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When Bengaluru turned into a cauldron

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Virat_Kohli_Steve_Smith_India_Australia_CricketIn recent times, urbanisation may have reduced Bengaluru’s distinction as “Garden City” to a mere farce, but still it remains a thoroughly pleasant place to live – the weather, the food and the people hold the city together nicely. Heat is not what one usually associates with this city.

For 4 days though, the heart of the city – the M. Chinnaswamy stadium – had turned into a cauldron as India took on Australia in the 2nd Test.

Tensions flared, words were exchanged and pot-shots were thrown and received - on and off the field - as the two teams involved in a fierce battle for a good four days of riveting Test cricket. The Australians did not initiate any unwarranted provocations, but the same could not be said of the Indians led by Kohli.

 

The pendulum swung either way, but neither team owned it. Nothing was served on a platter. It had to be earned. Elegance took a back seat. The need of the hour was not flair but grit.

India came to Bengaluru with its pride severely dented; rather embarrassingly and shockingly at Pune. They were not just beaten but tamed. Out of nowhere, a relatively young looking Australian team landed here, and in a matter of three days, made a mockery of India’s home success. No one saw it coming. David had cheerfully knocked out Goliath.

The long gruelling home season suddenly seemed to be taking its toll. The lack of runs from the opening pair now looked disturbingly prominent and concerns were raised over the ability of the lower middle order to muster runs against a quality bowling attack. How could this team plummet to such a low just one month after having enjoyed a very dominant home season?

 

Did India need to do some soul searching? Probably not. The brand of cricket they had played up until Pune was exemplary and perhaps the loss was an aberration. But they needed to switch on and not be complacent. The Aussies had come here with intent and resolve.

“We are one win away from retaining the Border-Gavaskar trophy. Things can happen pretty quickly here. So we might be one or two sessions away from getting that back. I'm sure they'll feel under a bit of pressure," said the Aussie skipper at the press conference. Steve Smith seemed to suggest that India’s hopes for a larger victory in the four Test series could all but be over at Bengaluru. India was, alarmingly, at the brink of a major embarrassment at home. This could all happen very quickly. This was what Smith hinting.

Though Kohli had assured an improved performance, the 1st day in Bengaluru didn’t suggest anything on those lines. Nathan Lyon made the most of the bounce on offer and ran on a rampage through the batting line up, restricting India’s innings to a meagre 189.

Lyon was in a trance and the Indian batters were too kind to disturb him. There was no Plan B. Even before they could realize Lyon had run all over them. The home-grown batsman should have adapted better to the conditions. But it wasn’t to be.

As Nathan Lyon later remarked in the press conference, once the head of the snake was cut the rest of the part fell apart. Was India a one-man team after all? If Kohli failed who else would step up to take on the opposition? We were to find an answer to this question 2 days later.

As Kohli pointed out in the presentation ceremony, India curtailed the Aussie momentum in the 1st session of the 2nd day itself. Australia could manage only 47 runs in 29 overs in the session, losing Warner and Smith along the way.

Indians had a go at Smith and Renshaw for a good part of the session to heat up the arena. If Renshaw was all smiles to the sledges, Smith was pumped up. Ishant Sharma mocked the Aussie skipper’s antics & Kohli laughed, only increasing the intensity.

 

Smith was up for it though. His acrobatics expanded to different horizons with every ball defended or left alone. Screams and calls were getting louder. At times, even if there wasn’t a run at stake Smith would scream out loudly, just to pump himself up. It wasn’t a message to his partner but to Virat Kohli and Co.

A Test match was unfolding. The crowd could sense it.

If India’s bowlers toiled long and hard throughout the day, the Australian batsman played the waiting game, curbing their natural attacking instincts. They didn’t mind looking ugly; and seemed happy to be beaten on the outside edge, as in Pune, which didn’t harm their cause.

The Aussies scored 197/6 in 90 overs on day 2. It ensured India was still in the game but it also meant Australia slowly inched towards a sizeable 1st innings lead. If it was a deliberate ploy – to first tire the bowlers, then pile on the runs - it seemed to have partially worked for the Aussies.

With Australia enjoying a healthy lead of 85 runs, India was virtually reduced to 33/4 in the 2nd innings when Rahane joined Pujara at the crease.

For the first time in the series, India dictated terms. Rahane employed the sweep shot to good effect against Lyon. Pujara showed intent by repeatedly stepping down to the spinners and bisecting the fielders for ones and twos. They showed the spine which had been lacking in the previous 3 innings. As the scoreboard kept ticking, now the Australians felt the heat.

If anyone thought India would build a lead of well above 200, Mitchell Starc was determined to prove them wrong. He came out all guns blazing with the new ball. India could only add 60 runs to their overnight score. No easy runs. Australia once again trumped India.

But chasing anything above 150 on a deteriorating 4th day pitch was always going to be difficult and the recent 4th innings record of the Aussies in Sri Lanka was one they were trying their best to forget. The demons soon played their part as Australia capitulated, getting all out in just 35 overs.

From the 2 Tests, it is now quite clear that the Australians haven’t come here for their summer holidays, and Team India is not in any mood to give up its home record.

Pride is at stake. Ranchi awaits.

 

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