India’s fight to the end

India have often rolled over and cried in overseas Tests. But not here. They kicked and screamed right until the end. No retreat, no surrender. Rohit Sharma is a man with the skills to change a Test in a session. Here he changed a Test in a sentence.

Virat Kohli was aggressive before the first Test. He wanted everyone to know that he would be attacking and proactive. That he wouldn’t roll over. That he wouldn’t do what India did every series and expect different results. Kohli delivered. India were aggressive. India were attacking.

On the first morning they attacked the stumps. They had a plan to bowl round the wicket and full. They stuck to it. It was obviously not a great strategy and Australia scored at ease. But they were making the play, even the bad play. Then Varun Aaron bowled the first bouncer. Not afraid to bother anyone. Just doing what they thought they needed to do. They also kept the field up.

It didn’t work. Their two early wickets were nice, but once Warner and Clarke, Warner and Smith, Smith and Clarke were together, it all went bad. Ishant Sharma went at three an over. Karn Sharma at four. Mohammed Shami at five. And Aaron at six, or 5.9. It is hard to attack well with these numbers.

Karn was an attacking move in himself. R Ashwin is a better bowler. R Ashwin is a better batsman. R Ashwin is an offspinner. So Kohli thought Adelaide might suit the legspinner better. It might have, with a better legspinner. Karn was starting his career on a ground with short square boundaries against Warner and Clarke. It wasn’t ideal, but Kohli wanted something different. Last time Ashwin gave India five wickets for 267 runs in Adelaide. It isn’t match-winning, but the safe and reliable thing to do was pick him again. India didn’t. They picked three quicks who can’t bat and one new leggie. Only Ishant came off. But none of it was defensive.

Despite the fact they had conceded over 500, India didn’t shut up shop and take time out of the game. Their top six all played their shots. They tried to put pressure on the bowlers, and they came after Nathan Lyon. When Kohli was hit on the badge, he didn’t want people’s concern. He wanted to face the next ball. His cover drive after lunch was the shot of a man making a point. When Kohli was out, their tail swung, which could be deemed as part of their aggressive game plan, or just because that is pretty much all they can do.

When Australia set the target, India had a defensive field. But not a defensive mindset. Kohli went out of his way to make it known to every single Australia player that they were still going for victory. Chris Rogers certainly saw it as Kohli sent him off. Warner got it in his premature send-off. And then the rest of that afternoon was a series of exchanges between players on the field. No one would accuse the Indians of backing down.

There was not a single moment during the chase on the last day that ever hinted at the India players going for a draw. They batted for a win, at times recklessly, at times magnificently. Both seemed strange, both were captivating. Wriddhiman Saha’s innings was full of aggression, then one attempt he’ll never forget. But what he and Kohli were trying to do was important. Hitting Lyon out of the attack would give them a chance to take some runs from the friendlier seamers.

Kohli did it with magnificence and grace. Saha did it like he was trying to get a late-night kebab. India went down swinging. Their last wicket was stumped.

Play 06:24
Agarkar: Australia responded better to the big moments
India have often rolled over and cried in overseas Tests. But not here. They kicked and screamed right until the end. No retreat, no surrender. Rohit Sharma is a man with the skills to change a Test in a session. Here he changed a Test in a sentence.

Virat Kohli was aggressive before the first Test. He wanted everyone to know that he would be attacking and proactive. That he wouldn’t roll over. That he wouldn’t do what India did every series and expect different results. Kohli delivered. India were aggressive. India were attacking.

On the first morning they attacked the stumps. They had a plan to bowl round the wicket and full. They stuck to it. It was obviously not a great strategy and Australia scored at ease. But they were making the play, even the bad play. Then Varun Aaron bowled the first bouncer. Not afraid to bother anyone. Just doing what they thought they needed to do. They also kept the field up.

