Cheteshwar Pujara was one of the two short mid-wickets. The finer of the two. Shikhar Dhawan stood some yards away to his left. To Dhawan’s left was Virat Kohli, who had positioned himself at a deep silly mid-on. At the point of delivery all three had their hands over their slightly bent knees.
If you had been in one of the many new terraces on the eastern side of the stadium, Pujara & Co might well have looked together like a slip-cordon, one strangely in front of the wicket. Over in the actual cordon, Murali Vijay stood on his own, much wide of wicket-keeper Wriddhiman Saha, at gully.
In the build-up to his first Test as captain, Kohli had reiterated his penchant to set funky fields. He had insisted on employing them even if they looked funny. This was probably what he was referring to. And it certainly did look like an outtake from a cricket comic reel.
The final session of the fourth day’s play had just commenced in Adelaide. Australia had gone in to the tea-break at 139 for 1, already 212 runs ahead. Another aspect of his team’s potential performance that Kohli had harped upon in the build-up was how his fast bowlers — the best to have toured Down Under in the last few years in his opinion — would provide him with the control that you so desperately need on Australian pitches.
For a change, over the next one hour, the new-ball pair of Mohammad Shami and Varun Aaron would actually prove their captain right. They would actually succeed in reigning in the destructive home team top-order. And in the process get rid of a couple too.
As it turned out, David Warner scored his second century of the match, and the hosts finished the day with a lead of 363. By the time you read this, India would have started their second innings in pursuit of a rare draw, and either rode the challenge or perished under the pressure.
But whatever be the outcome on Saturday, they can still go to Brisbane at least content that their two strike bowlers had found their rhythm, if only briefly, and also the nous to deal with the unique conditions Down Under.
In Australia, it’s not just about length. It’s about line too. You cannot just stick to bowling in the third quarter of the pitch and expect to make an impact. Bowl too wide and you’ll get cut and punched through the covers.
Bowl too straight, and you’ll get pulled and flicked, or at the least tucked behind square for a single. The trick is to keep it straight enough but not open up the on-side, and also wide enough but not so as to expose the expanse on the off-side. It’s about precision. It’s about concentration. It’s about temperament.
Shami and Aaron had come a cropper on all counts in the first innings. They were too wide to Warner, too straight to Steve Smith and too short to Michael Clarke. On Friday in a 12-over period, they along with Ishant Sharma, actually got it absolutely right. It might not stand out in the bigger picture of the contest. But between the 39th and the 50th over of Australia’s second innings, India were actually running the hosts close with ball in hand.
Guilty of being all over the shop first time around, Shami actually benefited from coming over the wicket to Warner. Thrice he had beaten his flashing blade in an earlier spell. But he had remained persistent. The ball had started to reverse by now. His strategy to Shane Watson was pretty straightforward. Bowl it full, swing it in and sneak through his defence.
Twice he came close, before striking with the third, the ball sliding through the gap between bat and pad as Watson attempted an expansive drive. He then adjusted his length slightly to Clarke, pitching it on a good length and making the Australian captain stretch his wonky back-a tactic he should have employed on Day Two. He bowled five overs in all, taking 1/18 with 21 dot deliveries in there.
Aaron, meanwhile, was running in at full tilt from the other end. He would bowl four overs in this period, accounting for Clarke, and bowling 16 dot deliveries. The only boundaries off his bowling in this period coming through two delectably placed drives by Warner. Aaron had strangely been kept in cold storage till the 33rd over of the day. And he had immediately created an impact by bowling Warner off a no-ball.
But it in this spell after tea that he showed the maturity required at this level. There was movement in the air of the reverse kind, and he hardly bowled a delivery that didn’t pitch around off-stump and kept the batsman honest.
He could have in fact had Clarke in the previous over to the one in which he finally got him as the Aussie skipper got a leading edge to a meek flick shot and the ball ballooned safely in between mid-on and mid-off.
By the time, Shami was replaced by Rohit Sharma, the Australians had reached 182/3, still in control but with their declaration plans having been delayed slightly. Warner had by then reached his ton, celebrating it with a leap and a flash of his blade towards the skies. He had never scored a slower century in Test cricket, off 154 balls. And Shami and Aaron could well take credit for that.