A look back at Adelaide; and a peek into Brisbane

The Adelaide Test ended with Kohli and his men going down in a blaze of (almost) glory, as India capitulated from 205/2 at Tea on Day 5, to 315 all out – the final result being a 48-run victory for Australia. The game has been hailed as a perfect advertisement for Test cricket, while simultaneously upholding the emotional content which was palpable throughout, being the first complete Test match played after the Philip Hughes tragedy.

Australia deserved the victory, given that they held the upper hand for the majority of the match. At the end of Day 4, the only possibilities were an Aussie win or a hard-fought draw, the likelihood of which seemed minimal, given that India had not survived 98 overs in the 4th innings in recent times. 

At 57/2, shortly after the first drinks break, the story was moving along predictable lines. That’s when two young men, akin to heroes from a Bollywood dual-hero potboiler, took it upon themselves to, borrowing a punchline from the recently launched ITPL, ‘break the code’. With the 2003-04 Adelaide hero, Rahul Dravid, looking on from the commentary box, Murali Vijay and Virat Kohli, slowly started breathing life back into the Indian innings.

By no means was it assured, at least in the initial stages, as both played and missed, survived a few close LBW decisions, and looked distinctly uncomfortable against the off-spinner, the ilk of whom have been tormenting India over the past few series.

Vijay was restraint personified, punctuating long periods of inactivity with jerky aggression, while Kohli continued to be his sublime, belligerent self. It speaks volumes of his temperament that, despite getting out to the hook at a wrong time in the first innings, Kohli continued to play the shot, carrying no baggage from the disappointment of the previous innings.

The colossal target gradually began to look achievable, as the two well-set batsmen kept chipping away. The majority of the day had been spent debating possibilities of an Australian win as opposed to a draw, but suddenly a third alternative had crept in. India had chugged along to 205/2 at Tea, and 160 runs in about 40 overs, with 8 wickets in hand, seemed a realistic possibility.

Vijay’s wicket was the turning point, a victim more of the nervous nineties than Lyon’s wizardry; to the off-spinner’s credit, he kept plugging away incessantly, and was finally rewarded. Rahane fell to Erasmus, and Rohit got a great delivery. I am not an especially huge fan of Rohit in Tests, but illogical bashing makes no sense. Almost everyone sympathized with Rahane when he received an unplayable delivery from Lyon in the first innings. The off-spinner bowled a very similar delivery at Rohit, perhaps a tad fuller, with plenty of flight and dip. The alleged flat-track bully tried to meet it on the front foot, while Rahane chose to stay back; both batsmen, once committed, had no way of preventing the ball from thudding into their gloves and into the waiting hands of a fielder.

Kohli’s presence kept hopes alive, but Saha’s cameo, where he appeared to be following instructions, was India’s greatest error. The wicketkeeper was the last somewhat recognized batsman, and it was ridiculous to have him charge the best bowler in the opposition team before even getting set. Saha looked as if he had a death-wish, the way he kept attacking with gay abandon. His wish was quickly granted, and barring miracle from Kohli, a la the Sandstorm Century by Sachin at Sharjah, in a different format and 15 years ago, India looked buried.

Kohli flickered bravely for a while more, before getting extinguished in the most innocuous of fashions. I was critical of his dismissal in the first innings, and still believe that the story may have been slightly different had Kohli survived the third evening, but there were absolutely no regrets about his loft this time around. The ball was there to be hit, a rank long-hop, and one would expect Kohli to send it sailing over the deep mid-wicket boundary 99 times out of 100.

But Kohli mistimed the shot. Marsh nearly made a hash of it, but once the ball nestled in his enormous palms, the game was over. It looked for a while that 100 wild horses might be required to drag Kohli away from the crease, but the skipper finally swallowed his anguish and departed to thundering applause from a sporting crowd.

Within a while, the final formalities were completed, and a great Test was won by the better team.

Adelaide – Disappointments

My biggest disappointment came during the Indian first innings when Kohli was hit smack on the center of his helmet by Mitchell Johnson off the first delivery he faced. No, the disappointment is not that he got hit. Neither was it at the overt gestures of concern, so unbecoming of any team today, but necessary in the aftermath of the great tragedy. Johnson’s reaction and subsequent behavior was the disappointment. The quick looked visibly shaken, much more than Kohli, and proceeded to banish the bouncer from his armory for the remainder of the spell. It may have given India a bit more breathing space, but the entire situation was a bit of a let-down for me.

The second disappointment was Kohli’s statement at the press conference. There is always the possibility that he was misquoted, or even that I am interpreting it wrong, but the general impression I got was that for Kohli, a draw was not worth it. He wanted to win, or lose in the attempt. The world has gone gaga over his positivity, and so have I, but I would not endorse the win or lose strategy. A draw, in alien conditions, is sometimes as good as a win, and gives one the leeway of starting fresh on an even keel. There is absolutely no dishonor in shutting shop and playing for a draw. The ideal strategy, which I believe Vijay and Kohli were following, would have been to keep going at 3-3.5 RPO without losing wickets till only about 10-12 overs were remaining. A loss would then be almost out of the equation, and a T20-esque attempt could be made to chase down even a 100-run target. Best case scenario would be a victory; worst case, draw.

Adelaide – Happiest moment

This can come as a shock, but my happiest moment came during/after the Warner-Aaron spat. Till that point, the match was in encased in the kind of sugar-coating Indo-Aussie encounters are never associated with. The reason was legitimate, but too much amiability was killing the Test. Aaron’s overstepping may have robbed India of a great opportunity, but the verbal duel, and subsequent needle, among other players as well, infused the much required animosity identifiable with great Tests between the two countries. From this point onwards, the Test became a Test again, sledges were administered in full flow, Johnson rediscovered some of his meanness, and a great Test ensued.

A peek into Brisbane

Brisbane. India’s greatest test (definitely no pun intended here). Australia last lost a Test here in 1988, when the senior Marsh opened the innings. India have never won a Test here, but Ganguly’s 144, in 2003, ensured a respectable draw. If India manage to replicate it, I would consider it a success.

On a greentop and against Johnson and a pair of eager-to-prove-themselves youngsters, the Indians have their task cut out. Nothing back home would have prepared them for this, and it will a thorough test of technique and temperament.

As per my earlier prediction, Dhawan should play this Test, irrespective of his performance in the first. Failure at Brisbane could prompt the think-tank to give KL Rahul a much deserved look-in, but that is still a while away. Therefore, the batting line-up is not likely to be disturbed.

Dhoni has more than hinted that Ashwin would be in tomorrow’s XI, and I do not see any cause for deviation. The experiment with Karn was justifiable, but now that it failed big time, there is intelligence in discontinuing it.

I also believe that Umesh Yadav stands a good chance for breaking into the playing XI. Both Aaron and Shami have not impressed, but then, neither have the more famed Australian quicks. However, at the Gabba, Umesh’s genuine swing abilities could see him edge out Aaron, more of a hit-the-deck bowler. Ishant, the steadiest Indian bowler on display at Adelaide, is not likely to be tampered with, and Shami should survive by the skin of his teeth.

Just a few hours to go. Here’s hoping that Brisbane emulates Adelaide, at least in process, if not in outcome.