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When the Indian spinners flattered to deceive

The Roar logo The Roar 01-03-2017
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Australia had amassed a respectable first innings score. They had shot India out before the hosts could even settle down in the follow-up act. It was now the fourth ball of the 12th over in the second dash.

Ravindra Jadeja’s ball spun a mile to beat Steve Smith’s outside edge. The Indian all-rounder had bowled a beauty – but he wanted to stamp his dominance over the Australian captain. He performed a jig to imitate Smith’s fidgety batting routine at the crease.

In essence Jadeja mocked Smith. With it India taunted Australia’s inability to play spin. In response Smith smiled. Australia had victory in sight; India had arrogance.

The visitors had added 37 to their first-innings lead of 155. On a pitch that had offered square turn thus far, Australia already had enough runs to do the unthinkable and challenge India.

But it was still a prospect Steve Smith’s men treated with caution. They were aware that the game can take an unexpected, funny turn. Australia were, after all, stunned 16 years ago when Sourav Ganguly’s India won the Kolkata Test after being asked to follow. They were also aware that their last Test victory in India came in 2004.

India, on the other hand, were buoyant. Virat Kohli’s team had decimated every team to have stepped foot on their soil over the last year and a half. They had even visited the islands of West Indies and Sri Lanka and come back triumphant. There was hardly a force in world cricket that looked capable of bringing this run of dominance to a halt. It appeared that the Indian team believed that they were unbeatable. That was the problem.

Photos: Cricketers — Then and now

Cricketers: Then and now

The manner in which Australia’s spinners decimated India was the story of the match, but that their famed Indian counterparts struggled to have a similar impact was baffling. Ashwin and Jadeja had two shots to outdo Nathan Lyon and Steve O’Keefe. They had added motivation after the Australians snatched centre stage from them in the first innings. But all they could muster was a complacent and arrogant display. Worst of all, they refused to learn from the success O’Keefe had enjoyed in the first innings.

Jadeja’s insane turn in the 12th over beat Smith. It did not send him back to the hut. Smith had played the line of the ball to guard against the possibility of the ball not turning. With that out of question Smith hoped that the ball would not be absolutely full and that it would turn enough to drive away the danger of an edge. That was the script Jadeja’s delivery followed. That was the story both the Australian innings followed.

The Indian spinners were not too short, but they weren’t full enough either. It allowed the Australian batsmen to jump back into the crease and counter the turn. If back-foot play was unlikely on a particular delivery, they brought out the sweep.

Mathew Hayden appeared to have brought along only the sweep on Australia’s 2001 tour of India, and with that shot he mastered the Indian spinners and amassed a mountain of runs. The conscious effort from Smith and co to follow in Hayden’s footsteps glared through. 

Even Mitchell Starc brought out the sweep, and against the world number one bowler, Ashwin. The off-spinner was flat and outside leg. Starc is no Hayden, but he dispatched it into the crowd with equal disdain.

The generous sweeps earned them rewards too. The biggest reward they reaped was the victory. It came at long last. More importantly, it was laced with domination in the first Test of a series they were meant to be humiliated in.

On a Pune wicket that intimidated with the turn it offered the Indian spinners were expected to run riot. They were expected to decimate the Australian batsmen. Instead the touring spinners handed them a class on the techniques of success on a rank turner.

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