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Ending the slugfest right

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Virat_Kohli_Steve_Smith_India_Australia_CricketAjinkya Rahane calmly picks up a stump. Cheteshwar Pujara pleasantly allows himself a smile. The ship has very smoothly sailed to the shore. No noise. No storm. No turbulence. The Border-Gavaskar trophy is safely back home and the Himalayas are calm and serene. Isn’t it?

But wait.

At the other end, Rahul is punching his fists and screaming high and loud into the sky. Belligerence is written all over his face. If you saw the entire world’s anger shine through in his visage, you have seen only half of it. Under the shade, inside the dressing room, someone is heating up the corridor; fuming and threatening to break loose. It is Virat Kohli, carrying a broken shoulder but pulling all broken strings tight.

 

The calm demeanour of Pujara and affable nature of Rahane are exceptions to an otherwise fiercely fought series. The Indians and Aussies were at each other all the time. Neither were they frugal in their verbal rants, which at times turned animated, nor were they timid or shy in expressing themselves fully with the bat and the ball. The Australians didn’t crumble. The Indians didn’t give in. The pitches were not benign, nor were the crowds. Not one moment was relaxed.

A slugfest turned out thus.

Each action had a reaction. Each batting collapse had an act of grit and assiduity in response. Each loose spell with the ball was followed up by an intense spell, which stifled the batsmen for runs. No one team had a complete say over the proceedings. The pendulum kept swinging.

The Aussies first shocked India at Pune and then pushed the hosts into a dangerous-looking corner after the 1st day’s play at Bengaluru. But India hit back with an immense display of fight and hunger. At Ranchi, the Aussies did everything right until they ran into a certain Che Pujara, who was performing his meditation. The tables were slowly, protestingly, turned. In response, Australia lost its top order before lunch on the 5th morning. A collapse seemed imminent and India almost had their hands on the trophy. But Handscomb and Marsh dug deep to live, to fight another day. Filled with disappointment, India had to settle for a draw.

At Dharamsala, India lost Kohli even before Rahane lost a crucial toss. Rahane, though, bravely went in with a batsman short. In no time, Aussies cruised to 131/1 on a very good looking batting track. The day seemed bleak. But Kuldeep Yadav, a forced change but also an inspired one, brought India back. Could Kohli’s injury be a blessing in disguise? Perhaps it was, as it turned out. Nathan Lyon and Pat Cummins struck back, wrecking the Indian batting to take back the lost initiative. But Ravindra Jadeja breathed freedom and unleashed his sword to demoralize the Aussies.

An hour into the post-lunch session on the 3rd day at Dharamsala, the swing of the pendulum was finally halted. This time there was no going back. India had grabbed it and owned it. For over thirty days the pendulum had its say. Now was the time to seize the moment. India had wrested the initiative, once and for all.

Umesh Yadav, who has been the backbone of India’s pace attack with both the new ball and the old one, gave it his all knowing it is the one last time he has to do it this season. Ably supported by Bhuvneshwar, he broke into the Aussie top order which swung the match India’s way for one last time this series.

Chasing small targets can be tricky, but this one seemed too small, especially after the foundation laid by the openers. But Rahane had a prior experience of losing a similar chase. He was the 9th man out at Galle, when India failed to chase 176 against Sri Lanka. This time around, his intentions were clear. No tinkering around. Short balls were pulled and smacked past the ropes. There was a statement in his batting, if not in his expression.

 

The statement of intent and aggression has been the hallmark of this new Indian team. It captures the zeitgeist of this era in Indian cricket. Post the Galle defeat in 2015, this team has played an excellent brand of positive cricket to come on top of its opponents.

Kohli wears his aggression on his sleeves. He puts his heart out in the field; it’s there for everyone to see. His aggression and ebullience has definitely rubbed off onto others as well. It is contagious. One could see it in Umesh Yadav’s spells throughout the season; or in Ishant’s spell at Ranchi; or in Rahul’s batting or in Rahane slapping Cummins’ short balls at Dharamsala. It is quite evident: “stay positive” is the new motto.

A gruelling home season has thus come to an end. The win against the Aussies was not the icing on the cake as was predicted, but in fact, it was the cake itself. There is nothing as satisfactory as a hard-earned series victory. This is the time to rejoice a resounding home season victory.

“Our main challenge begins now”, said Kohli after the match. Sure, bigger challenges await the Indian side abroad. Nevertheless, there is an enormous sense of belief in this team - that this team can achieve greater glories, and that is a positive sign for Indian cricket.

 

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