Cheeks contorted, lips jabbered, arms shoved, eyes spun, nerves jangled as emotions burst out through the faces of players in the most absorbing and animated day of Test cricket in this home season. There were occasional smiles, too, but no one would have been fooled by it. In the first session, runs dried up for Australia, wickets weren’t coming for India and things were boiling up in the cauldron. Every ball threatened to take a wicket in that morning session, every block and leave from the batsmen deserved a pat on the back — and as the day wore on India prised open an impressively-stubborn Australia through skill, character, and passion but it was the fiercely-focussed men from Down Under who were perched on top with a 48-run lead, and four wickets still standing.
Do you remember the day Ishant went mental would be question asked in jest in the years to come. The man known for his post-puberty voice that still carries the tone of a teenager has occasionally let us know the rest of his tall body exists. In Sri Lanka, after taking Dinesh Chandimal’s wicket, he turned into a headbanger at a heavy-metal concert. On Sunday, in Bangalore, he got his face immortalised in the lore of Indian cricket — cheeks twisted, lips curled, eyebrows yanked up and he looked like a lecherous Bollywood villain from the 80s. He crackled with intensity throughout that first session and was instrumental in Australia just eking out 47 runs in 29 overs. They couldn’t dare to break free against him. In the afternoon, even as tea cups were about to be filled, he struck with a reverse swinging delivery to remove Mitch Marsh to reduce Australia to 163 for five and crack open the game again for India. And this time he let us know the vocal power of his lungs with a huge roar.
Steve Smith, the man mocked by Ishant, decided to get as much of his body into camera frames as possible. When Ishant turned mental, Smith did the Indian head nod in return. As ever he was fidgety at the crease — the bat pounded the ground at stance, the Lego-legs bent this way and the other, the wrists snapped the bat away in leaves and he would quickly stare at the bowler. He roared once at Ishant, he stood outside the crease and invited Abhinav Mukund to have a go, he yapped, he even jumped around at the crease after deliveries. He scored just 8 but danced around for 52 balls before falling to Ravindra Jadeja on 82 for two, but by then had ensured India had to wait to have a go at the middle order.
Huddle before hustle
Virat Kohli loves the word ‘behen****’ and he let us know it in abundance on Sunday in case we have been living under the rock for these years. The B-word came out when his bowlers got the ball to rush past the edge, when his bowlers got a wicket, when his fielders made a great stop — just about any occasion was good enough. It was he who set the Indian attitude for the day. For nearly 15 minutes before the start of the play, he feverishly addressed his team in a huddle. Fifteen minutes is an incredibly long time for a huddle, and it became clear what he wanted from his team — fighting spirit, more aggression, a lot of intent, and be in the face of the Aussies. Not only did he scream and clap, he wanted the crowd to do it too. Whenever any of his bowlers got into a situation with a batsman, Kohli would place himself in the thick of it. By nature, he can’t be a spectator in all this. He talked with Smith, he snapped at Matt Renshaw, he gave the lip to Shaun Marsh, and he also spoke his mind to the umpires. When he wasn’t talking, he jumped in the slips, slapped his hands in agony at close-misses, dived around, walked up to the stumps to let the batsmen know he is always around them, and he did everything humanly possible to keep the energies of his team up.
Renshaw, the baby-faced 20-year old giant, too imposed himself into the body-cam for the day. When Ishant stared at him, he threw back an animated face. When Umesh Yadav got the ball to whistle past his edge, he wouldn’t relent with his stares until Umesh turned and went. When R Ashwin gave him the lip and the shove, he didn’t take a step back. And even smiled often. Often, he had a chat with the umpires too. He eventually fell, jumping out too early against Jadeja, and stumped for a 196-ball 60 that took Australia to 134 for three.
Shaun Marsh hardly speaks. Ever. His IPL mates at Kings XI Punjab talk about how they have probably heard him say about 10 words in a day. He showed his aggression with his body language — when Ishant would stand and stare down from middle of the pitch, he would walk as close as possible to the bowler and start tapping the pitch. When Ashwin would say a word or two, he would turn and peer across from close-quarters when he got to the non-striker’s end. He had the same impassive face when he gloved one behind off Umesh Yadav on 14 and quietly watched the Indians not take the DRS. When his brother Mitch fell off the last ball before tea and the 80th over of the innings, he didn’t even tell him that a DRS can be tried without any loss to the team. He fell for a innings-shaping 66, flicking Umesh Yadav, who was tremendously impressive with how relentlessly he attacked, to midwicket, but only after Australia had taken the lead and reached 220 for 6.
No one listens to Wriddhiman Saha. They should. In most of the times the DRS was wasted, he would be often seen gesticulating that it either missed the leg stump or probably pitched outside leg stump. Throughout the home season, not many have listened to him though. He probably doesn’t have the stature to impose himself but the reticence from the man best placed to make DRS is hurting India.
After Kohli, Ashwin’s was the most hardworking lip on Sunday. But someone should tell him to walk away from DRS situations. He gets animated, which is fine, but is often wrong in his decisions. He would be often the person silencing Saha or any close-in fielder who has a doubt. Every Australian batsman would be intimate with his voice, Renshaw would of course know how strong his arms are, too. All in all, it was a fascinating day where it wasn’t just the bat and the ball that did the talking.