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India vs Australia | Adelaide throws a classic that would be hard to forget

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India vs Australia | Adelaide throws a classic that would be hard to forget

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Bastab K Parida

12/10/2018

It was a contrasting five days of Test cricket. Adelaide greeted India with a 40-degree Celsius on the first day, kept the temperature within the range on second as well, but by the time the third day started, it was all gloomy. It was raining, defying the humidity of the first two days.

The Test could have passed as the beginning of a new Australian summer - one that gave them hope to establish a new culture and forget the tarnished. One that would revitalise a new 'Australian way' of playing cricket - not exactly the derivation of the success, supremacy, and intensity of the past Australian teams that had helped establish an awe of the in-your-face cricket that they had deployed over the years. The new Australian way hopes it wouldn’t be the eventual byproduct of what was seen as a geometrical progression of belligerence from Allan Border's team to Mark Taylor's team to reaching its pinnacle under Steve Waugh through verbal duels. Rather they hoped it would sign the dawn of a new era that Tim Paine and Justin Langer envision them to reach. Adelaide was going to be about that, a lot about that.

But, Adelaide was also going to be about cricket. The resumption of a rivalry that commands an unparalleled respect in the world order would also be the first home Test series since the scandal that rocked them. The Test had a genuine burst of interest going around for a number of factors. People took Virat Kohli’s success for granted and the buzz was equally on if Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravichandran Ashwin would perform well on the tour. Would Australia survive the new Indian pace revolution or how would the amazing Aussie pace troika react to India’s batsmen? A lot of questions were there to be pondered. 

Firstly, people were well within their right to cast an aspersion on the duo of Pujara and Ashwin. Pujara was not a flamboyant character like some of the other teammates nor does he have the allure of a stroke-maker. However, what he does the best is to bide time and come out with a century by the time a Virat Kohli would have had a nice nap in the change room after scoring a classy double maybe. But, Virat Kohli is still human and can have an off day or two. So much so that when he scored a century and a match-winning 70 to take India 1-0 up in the series, his effort was in the centre of many attraction and people went gaga in praising the old-school approach. 

While most people were celebrating the century because top five were dismissed rather cheaply, only a select few were actually celebrating the guts of Pujara, the efforts that went behind the innings, and most importantly, how the guy from Saurashtra was battling the odds in a way that would make another particular Indian No. 3 of the yesteryear proud. Going into more detail, his battle against Nathan Lyon was a kind that purists would die to watch over and over again. 

 © Getty

The ball started gripping and turning in the very first innings itself and that made Pujara a bit sceptical about his feet movement. But once he was sure that it required nothing but pure application, he was more at home. He used his feet to negate the movement and played his occasional drives to get going. That century came along. The Indian batsmen got a masterclass on how to tackle Lyon and well, the Aussie spinner also got a clue that it would take more than just good bowling to mentally disintegrate the Indian No.3. 

In the second innings, Lyon had placed three men on the off-side, with a widish gap between cover and a fine mid-off so as to pierce Pujara’s defence when he would go for the attack. The rough patch had been created, but Pujara nullified that by padding out, forcing the Aussie to change his length, and sometimes line as well. Then, in the 70th over of the second innings, Lyon put Aaron Finch at forward short leg, forcing the Indian to bat inside the crease and in the 88th over, Pujara gave up. India lost their solid man. It was pretty much like a battle within a battle. A battle of wits, a battle of fierce Test cricket. The world, including the 11 fielders and the non-striker, was a mere bystander. 

While Pujara was involved in his own fight, another Indian was making a statement of intent on the other side. Determined to make his innings count and take India to a position of influence, Ajinkya Rahane produced a 70-size gem on the fourth day. Not for a minute, Australia really gave up - albeit for a while it made everyone think so - and they were putting an unrelenting amount of pressure. It might not have been a deja vu moment for those who remembered Rahane unleashing those purposeful drives against Mitchell Johnson, Josh Hazlewood, Ryan Harris, Shane Watson and Nathan Lyon, four years back at MCG to score 147 in just 171 deliveries, but looking at the margin of victory in the hindsight, they would any day take this Adelaide’s sedate and orthodox 70 over that 147.  

Ravichandran Ashwin is not an unassuming cricketer like a Pujara is. He loves to do things that Pujara never thinks. He involves in Twitter banter, takes a dig at them who criticise his bowling performances, but what Ashwin never let go of was the strong zeal to perform better in Test cricket. He was criticised for not being able to take the benefits of the Southampton roughs, but in Adelaide, he didn't make the same mistakes again. As the old-fashioned spinners do, he kept on attacking the spots created by pacers’ footmark and was a threat for the Aussie left-handers on almost every delivery. It was the renaissance of a bowler whose failure in Australia on the previous tour had led to many experts writing him off. 

In some way or another, Ashwin also mirrors the changing fortunes of Indian cricket as well. In the previous tours of Australia, Indian batsmen called the shots and very rarely their bowlers got into the action. With the changing time, Indian bowlers have come on to outplay their Australian counterparts. Unfortunately for India, the batting which had come so good on their last trip here, couldn’t perform as per the expectations and threw away their wickets to give Australia a slender psychological advantage after the end of the former’s first innings. 

Australia had odds stacked against them. Very few people thought they would come close to challenging “the best Indian team of all-time”.  But their tail wagged, giving India the fear of losing the match. The tourists though remained skilful and never for a moment, the Indian skipper tried doing any unorthodox things to break the partnership between the last Aussie pair - Lyon and Hazlewood. Lyon, who on the previous day, stated that the team had it in them to turn few players into heroes on the last day and he was not just blabbering some random words. He had a bite to match the bark. Tavis Head and Shaun Marsh may not have, but he, himself, persisted, applied himself and saw off a lot of threat to take them close to 300 runs. They may have lost, but certainly gave a hope to the fans to return, rejoice and involve themselves in this wonderful sport, and cheer for the mythical baggy green. 

For India, THIS win would never be termed as their greatest ever in Australia because they have five more hard-earned victories to challenge this. But it will always be remembered as the point from where Virat Kohli’s boys seemed poised to usher in a new era and took the gold standard of Test cricket to another level. Cricket, as Ravi Shastri would say, was the real winner.

 © Getty

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