smith stooped as close to cheating as possible and called it a “brain fade”; the Indian captain Virat Kohli had relentless crack at them on and off the field; Mitchell Starc pointed to the head after hurling a bouncer; R Ashwin did the same in return after taking him out next innings. At the end of this relentless drama, it was India who held their nerves together to bring parity to an exhilarating series. All these nerve-racking episodes shouldn’t overshadow the stupendous cricketing achievements of the players, but it all added to the ratcheting up of the tension on the fourth and final day of the Test.
Brain fade or cheating?
The pressure-cooker Test, already heaving with drama, threatened to explode when Steve Smith decided to take help from his dressing room for a decision whether to review the lbw verdict against him. Prodded by his batting-partner, Peter Handscomb, he turned towards his team-mates and put his hand up to say, “What do you reckon”? The umpire Nigel Llong, already alerted by Virat Kohli to look out for such instances, swooped in quickly to tell Smith that it’s not done and he has to go back. Later, Smith would call it as “brain fade”, and that “I shouldn’t have done it”. Kohli of course wasn’t having any of it. He claimed that Australians had done it — seeking help from the dressing room in DRS situations — at least “twice before” when he was batting. “The word isn’t brain fade”, and when asked immediately whether the more apt word would be “cheating”, he would only offer “You said it, I didn’t!”
To ‘go’ or not to go?
If you are Australian, of course it can. Australia had a decent crack at the chase, reaching 67 for two in under 15 overs when a bewildering event turned the game around. Shaun Marsh was given out after an Umesh Yadav delivery rammed into his pad. He walked across for a chat with his captain, and even watching it live it had seemed it would have missed the off stump. Smith told him “go”, and he meant go for it — the DRS that is. Instead, Marsh turned around and walked off. Even as Smith could get his act together and shout out, the time had elapsed and there couldn’t be any review. One wonders how Marsh felt when he saw the replays showing the ball clearly missing the off stump.
The line between win, loss
On Tuesday morning, the answer would have been nine balls. Mitchell Starc, the man who wanted to be wicketkeeper as a kid and had to be coaxed to become a bowler, hurled two devilish balls to take out a well-set Ajinkya Rahane and Karun Nair off successive deliveries 50 minutes into play. Josh Hazlewood, the boy from a village with just 500 inhabitants, did the perfect follow-up act, kicking one up at Cheteshwar Pujara, who had so admirably held his nerve and game together to make 92 thrilling runs but couldn’t help shoving this to the gully fielder. And when R Ashwin was done in by a low-flying missile India had lost four wickets in eight balls, and eventually the lead shrunk to 187. But the Indians rallied back admirably to seal the game in the afternoon.
What does the result mean?
Not only is the series is alive but it would mean so much for Kohli, who called it his most “emotional win” as a captain. His bat has remained mute for four innings, his mouth hasn’t, and a loss here would have upped the scales so much in favour of Australia that even a 0-4 loss wouldn’t have been unthinkable. Instead, he has now roused the team out of the Pune slumber, seized the momentum, and quietened the Aussies. A lot of credit should go to Australia for making this series so memorable. When they came, not many if any gave them chance. Steve Smith was under immense pressure as a captain. The batsmen’s technique against spin was rubbished. Their spinners weren’t respected. But they stunned everyone in Pune and nearly repeated the feat in Bangalore. It took a lot of heart, guts, skill, passion, and tremendous character from India to pin down the Australians in the final round.