The ghosts of Test campaigns on the subcontinent past returned to haunt Australia after today’s familiar batting implosion at the hands of a resurgent, occasionally incendiary India who have now levelled this most compelling Test series.
After a stunning surge from Australia’s fast bowlers set up a genuinely achievable victory target of 188 with the best part of two days to get them, the tourists crumbled on a pitch starting to do likewise.
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To be bowled out for 112 in 35.4 overs in a little more than a session, the damage inflicted by off-spinner Ravi Ashwin (6-41) coupled with the haste of the submission seems likely to raise questions if not scars with two Tests to play at Ranchi and Dharamsala.
The 8-55 Australia lost after their openers were dislodged might be mitigated by the condition of a pitch which had misbehaved badly from day one, but will also instil huge confidence in an opponent that looked listless and flat in getting thumped in the campaign opener just over a week ago.
Australia’s pursuit looked anything but impossible on the scoresheet, set against the canvas of history both distant and recent.
— cricket.com.au (@CricketAus) March 7, 2017
But in a crazy two hours between lunch and tea, strewn with controversy, animosity, aggression and submission it was revealed to be a mission to challenge techniques and temperaments like rarely before.
On a pitch that served up flyers, grubbers, cutters, spinners and shockers – often in the space of a single over, India found the intent they had so conspicuously misplaced at Pune.
And much of that leeched from the over-the-top, occasionally bordering on inflammatory antics of their skipper Virat Kohli.
It was Kohli who surged towards his strike bowler Ishant Sharma when he coaxed an edge from the habitually obdurate Matthew Renshaw to start the wicket slide.
It was Kohli who leaped like a child on Christmas morning when Ravi Ashwin knocked over David Warner for the ninth time in fewer Tests, and Australia coughed up a valuable review in the process.
And screamed to the heavens offering a double fist pump when he gave the ball to second seamer Umesh Yadav who suckered Shaun Marsh into leaving a delivery he should have played, thinking it would follow the same line as a very similar one two deliveries earlier.
The India skipper exultant when scoreboard replays showed Marsh would have survived had he – in consultation with Steve Smith – offered to gamble their remaining review on the fact it was missing off stump.
But it was Smith’s dismissal shortly afterwards that brought tempers that had simmered slowly over a couple of days to a rapid boil, the Australia captain done stone cold by a ball from Umesh that failed to bounce but unerringly hit the front pad.
With umpire Nigel Llong’s finger raised, the India players running like water across a marble benchtop, the crowd screaming two notches past euphoria and the Marsh mistake front of mind, Smith searched for a reason to review what he undoubtedly knew deep down was out.
Sending a beseeching look to the Australia dressing room in his desperation, and Kohli and a number of his teammates into incandescence amid claims of unfair influence.
Umpires Llong and Richard Illingworth, who looked to be at wits’ end trying to hose the regular spot fires breaking out around them, found themselves playing the roles of traffic cops on Bengaluru’s notoriously choked MG Road.
Waving arms, separating combatants, calming tempers, resolving the scrapes and bingles.
But the speed at which the Test was hurtling seemed to send most participants out of control, and the Australian batting was by now lurching out of control and towards an ugly crash.
Mitchell Marsh delivered a couple of authoritative strokes that raised hopes he might be able to find that innings his country has so long craved from him, and rarely needed more.
Barely had those thoughts formed than he was gone, snared at short leg and left standing in abject despair as the now familiar India pack celebration formed near him.
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Except for the successful bowler, Ashwin, who had taken off to complete a triumphal dash of which South Africa’s Imran Tahir might have felt a touch over exuberant.
And soon after, Matthew Wade squeezed a catch via his pad that his rival keeper pouched thanks to a more legitimate run and subsequent dive which left Australia 6-101 and still 87 runs adrift at tea.
With the prospect of the 20-minute break helping to quell the fury of the previous 120 minutes as forlorn as the tourists’ chances, which slumped further in the immediate aftermath of the interval.
When Mitchell Starc and Steve O’Keefe were both bowled on the inside of the bat, that age old threat to Australians in Asia, and final fleeting hope Peter Handscomb caved to the pressure and skied an attempted sweep.
The scenes that broke out when last man Nathan Lyon bunted a return catch to Ashwin, to complete his devastating spell of 5-9 from 34 deliveries, were reminiscent of a schoolyard upon the kids’ learning end-of-year exams had been cancelled.
And replaced by free internet, such was the way the home team skipped and jumped and hugged and snatched souvenir stumps from the ground.
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Perhaps it was realisation that the win had guaranteed Kohli’s men would finish the 12-month period as the world’s number one Test team, and therefore share in the ICC spoils of $US 1 million.
This was a win that came in a hurry after being thumped in the first Test, largely outplayed across the first two days of this one and then on the back of some remarkable momentum that will be tough to slow at Ranchi in a week’s time.
For half an hour this morning, this match seemed to have re-set itself on a course so familiar to Australia teams that have lost hours, days of their lives in the field watching Test matches escape them.
Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane looked every bit as comfortable at the crease as did Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman when they famously swung the Kolkata Test of 2001 and drastically reshaped that series in India’s favour.
The fifth-wicket union of 93 Pujara and Rahane had fashioned the previous evening moved past 100 without overt concern, although not entirely devoid of palpitations.
Pujara’s inside edge on 82 that squirted to earth so close to Peter Handscomb’s outstretched fingers at short leg it prompted the umpires to call for a closer look.
Nathan Lyon’s lbw shout against the same batter when he’d added a single that was upheld by umpire Richard Illingworth, but overturned upon Pujara’s review that showed the ball had spun so sharply it would have bypassed all three stumps.
Even the arrival of the second new ball eight overs into the day only hastened India’s progress towards a match winning lead, with Mitchell Starc’s first over armed with it contained a couple of peaches, as many rotten apples and eight runs.
But just as India started to feel that Starc’s inconsistency and the speed the hard ball was hurtling from the bat might prove as vital a combination as Pujara and Rahane had proved, Australia’s strike weapon found his range.
To swing one fast and full inside Rahane’s bat, with the Australians’ confidence that their capacity to utilise the DRS process remains a clear point of difference to their opponents again vindicated when Llong’s not out call was reversed.
To then smash Karun Nair’s middle stump out of the ground and his leg stump with a 154km/h freight train that was not slowed by contact with Nair’s flailing bat and put Starc on a hat-trick.
However, it was his new-ball partner Josh Hazlewood who landed the decisive blow of the morning next over when he used the shiny, hard ball to rear at Pujara rather than fly from the blade, and he could only bunt a tame catch to gully.
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The removal of Ravi Ashwin, the last remaining India batter with an average beyond 30, who also had his stumps rearranged due to the wildly inconsistent bounce, saw Hazlewood let loose a bellow of triumph as he stormed past the batter.
When tailender Umesh Yadav aired his credentials with a wildly ambitious slog on the up that lobbed gently to mid-off, India had surrendered 5-20 in three overs of chaos, carnage and inattention that even the great rishi seers of the Hindu faith would surely have battled to foretell.
The fact that Wriddhiman Saha then farmed the strike to protect Ishant Sharma even though he looked as competent as any of those who had come and gone so quickly before him, and the 16 runs they added and 44 minutes they soaked up were viewed as potentially crucial to the final outcome.
Instead, it served as the relative calm before an even more violent storm.