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Saturday, January 23, 2021

IND vs AUS 2nd Test: All square at the G

India keep shadows of doubt at bay to get the job done in second Test; level series 1-1

Written by Sandip G | Updated: December 31, 2020 7:40:47 am
India vs AustraliaIndia are level 1-1 against Australia in the ongoing four-Test series. (File)

Pulling Nathan Lyon for a single, off a fumble, Ajinkya Rahane completed one of India’s most memorable moments in Test cricket. The celebrations were bizarrely understated, there were no hugs or high-fives, no leaping or punching in the air. India made the Melbourne victory look utterly humdrum.

The scorecard would agree—what was the fourth-day fuss all about. The visitors bagged the four remaining Australian wickets for 67 runs and then eclipsed the target of 70 in 15.5 overs, trading just two wickets in the process. Easy as a Sunday evening stroll, you would think, but there were times in the game when it seemed more a stagger and stutter than a stroll. Maybe, the anxiety was merely an illusion of the mind, subconsciously spun after what had transpired in Adelaide nine days ago.

This is not the Australia of the old. But still, they would channel the spirit of the Old Australia.

After all, 70 is almost 36 doubled. After all, the Indian batting line-up has cracks and crevices. And Australia’s bowlers are capable of producing magic. And the strip could crack up and consume the visitors. That’s what Australia could conjure, that’s what Australia has conjured in the past. Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc bounding into the ground with the quiet menace of professional assassins, Tim Paine screaming words of encouragement, so ferociously that he seemed to be readying for an ACCA DACCA audition.

The doubt-ridden mind can make everything look tenser and harder than it actually is. So Mayank Agarwal seemed to sweat even before he had faced a ball, Shubman Gill looked lost and nervous. To aggravate the worst fears, India lost Agarwal and Cheteshwar Pujara in the space of seven balls. Agarwal strove to drive with his hands away from his body to a Starc delivery that slanted across him. It was a standard left-arm seamer’s delivery. But the stroke was all nerves and uncertainty.

Highlights:

So was Pujara, pushing with hard hands at a Cummins length-ball on the fourth-stump trajectory and thick-edging to gully. At 2/16, the contest ceased to be one-sided. Australian fielders turned on their volume; their bowlers turned on their aggro and the crowd joined in the chorus, making all sorts of blasé references to the 36ers.

Cummins flung a short ball at Rahane. The Indian skipper pulled it emphatically for a boundary, suggesting he was blow-trading mood. An angered Cummins banged in another short ball that struck his lower abdomen. The message from Cummins was clear: they would fight till the last drop of the blood. The response from Rahane was clearer: he would out-fight them.

Unlike during his epic first innings knock, he was disinclined to churn an innings out. Rather, he would just play all his strokes, even it those entail risks. This was a supreme understanding of the situation. The target not a daunting one, a few boundaries could all but win the game for his team. So he and Gill launched a watchful assault, without embracing outright risk. They attempted nothing silly or outrageous, maintained their poise, but ruthlessly punished even remotely loose balls. A smidgeon of room sufficed for Gill to back cut Starc for an airborne boundary. In the same over, he slapped him for another four. If India’s first innings was built brick by brick, this one was dropping slabs, composed boundary by boundary.

Cummins, though, kept persisting. He tried to set Rahane up by pushing him back with short balls before slipping in off-cutters to trap on the crease. It almost worked but for a chunky inside edge. But it did not deter Rahane from leaning into a drive for three runs in the same over. Starc and Cummins made way for Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon, but Rahane and Gill did not alter their approach and steered India past the finish line with judicious but assertive batting.

In the end, the fears looked utterly misplaced. Just as it was in the first hour of the day, when Cameron Green and Cummins raised faint comeback hopes with unprecedented resistance. Again, fears seemed hollow. Green is playing his second Test, Cummins is at best a handy than an influential batsman. Both seemed to pile than peel away the runs.

Yet, India are uncannily accustomed to seeing lower-order batsmen snatch the game away from them. There were some sweaty signs too—like edges evading fielders and stumps, marginal decisions going the batsmen’s way. It could be (mis)construed that taking Jasprit Bumrah off the attack after three was a sign of restlessness. So was a review Ashwin persuaded Rahane to take. And the deeper the partnership progressed the sounder the batting seemed.

Then in the fifth ball of the 16th over India bowled in the morning, they finally dislodged Cummins, a fiendish Bumrah short-ball doing the trick. India heaved a sigh of relief. But Green was still batting there, swelling in morale and looking every bit the monster all-rounder he was touted to be. Another brief passage of resistance followed before Mohammed Siraj took out Green with a short ball, soon after he was sumptuously on-driven

Calm was restored, but was there tension in the first place? Or was it a trick the mind played? Head coach Ravi Shastri emphasised that they were not frazzled at any point. “Our approach was like this: ‘think as if you want to take 10 wickets, not four’. We told ourselves to be prepared to be patient even if they batted a session. Be prepared to chase down even 150 if needed. What you saw today was an exhibition of discipline, accuracy and patience,” he elaborated.

But it was not until that single off the misfielded pull stroke that the nerves stopped to jangle. Or was it just an illusion?

 

 

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