It didn’t work. Their two early wickets were nice, but once Warner and Clarke, Warner and Smith, Smith and Clarke were together, it all went bad. Ishant Sharma went at three an over. Karn Sharma at four. Mohammed Shami at five. And Aaron at six, or 5.9. It is hard to attack well with these numbers.

Karn was an attacking move in himself. R Ashwin is a better bowler. R Ashwin is a better batsman. R Ashwin is an offspinner. So Kohli thought Adelaide might suit the legspinner better. It might have, with a better legspinner. Karn was starting his career on a ground with short square boundaries against Warner and Clarke. It wasn’t ideal, but Kohli wanted something different. Last time Ashwin gave India five wickets for 267 runs in Adelaide. It isn’t match-winning, but the safe and reliable thing to do was pick him again. India didn’t. They picked three quicks who can’t bat and one new leggie. Only Ishant came off. But none of it was defensive.

Despite the fact they had conceded over 500, India didn’t shut up shop and take time out of the game. Their top six all played their shots. They tried to put pressure on the bowlers, and they came after Nathan Lyon. When Kohli was hit on the badge, he didn’t want people’s concern. He wanted to face the next ball. His cover drive after lunch was the shot of a man making a point. When Kohli was out, their tail swung, which could be deemed as part of their aggressive game plan, or just because that is pretty much all they can do.

When Australia set the target, India had a defensive field. But not a defensive mindset. Kohli went out of his way to make it known to every single Australia player that they were still going for victory. Chris Rogers certainly saw it as Kohli sent him off. Warner got it in his premature send-off. And then the rest of that afternoon was a series of exchanges between players on the field. No one would accuse the Indians of backing down.

There was not a single moment during the chase on the last day that ever hinted at the India players going for a draw. They batted for a win, at times recklessly, at times magnificently. Both seemed strange, both were captivating. Wriddhiman Saha’s innings was full of aggression, then one attempt he’ll never forget. But what he and Kohli were trying to do was important. Hitting Lyon out of the attack would give them a chance to take some runs from the friendlier seamers.

Kohli did it with magnificence and grace. Saha did it like he was trying to get a late-night kebab. India went down swinging. Their last wicket was stumped.

Kohli and Dhoni have been attacking captains this series © AFP
It wasn’t the first occasion this year that India had been close to victory, only to lose. At the Wanderers they were close to winning, or losing, when South Africa called off the chase with eight runs needed and three wickets in hand. At Trent Bridge, India made a respectable 457 and had England an even more respectable 9 for 298, before conceding the lead and having to fight to draw the match on the final day. At the Basin Reserve they were 246 runs ahead after one innings. New Zealand made 680 in their second. All of these were India being in front, and then letting it go. At Adelaide they were behind for 13 straight sessions. It wasn’t until late in the 14th that they finally got on even terms. The 15th was their problem.

Duncan and Dhoni are no longer the only big names in town.

Kohli was given a lot of credit for this new way of play. And he should have been, two hundreds and all. But Ravi Shastri was there as well. Even if not all the Channel Nine commentators knew about his new position as India team director. We have all spent many years with Shastri in our lounge rooms, often booming. He is a booming sort of man. A man of big impact, not subtly.

Shastri won’t want to be part of a team that isn’t trying to be the best. He wouldn’t want them to roll over and die. He has a reputation. He is the loudest voice of Indian cricket. He wants the team to be as dominant on the field as the BCCI is off it. He wants “India, superpower”.

At the Gabba, India batted first. It was the right thing to do. They often bat first. But it just felt right. The pitch did look green in the days leading up. They could have taken the cowardly way out and said they saw something in the wicket. It has happened here before. They didn’t.

Their batting was also aggressive. Again. M Vijay went aerial often. There were shots over cover that might have been heat strokes, but they were aggressive ones. He wasn’t just sitting back and scoring, he wanted to be on top. As Australia got injured, the Indians also went after Lyon again. When Mitchell Starc could bowl, he probably wished he hadn’t.

