Times of Oman
Cricket Column: Curious contrasts in the journey of Kohli and Smith
September 25, 2017 | 6:56 PM
by Prasad Panicker / Beyond the Boundary
Indian think tank: Captain Viral Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri
 
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Apart from the rooftop sixes hit by Rohit Sharma and the ruthless attack unleashed by Hardik Pandya on Ashton Agar, the Indore game was actually about a series of glaring contrasts flowing seamlessly into the scheme of things brilliantly thought up by Indian think tank and smartly delivered by Virat Kohli and his boys on a pitch where batting looked easy and getting the ball beyond the short boundaries uncomplicated.

The square and behind-the-stumps boundaries at Indore were so short that they ranged from a ridiculous 51 to 57 metres, and the longest ones were just above 70 metres but, despite getting lucky with the toss and batting first, most Australian batsmen, especially the celebrated power-hitters like Glenn Maxwell, miserably failed to deliver again.

Winning the toss seemed the first thing Steve Smith needed to get right, and when the coin flipped in favour of the visitors, and when the opening batsmen crossed the 10-over mark and progressed into the 14th to post 70 runs on the board, there was a smile on the face of Steve Smith. Things seemed working in his favour for the first time over the last few days. By the end of the 37th over, Australia were on 221 for the loss of just one wicket, with Aaron Finch well past his century and Smith on 50. After the struggles at Chennai and Kolkata, the visitors had the perfect template to design a winning total.

The contrasts then began to show up. Smith was confined to a heap of hopes, and Kohli was fired up by the magic his team had been conjuring up. That’s what Kohli spoke about at the post-match chat, that he knew “we could pull things back” even when Smith set his sights, at some stage, on a 330-plus total.



Confidence, stemming from reality they made to happen match after match over a period of time, enjoyed an upper hand when pitted against a pack of guys reduced to hoping against hope.

At 224 for four, and with 12 overs to go, Maxwell and the likes had an ideal platform to make their entry.

However, Indian spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav were not bothered about anything that could have put a spoke in their steps. Smith was done in by a Yadav googly and Chahal got Mawell out off the next ball to put the brakes on the Australian march to an imposing score. How Maxwell failed —three times in a row against Chahal — and how Pandya ticked the boxes against Aston Agar was another curious contrast.

We got to know from Kohli at the end of the match that sending Pandya at No. 4 was “Ravi (Shastri) bhai’s idea”.

The move aimed at demolishing left-arm spinner Agar, and how Pandya did his part in the Indian script was another delightful contrast. Pandya’s attack on Agar was deliberate and premeditated. He sent the first ball he faced from Agar over the long-on boundary and then just rotated the strike. The same pattern was repeated in the next over of the spinner, forcing Smith to pull him out.

Pandya was ready when Agar came back, toying with the spinner in the 37th and 39th overs. Luck favoured the brave: Pandya was dropped by Smith in the 37th when, after posting a six and a four, he tried another big shot off the last ball.

The target of 293 looked a few runs, maybe 30-40 runs, short of a par score on the Indore pitch and the outfield. Still, it was good enough for the Australian bowlers to put in a contest. The difference, at first, was how Sharma feasted on Pat Cummins, Nathan Coulter-Nile and Kane Richardoson. By the time Sharma departed, India were almost half way down the line, losing just one wicket.

An ideal way forward for Smith would have been getting a couple of wickets inside the first 10 overs.

When that failed, plan B would have been about hanging out there and snapping up a few quick wickets in the mid-overs and then pulling back the game in their favour. India lost Kohli and Kedar Jadhav in back-to-back overs, in the 35th and 36th, and the hosts needed 88 runs more. A couple of big wickets tumbled, but Australia did not know how to go ahead from there.

Post match, Kohli said the journey would stop only after the fifth game, and Pandya said he wanted to get better. Pandya’s treatment of Adam Zampa at Chennai forced Smith to pull the spinner out and slot in Agar who was given the same or still worse disrespect. Smith need not worry about whether to stick with Agar or not as the left-arm spinner is flying back with an injured finger.

At the moment, a pack of down-and-out players led by a skipper short of confidence and dropping chances, one every game by his own confession, doing the incredible at Bengaluru on Thursday is a matter of luck. But luck favours the brave.

*****

The writer is a freelance contributor based in India. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman

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