How often have we, in the recent past, heard someone say that a batsman got out playing a particular shot because that’s just how he plays?
Press conferences come and go with skippers and coaches talking about batsmen wanting to play their natural game – a natural game that very rarely chooses to adapt.
At the same time, experts reckon that a natural game that doesn’t get you the results serves no purpose at all. Yes, it might make for a good watch but does it serve the team’s purpose? At the end of the day, in a team game, anything and everything has to be done with the team goals in mind.
But on day three of the Adelaide Test against Australia, India’s batsman showed the quality that is most important in a champion side – a willingness to adapt; to change because that was the demand of the match situation. Cheteshwar Pujara showed them the way with a century in the first innings and he continued to be the guiding light in the second as well, but the other batsmen also gave it their best shot.
At close of play, India were 151 for the loss of three wickets. Pujara (40*) and Rahane (1*) are at the crease.
In the morning, Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah rescued India from a potentially dangerous situation by dismissing the Australian tail quickly to give India a psychologically important 15-run lead. There was rain, and one felt that the Australian bowlers might return the favour given how loose the Indian batting had looked in the first innings.
But KL Rahul and Murali Vijay come out with a very different mindset. Initially, they just looked to stay at the wicket without worrying about the runs. After eight overs in the second innings, India’s score read 8 for no loss. The ‘no loss’ was crucial because early wickets would have set the cat among the pigeons.
After that, Rahul decided he needed to try and force Australia’s hand a little. Just seven overs later, India had reached 51. He lofted the ball over the infield and one shot that went for six over covers would easily compete for “best of the tour” honours. But there was an element on uncertainty in his knock. A bit of an all or nothing approach.
Yes, he wasn’t trying to hit every ball but it still felt like he was looking for his best touch, and that desperation would creep in from time to time. Perhaps, one of the reasons for that was that this was just the third time that he went past 40 in 20 Test innings this year. That’s enough to make anyone uneasy given that Prithvi Shaw is almost sure to walk into the team when he is fit again.
Vijay (18), though, clearly isn’t himself. He made a career out of leaving deliveries outside the off-stump alone. But now, he fell to one from Mitchell Starc that kept leaving him. His feet didn’t move and the resulting edge was taken easily at second slip.
Rahul (44) fell a few runs later – going for the big drive and getting the edge through to the keeper. Suddenly, from 63 for no loss, India were reduced to 76 for 2 and that is when Virat Kohli walked out to a chorus of boos. The Australian spectators had turned up.
But Kohli had his eyes on a bigger prize – he didn’t let the crowd get to him; he didn’t let the chirping of the bowlers get to him; he didn’t let even the scoring rate get to him. He just wanted to stay in the middle. He just wanted to stay there for as long as possible.
For once, Kohli was Pujara’s mirror image. They played with the intent of batting Australia out of the game. Kohli has always been a great reader of the game and he could see that batting was getting more difficult because of the wear and tear. So time spent on the wicket will serve two purposes – runs will be scored and it will get even worse for batting. The scoreboard wasn’t moving very quickly but the match was.
Pujara, as he always does, stuck to his guns. The Australians haven’t figured out his weakness yet and they don’t quite know what to do with him. There is no Plan B. The umpires gave him out twice but each time the review came to his rescue.
So Pujara and Kohli, brothers-in-arms, batted with a sedate calm that the former is so familiar with. At one point, the strike-rate of the Indian captain fell below that of the batsman from Saurashtra and no one could quite believe it. And it looked like they would see out the day as well. But then in another twist, with just 4 overs to go in the day, the Indian skipper was dismissed have made 34 from 104 balls.
Lyon got a reward for his long toil and Australia seemed to get some energy back in their faltering stride. This Indian batting line-up has shown that it has the propensity to collapse and that is why, even though they are 166 runs ahead, they are still not out of the woods.
The first hour on day four will be crucial. If India can see that period out, Australia will find themselves chasing the game. On the other hand, if Australia get some quick wickets, we could all be in for a thriller. Either which way, day three was Test cricket at its finest.
Note: Play to start half hour early on Sunday and Monday to make up lost overs.