For the first time in the series, cricket panned out according to pre-series perceptions. Their nerves jangling, Australian batsmen stumbled around like intoxicated men. Their emotions running high, the Indians bowled with control, purpose and skill to shove the Australians into submission. On a manic afternoon, unable to cope with the pressure of chasing 188 on a wearing, up-and-down track, the Australians’ trust in their defensive game ebbed and faded. Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav started it, Ravindra Jadeja, easily India’s best bowler in the Test, gave them control, and R Ashwin hastened the end with a five-for in space of 5.2 overs.
The story of the day revolved around three potential Decision Review System (DRS) moments — the one led to Ajinkya Rahane’s dismissal, the one that wasn’t taken for Shaun Marsh, and the most controversial one that was attempted for captain Steve Smith.
The first came 50 minutes into the day — after Cheteshwar Pujara and Rahane had batted serenely to almost make it seem that the match would go to the fifth day. The Australians tried everything — high-quality seam, spin and even Mitchell Marsh. Even the new ball didn’t hold any initial threats. Then suddenly, Mitchell Starc decided that enough was enough, and imposed himself.
Growing up, Starc didn’t even want to become a fast bowler. There is a lovely story from his childhood that shaped his career. When Neil D’Costa, a coach, saw him throw the ball from outfield during training, he saw a fast bowler in Starc. D’Costa told him: “Mate, you are a bowler, not a ’keeper. Starc, however, told him that he didn’t like bowling. D’Costa had to snap back, “Mate, for f**k’s sake, I am the head coach here, so bowl the ball.”
Who would have thought such a reluctant boy would turn into one of world’s best fast bowlers one day! Starc was the first gamechanger of the day. He hurled the ball full, fast and it landed around the leg stump and skidded low to beat Rahane’s defensive poke to hit the pad. The umpire was unmoved, but Smith decided to opt for the DRS, which sent Rahane packing. The follow-up delivery was a 154 kmph screamer. Not only was it furiously fast but it also swung in. Karun Nair, who hadn’t seen anything like that during the morning’s play, went for an expansive drive first ball and had his stumps shattered. When Starc’s pace partner Josh Hazlewood surprised Pujara with a short ball and had him caught at gully, Australia had four wickets in eight balls, and India could only limp to 187-run lead.
The second DRS situation of Marsh was a ‘duh’ moment in the chase. Marsh hardly ever talks, and most conversations are short. So was his DRS talk with Smith. “Go (have a look at it)” translated into “go back” in his mind and he went. Game turned there at 67 for three.
The third was of course Smith’s, about which we would hear a lot more in the coming days. With his exit, it was 74 for four, and it was time for Ashwin to make amends for the disappointing first innings. It wasn’t so much the lack of wickets that surprised but his thought process. But with the match situation firmly in India’s favour, he ensured not only Australia stayed down but were knocked out.
Just as he did in the first innings, he had already taken out David Warner in the 10th over, curling one past his attempted sweep to trap him lbw. Later in the afternoon, post Smith’s exit, he sorted his gameplan better. The topspinners came out regularly, and with the Australians in panic mode, he started to toy with them. One by one they fell. Mitch Marsh was done in by bounce and turn that had him poking a bat-pad catch, Wade by the one came in straight from the round-the-stumps angle, and Starc by another topspinner. Sensing the end, Peter Handscomb threw his wicket away in search for runs.
And the end must have pleased Ashwin and Kohli. Both had a word with Nathan Lyon as soon they came in. Lyon was the one who had talked about cutting the head of snake with reference to Kohli the batsman, hoping that the rest of the body would fall away. And Ashwin lured Lyon into hitting a return catch.
Let the last word belong to Kohli.
“A lot of people were talking about the head of the snake,” he said after the match, “but I think the snake did pretty well by itself, so it’s not just about one individual. I’m pretty happy if they keep focussing on the head of the snake, and the snake can sting from a lot of directions.”
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