Even six wickets down, Ashwin and Dhoni were scoring quickly. Dhoni was trying to end Starc spells quickly to tire out Johnson. And Johnson was tired. And wicketless.

In the field Dhoni had catchers everywhere. It’s not that unusual for him to have 7-2 and 8-1 fields. But usually it is to bore out the opposition. This was to catch them out. There were slips and gullies everywhere; it was like we were back in the 90s.

The umpires came to the Indians and asked if they wanted to stay out and bowl spin as it got dark on the second evening. They didn’t. They wanted to attack with their quicks, they didn’t want a part-time spinner wasting overs hoping Ashwin got lucky. The Australians strolled off. The Indians went into the tightest of huddles. This was a team that believed it could win.

Ishant bowled nine straight overs either side of tea and took Warner with a beauty © Getty Images
The third morning they kept playing that way. Dhoni attacked. The bowlers kept it tight as well. Ishant attacked the top of off stump, and Mitchell Marsh was out neither attacking nor defending. Ishant let Marsh know what he thought of the leave.

When Brad Haddin came in, Aaron came round the wicket. At him. Up him. Into him. Into the hands of short leg.

The Indians were excited, they were frothing. And when Johnson came in, Rohit asked him about his match -wicket tally. Many others also had a word. The chat level was back to the afternoon fights at Adelaide. It was attacking. It was aggressive. It was a mistake.

VVS Laxman tweeted, “When an Aussie sledges it’s aggression but if an Indian sledges it’s unnecessary & foolish. Bottom line – Ind didn’t bowl well 2 Mitch.” And he has a point. But you also don’t sledge everyone. Johnson is a slow starter. He leaves balls early he should hit. He wafts early before putting his all into it. He doesn’t commit early until he’s settled.

Getting half your team to scream at him might make him focus more. Questioning his bowling might want him to do you over.

It wasn’t just words of course. They also bowled short to him, VVS was right about that. Like the first morning at Adelaide, they had a plan. Bounce him. One pull shot was easily dealt with to the rope. Another was cannoned there. Then there was a mishit, a ball in the air, one that could have carried to a fielder. It didn’t.

At Lord’s they gambled with the short ball and won a Test match. Here they gambled with it and lost one. They should have pitched up far earlier. But they were attacking and aggressive, as they have been all tour.

It was embarrassing for India as Smith barely had to do a thing, and Johnson swung wildly to mock them. When they got to lunch they had a moment to rethink, and after lunch, they played for the second new ball. Ashwin bowled three overs, Rohit bowled with five men on the rope. It did mean they had less chance of sledging anyone into a match-winning performance, but it was their most defensive cricket of the day, Test or series.

Just a day earlier, with Shane Watson 25 from 25, and looking dangerous, Dhoni had mid-on and mid-off up. Ashwin said: “Those are the plans. I don’t just put the point back or long-on back to save four runs. That’s not in me. If that’s how people see it, I can’t help it.”

Now Dhoni did something different. A six from Johnson over long-on kept the field up. But then Dhoni moved long-on back anyway. A straight four moved mid-off back straight away.

The pitch was also at its flattest. And it was hot. The Australians just milked the Indians who were just hoping for a break. They could have been off far earlier, but Dhoni didn’t move for a catch. This was the old India. The away-from-home India.

After ten overs, India were 41. They had lost no wickets. They were scoring well. They had put some pressure back on Australia. Losing only one wicket set up the next day. There was plenty of time, a good pitch and Australia were a bowler down. Dhawan and Pujara would come out and keep pushing.

But Dhawan never made it. The most aggressive thing India did in that first session was send out a press release accusing the Gabba groundstaff of not preparing new practice tracks, and that it caused discomfort to Kohli and injury to Dhawan.

