Tuesday, 26 January 2016

When Adelaide turned into Chepauk...for a brief moment.

It is said that India never plays an away game. The 30 million strong Indian diaspora, the largest in the world, of which there are a fair number of cricket crazy fans, see to that. And today was no exception. The 45000 strong Adelaide stadium saw a full house today with the vociferous Swami Army coming out in huge numbers to support their "home team".

That being said, India is one of the poorest travelers in the modern era. No matter how "desi" the crowd and the adjoining food-stalls are, the pitches and the home team are always alien. And down under, it is as alien as it can get. It remains to date, India's least favorite place to tour. And this time was no different with ODIs ending up with a scoreline of 4-1 in Australia's favour. 

The ODIs witnessed true batting pitches where record totals and chases were racked up in succession. 300 became the new par score. A record 11 centuries and 3159 runs were scored in the 5 matches- the most scored by teams in a bilateral series of 5 matches or few ever. India batted brilliantly in the series with Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli further establishing their credentials among the best limited overs batsmen in the world.

However, it was the bowling, as usual, that let down the team in spectacular fashion. However, what was surprising was the fact that spinners were rendered toothless, mostly by the flat bouncy pitches and partly by the Australian batsmen. Ashwin and Jadeja, two canny operators in business today, combined together,  took just 5 wickets and Ashwin's poor performance in the first two matches, by the high standards that he sets himself led to him being, somewhat unjustifiably, dropped for the rest of the series.

The Twenty 20s are usually seen as a not-so-serious entertainment at the end of long arduous tour with teams giving fresh faces a chance to prove themselves. But with the T20 world cup looming close by, it meant serious business and both teams decided to infuse a mix of old hands and new faces in a bid to find the perfect combination for the big tournament in India.

The match started off in an eerily similar fashion as the ODIs. India, put into bat, scored freely with the ball coming nicely onto the bat and posted a strong 188, largely riding on Kohli's unbeaten 90, whose love affair with Adelaide has become stronger by the day. The target was a tall ask but given India's profligate bowling, no target was safe as they had found in the series before. Unsurprisingly, Australia raced off the blocks with the scorecard reading 82/1 at the end of 8 overs. The wicket was on the flatter side and with the ball coming on to the bat nicely and runs were scored at a brisk pace. Even the Ashwin gamble did not pay off with his first over being taken for 17 runs. The fast bowlers were leaking runs. Boundaries were scored off every over. Australia threatened to take the game away. And then it happened.

The game changed for a brief period of time, 6 overs to be precise. Just 36 balls. But that was all was needed to take the game away from Australia. The match which had previously been going at a frenetic pace slowed down. The rut started with Smith's wicket. And that was when, Adelaide turned into Chepauk. Dhoni immediately turned to his spinners and Jadeja and Ashwin bowled in tandem hurrying their overs in manic pace.  The ball stopped coming on to the bat. There was some grip and turn on offer.The boundaries dried up. The dot ball counter rose. The Swami Army became louder.

Dhoni brought  the fielders closer. This was his forte. When the ball begins to show even the slightest hint of turn, he is a changed captain. He who often looks like a man bereft of ideas when his fast bowlers bowl transforms into an innovative captain once the spinners begin to turn the ball. A template begins to appear. The spinners bowl in quick succession. The screws are tightened on the opposition with the spinners suffocating them out of the game. Before the opposition realizes, the overs fly by. He has done it countless number of times in the yellow jersey of his now-defunct Chennai Superkings team and with Ashwin and Jadeja bowling, it was akin to watching the stringent display of spin bowling that has won the Superkings many a match. The catch by Nehra only added to the scheme of things. 

Between the 9th and 14th over, just 30 runs were scored with 4 wickets falling down. Lynn and Head who had made a name for themselves with their Big Bash exploits had not been exposed to spin bowling of this quality and were caught like deer in headlights. Watson edged out trying to up the scoring rate. And before long, the required run rate had increased from under 9 to nearly 13- the game effectively sealed. 

After that, it was Adelaide once again. The pacers were back on. The ball came nicely on to the bat. Boundaries were hit; Sixes smashed; Wickets fell. But the match was already over. In Chepauk.