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AUSTRALIA V INDIA TESTS

Smith claims the momentum for decider

20 March 2017

Rivals skippers each take positives from third Test as fiery series heads north for enthralling decider

Cricket has a measure for pretty much every metric known to broader human kind, and a few that aren’t.

Individual achievements extrapolated to two decimal points, collective data stretching back over 140 years, batters who carried their bat, bowlers who carried their team, nightwatchmen who went to the wicket wearing false teeth.

That obsession for minutiae has now extended to a Decision Review System that can track – apparently with flawless accuracy – events that don’t happen, such as whether a ball striking a batter’s pad would have gone on to collect the stumps.

Though its ability to settle the arguments it was designed to resolve remains demonstrably lacking.

But despite all the man hours devoted to capturing, filtering and disseminating these myriad mountains (and even more molehills) of statistical nuggetry, no definitive quantification of momentum has yet to be patented.

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Which, in itself, is remarkable given the importance attached to this intangible substance that exists solely in complex physics formulae and the lingo of the sportsperson.

So when Australia captain Steve Smith claimed, in the wake of a Test match that had been slowly slipping from his team’s grip for a couple of days only for them to hang on bravely for a draw at its denouement, that momentum was his, it’s impossible to prove him wrong.

At least until the final Test, set to decide the series which now rests delicately at one win each, begins in the Himalayan foothills postcard setting of Dharamsala on Saturday.

As with most philosophical arguments founded on theories that are impossible to disprove or discount, the logic that the Australia skipper applies after his batters survived more than 90 overs today for the loss of just four wickets is sound.

"If there's anything called momentum in cricket it's probably with us at the moment," Smith said shortly after India abandoned their hopes, so high at day’s start, of dismissing the Australians who had eked out a lead of 50.

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"India, coming here today, would have expected to bowl us out.

"So I'm sure they're hurting a little bit.

"It (momentum) is probably on our side at the minute, but having said that it’s one-all and we're playing a decider in Dharamsala."

But even though he effectively waved the white flag today with seven minutes still on the clock, which would have meant no time to chase the nominal target even if Australia’s innings had ended with a spectacular double hat-trick, Smith’s rival captain Virat Kohli is never one to concede.

Not that his strained right shoulder is causing him inconvenience, not that the Australians’ cheeky reference to his injury was nothing more grievous than hard-nosed gamesmanship, and certainly not that things are now rolling the tourists’ way.

That was Kohli’s stridently defiant message in the immediate aftermath of India’s humiliating 333-run loss in the series opener at Pune, when he demanded his players (himself included) find greater intent and passion.

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A rallying cry that he repeated at even fiercer volume when the team’s met again at Bengaluru, a week later.

A match that Australia entered with more momentum than the Himalayan Queen rattling down the narrow-gauge track from Shimla’s hill station, but which slowly dissipated and was ultimately reversed across four incendiary days at Chinnaswamy Stadium.

As a consequence, Kohli was not prepared to cede any such advantage to his opponents as the teams begin the trek to the Himalayan home of the Tibetan government in exile and the nation’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Where the pitch that awaits this now pivotal Test match remains as mysterious as His Holiness’s famously inscrutable countenance, given that Dharamsala has no Test match precedent to provide a steer and has endured below-zero overnight temperatures of late.

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Prompting one Australia player, who has played limited-overs cricket at the scenic ground as recently as last year, to suggest "frostbitten" as his assessment of how the track for the upcoming match might appear.

"We put ourselves in a winning position, it was a great effort to be there," was Kohli’s post-match take on the question of momentum, and who will be packing it for the trip into thinner air 1500m above seal level.

"But again, if you are playing against the number two side (in the Test rankings), you expect they'd also fight back and won’t just give away their wickets.

"So it’s a matter of individual perception.

"We're happy where we positioned them after the first innings, and did not have to play the second innings (with the bat).

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"They were playing for a draw.

"But of course, they'd notice their positives.

"One match left, both sides will give their best."

And that might just be as definitive a prognosis as can be proffered before the first ball of Test cricket is bowled in Dharamsala on Saturday.

About the Writer

 @ARamseyCricket
@ARamseyCricket

Andrew Ramsey is the senior writer for cricket.com.au. He previously wrote for the Guardian, The Australian, The Times, The Telegraph, The Hindu and Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack and the author of The Wrong Line.

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