There were slips and gullies everywhere © Getty Images
The rest was a procession. The wickets came so fast, at times it was hard to work out whether all the dismissals were out. People just kept leaving the field. Some tried to be attacking, like Dhoni who was almost mid-pitch when he was out lbw, but mostly it was a blur of wickets. There were six. It felt like eight.

When they left the ground, Watson decided to give Dhawan some advice. Rohit and Watson have to be vying for fans’ most-hated crowns all series. They have both used their mouths as much as their bats. Whatever Watson, and then Haddin, and then Warner said to Dhawan, after lunch he was a different player.

Perhaps the message from the team was to just hit out. Because Dhawan tried to slog Watson from the start. His first attempt, a mishit over mid-on, wasn’t subtle attacking, it was naked aggression. He kept going. And the more he attacked, the worse Australia looked. He crashed balls through cover, he guided balls to third man, he lapped Lyon, he swiped over mid-on, he jabbed pull shots and he slashed. When not doing that, he managed to keep the strike as Smith was left with one of his biggest decisions: should we try and get him out, or should we keep him off strike? Dhawan might have attacked bowlers better before, but this was just the aggression that was needed, and Australia were just lucky he missed one.

Dhawan’s knock was two-thirds of the total Australia needed, 128 runs was all India had. Dhoni didn’t over-attack. He didn’t give away easy singles. But he tried to play the smartest game he could. Five catchers, in random positions, hoping for the best. It was about all he could do on a pitch you could still score fast on, where you only had 128 in the bank.

Ishant bowled nine straight overs either side of tea. Dhoni backed him. He took Warner with a beauty. Played the short-ball game with Watson, and then told him about the wicket. And one of the gambling fielders Dhoni had took the catch of Rogers.

Dhoni kept going. They attacked the body of Shaun Marsh and found the glove. A little more glove, and Dhoni and leg slip just watch runs go by them. They got lucky with the run-out, as Smith didn’t need two. But they made that luck by making him think he did. Maybe even by Aaron’s aggressive body positioning.

They then took Haddin on with the short ball. Such a risk. They had fine leg 25 metres in from the boundary. Haddin had already looked a bit tentative, but it is Haddin. He is just as likely to middle one and send it flying over the two men out. Instead he found one. The next over Australia had won.

Four wickets. Forty-eight runs. 0-2.

They are losing, but they are making Australia win. They are losing, but they are aggressive. They are attacking, until there is nothing left to attack. One shot, one bouncer and one sentence at a time.

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “India’s fight to the end

  1. Sidhant Mahipal says:

    I think India is coming closer each time, Adelaide required two declarations; this time we had a big chance at 247/6. I reckon a 180 target who have made it so much more interesting.

    This is an extremely young team with more than half a side close to 10 tests old. This is definitely a promising team in all conditions.

    The result says 2-0; but the Aussies know it has been two tough wins.

  2. jogesh99 says:

    Two genuinely mediocre teams making it look good.
    But the quality is utterly shit.

    Aussie bowling on their great pacy track was so average, so very average. Johnson hyped up, but at his best, just about average.

    Aussies are actually struggling against this Indian team – a team that dislikes test cricket, a team that’s very likely using this test series to get practice for the world cup. A team that always doubles your score once you manage 250 for 6.

    Aussies might actually not make it 4-0, they are so average. If Smith fails in the first innings, …

  3. Bob says:

    Yeah but how about the lack of vegetarian fare for lunch?

  4. jogesh99 says:

    That twat Warne carried a sackful of cans to India on his first visit (I’m presuming he took his shit back with him – he contaminates enough by his mere presence), so Indians should bring along a cook and fresh veggies and set up a kitchen. Maybe even take a dump on the Gabba practice pitch Indian-style. Use water to clean (not paper, like hyper-hygienic gora does) after, educate the natives.
    Better that than all those assorted coaches, Shastri the bloated bore, and those nameless gora fitness experts.

    And keep bouncing, the Aussie top-order is chicken-shit. And Johnson’s wild swings won’t work every time.

Comments are closed.