Mountains bring clouds

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 25 Mar 2017 07:55:37


By Satish Viswanathan

DHARAMSALA,

Mar 24,

BEFORE any Test match begins there are always a number of questions to be answered. How will the pitch play (this question is especially true of a new venue like the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium), what will the captain who wins the toss opt to do, what sort of combination will the respective teams field, etc, etc are the usual questions.

But had anyone thought that the question of who would win the series would also be open-ended when the Indian and Australian teams landed in this picturesque town for the final Test of the series, that person deserves high praise.
Not even Australian captain Steve Smith had anticipated such a scenario. But Smith, in the Australian team’s arrival press conference in Mumbai, had said that this was an opportunity for his side to do something special.

Special is what the Australian performance has been. Even if Pune was a lottery they won, the Bengaluru Test, but for one fantastic partnership between Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane, could have gone either way. Then they held on to salvage an unlikely draw in Ranchi.

One opener (Matt Renshaw) has fired, skipper Smith has, as usual, got going, the Australian middle-order has started to come good. The pacers, with or without Mitchell Starc, have held their own and even the spinners, Nathan Lyon and Stephen O’Keefe, have struck it rich. So has the Indian performance dipped and allowed the Australians to rise thus? Another question but this one has an answer and it’s a NO. Save for skipper Virat Kohli not being amongst the runs, most other things have been done well by the Indians. Yes, they could have caught and batted better on the minefield in Pune but thereafter they have also fought very inch of the way.

They didn’t begin the series thinking of a 4-0 rout – they are well aware that Australians teams fight harder than most other teams – but if one thing caught them off guard it was the first Test loss. With the kind of run they had in the lead-up to the series and having either drawn or won from all sorts of situations, the debacle in Pune was a shock to the system but they quickly turned things around in Bengaluru with a tough as nails approach. Then in Ranchi, India all but did to Australia what they had done to England earlier, concede a big first innings total and then hit back with an even bigger one to ultimately pull off a win. The fact that they did without Kohli striking form made it all that sweeter.

So in essence, this has been a truly riveting series, with the Australians playing above potential and the Indians to near potential. And so it boils down to this venue here which has the magnificent Dhauladhar mountain range on one side. Yes, the winner takes it all moment is here. And to think Kohli, of all people, may actually sit this one out…

No wonder then that both teams were undecided about their playing combinations, preferring perhaps for that one final look at the pitch before taking the final call. From a distance the surface seemed to sport some grass but was said to be dry underneath. Five-day affairs are new to this part of the country, so no one is able to commit as to how it will behave.

But then both teams have risen above the pitches on offer and played good, tough cricket. Thus it will once again boil down to which team fights harder and who blinks first. Cricketing and mental skills will be tested that much more because of how the series is poised. You just can’t ask for a better setting.