Wednesday, 8 March 2017

India shows intent...finally

In the 33rd over of the first innings, Lyon ambles up and pitches the ball near the off-stump. The ball hits the rough, bounces and turns into the batsman. The batsman goes back into the crease. He is rumoured to score runs even while sleeping. He is said to possess wrists that could flick any ball to the boundary. Instead, he shoulders arms. The ball thuds into his pads. In his counterpart’s words, Kohli had what could be described as a brain-fade. A classic example of lacking intent, that he had exhorted his team mates for in the previous match.

Lyon kept bowling similar balls. Over after over. And it fetched him wicket after wicket. Pujara was caught in the crease. Rahane failing to read the straighter one. Saha edged a skidder to slips. Nair deceived by flight.  In the end, his figures read 8-50, the best by an overseas bowler on Indian shores.

There was prodigious bounce and turn on offer. But the Chinnasamy had no demons lurking inside the pitch a-la Pune. India needed their batsmen to put their head down, set in for a long haul, show some application and grind down the opposition. Instead, they capitulated in spectacular style reminiscent of the first match.

The scorecard reads 120-4 in the second innings. The Jadeja experiment had failed. DRS continued to frustrate Kohli. The lead was a mere 33 runs. They were trailing 1-0 in the series and staring down the barrel. Australia knew they were just a couple of wickets away from an unassailable lead in the series. Suddenly, Smith’s dream of an unexpected series win did not seem so fanciful.

In walked Rahane, who had not crossed 30 in 9 of his last 10 innings and who had been playing off-spinners with the same assurance with which Raina plays the short ball. He joined Pujara, who had scratched, edged and survived his way to 34. Australia sensed the kill. 

Smith immediately turns to his best-bowler. Lyon turns the ball viciously. He gets the ball to spit venomously from the pitch. The outside edge is beaten. A catch is dropped. All in the same over. A wicket should have fallen. Yet it did not. Somehow, the batsmen survive. They refused to bow down. They battled on.

Pujara began to show the discipline that had come to define his batting style. He left balls outside his off stump in a religious manner bordering on fanaticism. He defended like his very existence depended upon it. He scored only when the ball was pleading to be hit.

Rahane was not in his usual stroke-making elements. He curbed his natural instinct to drive. He was scratchy, dogged and even ugly at times but he kept on rotating the strike, never letting the bowlers bog him down. So much so that Australia managed to bowl only 8 maidens during the entire partnership. And by the time the lead had crossed 100, only 1 maiden was bowled.  

As the overs passed by, the batsmen began to feel more assured. The pitch became slower and the bowlers did not pose the same threat. The ones and twos had now turned into boundaries and the scoreboard was ticking along. For the first time in the series, Australia were playing catch-up.

Pujara and Rahane batted their way through 46.2 overs, forging the highest partnership of the series and definitely, the most defining one. Eventually, it took a fire-spitting spell from Starc to end the partnership. By then, the duo had put together 118 runs and the lead had grown to 151. Australia were all but out of the match.

When Kohli was dismissed, Australia had cut the snake’s head. They thought that the body would fall off. Little did they know they were dealing with a Hydra.


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