For most of the first hour, cricket looked like an afterthought. The two captains – Steve Smith and Rohit Sharma – were in the shadows of the two Prime Ministers, Narendra Modi and Anthony Albanese. If that wasn’t enough, the players weren’t allowed to practise around the centre wickets.
If that chaos wasn’t enough, Mohammed Shami’s first over provided more than one instance of the sprawling chaos. The ball swung late, the ball swerved, and KS Bharat looked like a complete alien in a place where he is often at home. Once the spotlight drew away from the dignitaries, it came screeching on the two Australians.
Indore was an anomaly, it was a wicket where if you had to succeed, you had to have several lives like a cat. But seldom do humans have such a luxury. On this wicket, both teams had no excuses, it wasn’t a rank-turner, it wasn’t a seaming paradise, and most definitely, it wasn’t a surface that posed a tough question.
It merely existed for the most part of the day. And, the way Australia batted throughout the series, you wouldn’t have been one bit shocked to find out that the score would have been 200/8. Rather that would have been something that you would have widely anticipated. But here in Ahmedabad, Australia, were fairly comfortable in the middle.
Travis Head was being Travis Head, Usman Khawaja always was a natural, and the rest had to just pick up from their slack. When Head attacked, the southpaw was confident in his defensive technique and stayed at his crease. In India, the challenge between the bat and ball has always been tilted in the latter’s favour, but here, it was a proper battle.
In more ways than one, it was a mental battle, and whichever side held the fort, took home the advantage. Australia were already broken walking into the Indore Test, and at that point, nothing more would have made a difference. But that’s where the tour changed, Australia played with much more freedom and applied themselves in situations that matter.
Shami’s first over signalled exactly the opposite for India. For the first time in the series, you could sense that it was the hosts who were in a spot of bother.
Every delivery that found the gap was followed with the camera panning closely on Rohit Sharma. At one point, Shreyas Iyer was seen throwing his hands when a banged-in short ball didn’t reach him. India were frustrated.
Thoroughly for the first time in the series. But what changed? Khawaja’s innings could well be the difference between the two sides on day one but had it not been for the counter-attacking approach from Cameron Green, Australia would have found themselves with a big question, were we too defensive?
Were they too defensive? Of course, and do Australia know that? Of course, they are an international side, not me or you. 72/2, just 23 overs into the contest, Australia had two of their best batters – Khawaja and Steve Smith – at the crease. The ask wasn’t too huge. Rather it wasn’t huge for a batter of Smith’s brilliance or a batter of Khawaja’s perseverance.
It was a fair estimate of the expectations. But the approach was bemusing.
Only twice before this innings, Smith had a stuttering batting pattern, a strike-rate of 28.15. While you can call the other two – 8 and 5 – in Bangalore and Mohali as having not faced enough deliveries, this knock showed how Australia forced themselves into a cocoon that required a stunning knock from Green to turn things around.
Smith scored 38 runs. 38 of them are definitely more valuable than zero of them. But the break-up of his knock makes for an interesting read. If you were in Ahmedabad (rare chance of that happening), you would have assumed that the Australian stand-in skipper had a rather long nets session in the centre strip.
But this centre strip didn’t have net bowlers, it rather had actual bowlers, with one of them being the World No.1 ranked bowler in the longest format. In his 135-ball stay, the right-hander had played 109 dots and was laced with 20 singles and three twos. It was very unlikely of innings from the Australian stand-in skipper.
And when the bail went flying, it was like a familiar situation for the visitors. 151/3, and with how Australian batters have batted, it could have been even curtains for them. But this time around, there was a massive difference, Khawaja understood the magnitude of the situation. Rather, he understood that the opportunity presented itself for him to be a hero.
Expectations are often a weird thing. In most cases, it even leads people to disappointment. When 17-year-old Cameron Green made the headline, it was something on a similar line. The expectations were massive. He was even touted as the next big thing, and Australian cricket hasn’t seen many such hyped players since Ricky Ponting.
But Green was always cut off a different cloth. His 200cm frame was an anomaly, and combine that with his pace-bowling, you really could feel the hype yourself. Some say that the air that surrounds the lanky all-rounder is a very mystical one. But his personality has always been similar to a monk.
Ignoring the noise is a pretty cliched thing. You can try your best, but somehow, the noise often finds a way to enter. But his 200cm frame is too tall for the noise. It gets cut even before it reaches his head. And what you rather get is a frame that is as cool as a cucumber.
Green walked out and immediately kept counter-punching. Have you seen those movies where for the longest time, the hero is seen counting how many punches he has received before punching one of his own. No, we are not talking about Sivaji or Rajinikanth, but Green. Numerous times in the past, against England, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and now India, the all-rounder has walked out and attacked.
First 30 balls, he was patient. Next 34 destructive. Barring that one short ball which caught him off-guard, Green’s counter-attacking innings was a vital knock in the context of the series. 38 off 34 balls against the new ball, and suddenly Australia went from 199/4 in the 80th over to 255 after 90, and the partnership to 85 off just 116 balls.
“It was such a nice wicket, I didn't want to give my wicket away. It was a mental battle more than anything else,” In between all of this, there was Khawaja.
The journey to get here was a rather long one, but once he did get to India and started getting more game time in the playing XI, it was almost impossible to stop Khawaja. And India learnt that in Indore. Now, they are just being like a student who has been punished for getting caught for being late for the second day in a row.
India’s plans against Khawaja were nothing short of a student. And Khawaja was the professor.
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