Hostilities resume today
An uneasy bonhomie, engineered by the respective cricket boards of India and Australia, forms the smokescreen for the third Test beginning here on Thursday. Despite all the peace talk and sugar-coated claims, the lingering bitterness between the two teams is hard to miss.
The eight-day break between the end of an acrimonious second Test in Bengaluru and the start of the third Test here at the JSCA stadium may have helped soothe the frayed tempers to an extent, but the pent-up emotions can explode at the slightest of provocation. To pre-empt the potential for any such situation, match referee Richie Richardson will be holding a meeting with the captains of the two teams – Virat Kohli and Steve Smith – in attendance on the morning of the match and brief them on the importance of playing the game within the boundaries specified.
That said both teams realise the magnitude of the task at hand. While Kohli isn’t given to diplomacy, he is also smart enough not to lose the woods for the trees. He knows India need to win both the Tests to regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy while Smith is aware that his team requires just one more result in its favour to retain the crown.
As leaders and as main batsmen of their respective sides, the two understand that they have to put their personal battles in the backburner in the best interests of their groups.
For all the brouhaha surrounding the Smith-inspired Review-gate, cricket has been engrossing even though the quality of pitches for the first two matches has come under scrutiny. Australia, against all pre-series predictions, have shown trademark resolve and resilience to challenge India on an equal footing. Their preparations for the series have been spot on and their attention to details, be it about the pitch or the players, has been threadbare. They shocked India in three days in Pune and dominated the hosts for most of the second Test before losing it all in a little over a session.
That’s the beauty of Test cricket in India. As much as the shorter versions of the game have become monotonous with a set pattern of batsmen ruling the roost on shirt fronts, Test cricket still remains fascinatingly unpredictable. The constant ebb and flow of the game makes it more challenging for players than anywhere else in the world. Australia would have realised that in the space of less than four days in Bengaluru.
The third Test promises an equally exciting affair on another pitch where spinners are expected to call the shots. The Aussies, including Smith and coach Darren Lehmann, perhaps spent more time examining and analysing the surface than they would have on an R Ashwin’s bowling clip or a Kohli batting footage.
The low bounce and the expected wear and tear may force Australia to include off-spinning all-rounder Glenn Maxwell in place of Mitchell Marsh, who played the first two Tests. In a like-for-like replacement, the tourists may play a fastish Pat Cummins in place of the injured Mitchell Starc, helping them cover all the bases wherein they will have seven batsmen and two-three pace-spin bowling combo. Interestingly, Smith, once considered heir apparent to the great Shane Warne, had a decent bowl during practice and was seen practicing off-spinners.
India too are unlikely to deviate from the seven-four combination which worked well for them in Bengaluru. With low bounce on the cards, both Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma will be inevitable given how effective they were in Bengaluru. India will also be hoping for M Vijay to regain full fitness from the shoulder injury, and encouragingly, the opener had a hit at Wednesday’s “nets” without the obvious discomfort.
While the form of KL Rahul and plucky shows of Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane are good signs, the home team will be looking for Kohli to deliver. The skipper has had a rare run of four failures, and a big one from him is due.
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