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Brought down by the Steves

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Steve_O'Keefe_Australia_CricketGone in sixty seconds” is the name of a 1974 action movie focusing on cars & car thieves, as well as the name of the remake in 2000 featuring Nicholas Cage. ‘Gone in 60 hours’ can well be how one can describe what happened at the MCA Stadium in Pune on the 25th of February 2017. Overconfidence? We do not know.

A friend of mine messaged me in the morning, and before I could come online to check the status of the Test (an unbeaten opening partnership building up slowly and steadily with Vijay and Rahul both having scored half-centuries? Or Kohli blasting his way to yet another double century?), I decided to read his text. ‘Over in 3 days…and they thought they could defeat them easily’. For a moment I thought the Indians won, courtesy a blitzkrieg from Kohli and Vijay and Rahul…

The Indians who claimed to be very good against spin, whether playing at home or abroad, were brought down – ‘crushed’ as the headline of one of the news items said – by two spinners, Steve O’Keefe and Nathan Lyon. The left-arm spinner O’Keefe ended up with twin figures of 6-for-35 in both innings – 12 wickets and the Man-of-the-Match Award.

I recall one Ray Bright who used to bowl left-arm spin along with off-spinner Greg Matthews in Allan Border’s side; then there was part-time left-arm spinner Michael Clarke (the outgoing skipper to hand the baton to Steve Smith not very long ago) who bagged a 6-for-9 in 2004 against India; Brad Hogg played both this first Test and last Test against the Indians; and there was one Xavier Doherty who did not last for long in the Aussie Test side.

 

The Indians were so concerned about stopping Warner and Smith that they perhaps thought Lyon and O’Keefe could easily be tackled by the strong batting line-up which has consistently impressed in the recent past. O’Keefe unleashed his magic with his left-arm slow after Starc did the early damage in the first innings…and then never looked back till the very end. Perhaps the Aussies banked on Lyon more…and there was not much onus on O’Keefe’s ‘left shoulder’. Lyon would have been happy to play ‘sidekick’ and finish with a bag of 5 wickets in the Test match.

What is also a little interesting is the fact that Steve Smith got a hundred in the second innings of this winning cause (his first Test match hundred as skipper on Indian soil); what makes this noteworthy is the fact that this happened in Pune, the home-city of the Rising Pune Supergiants (RPS). Steve Smith, as readers know, has just taken over from MS Dhoni as the captain of the RPS team in IPL-2017.

Also common to the winning Aussie team and the RPS squad is Mitchell Marsh, the all-rounder. Pune proved lucky then, for Smith and Marsh, but not so much for their RPS teammates Ashwin and Rahane. Well, Ashwin still managed to add 7 Test wickets to his tally.

What went wrong? Nothing, I would say. The Indians ran into two Steves. The Aussies played much better, knowing well that the odds were stacked against them from the start. India, perhaps, were delighted by their performance on the first day, not realizing that 250-odd would turn out to be a daunting score in the first innings on a pitch that aided the spinners from day-one. They let Starc get away with his half-century in the first innings – not that getting him for a duck would have made much of a difference, in hindsight.

Smith, who will be cheered at Pune, when he leads the RPS-cricketers onto the centre, tempted the Punekars to exhibit double standards, by scoring 109 in the second innings of the Test match. Anti-Smith when he skippers the Aussies and pro-Smith when he skippers their side in the IPL? Strange dilemma, isn’t it? Well, we have to ask the Pune cricket aficionados.

 

Teams visiting the sub-continent look to their spinners to give them an advantage. As supposed earlier, perhaps, it was Lyon who was being looked to in Pune to wound the Indian-tigers, and O’Keefe over-delivered! If the pitch was ‘crafted’ to assist spin bowling, why could not Ashwin, Jadeja and Yadav ‘do an O’Keefe’? Answer: The Aussies batted more responsibly.

If Gabbar Singh would ask the Indians, ‘Kitne aadmi the?’, Kohli and Co. would have to say ‘Two’. ‘Aur donon ka ek hi naam tha – Steve’. Gone in 60 hours, yes…but sure to return for the next Test match. Wounded tigers are dangerous indeed, they say.

 

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G Venkatesh (born 1972) is a senior lecturer in Energy and Environment, at Karlstad University in S...

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