Two gents had long-handled brooms and were removing the fine layer of sand on the pitch. That was also the one instance of where the sweep was warranted.
All through the first session Australia’s batsmen swept compulsively, seemingly having made up their minds in the dressing-room that they would play the shot irrespective of the line or length of the ball. If the first Test in Nagpur was marked by diffidence and a reluctance to try and put the pressure back on the bowlers, the second Test was a case of blindly lashing out and hoping to connect.
Travis Head, who had set up the second innings beautifully, powering Australia to 62 for 1 from just 12 overs on the second day, was one of the few batsmen who could not be faulted. R Ashwin drew the batsman forward and spun the ball just enough to kiss the outside edge of the bat committed to the shot. When Head fell blind panic set in.
At 10.01 am, 10.13 am, 10.22 am, 10.24 am, 10.28 am and 10.44 am wickets fell with speed and regularity you can’t even expect from trains at the bustling Rajiv Chowk Metro Station not far from the Kotla.
Steve Smith, of whom so much was expected and on whom so much depends, went down for the low sweep and missed. Given out, he went for the review, hoping that the third umpire might be able to provide some respite.
But, it came down to the umpire’s call on whether the ball would clip leg stump and Smith had to go.Marcus Labuschagne was the second non-sweeper in the lineup, but he had played back to a full delivery and Ravindra Jadeja needed no more than a gap of a few inches to sneak through and find the target.
Matt Renshaw brought out the horizontal bat to Ashwin and despite getting a good stride in missed the ball completely and was trapped in front. Renshaw reviewed but technology showed that the ball would have hit middle stump halfway up.
Peter Handscomb became the third and final batsman not to play the sweep, hanging his bat out limply to nick off to sleep.
Normal service resumed off the very next ball, when Pat Cummins made the long walk out to the middle, with only one thing on his mind. He planted his front foot and slogswept hard, without so much as considering whether the ball was there for the shot.
When the captain sets an example in this manner he can hardly ask questions of his batsmen. From 62 for 1 in 12 overs, Australia crashed and burned, losing nine wickets for 52 runs in just 19.1 overs.
Left to chase 115 India provided the briefest glimmers of hope to their opponents. KL Rahul ran out of all luck, flicking hard, only to see the ball hit the close-in fielder’s pad and balloon up to be caught. Rohit Sharma, who looked a million bucks at the crease and was bossing the spinners, stopped midway, attempting a second run, and ran himself out.
But, Australia needed a miracle to seriously threaten India and none came. Cheteshwar Pujara made up for his firstinnings duck in his 100th Test by notching up the winning runs at 1.48 pm.
In barely five days across two Test matches, India had retained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
When touring teams come to India you expect them to struggle to deal with the conditions and high-quality spin bowling. But, you wouldn’t have thought that an Australian team could play as poorly as this one did on the day.
Before the start of this Test, Cummins had said he wouldn’t mind if his batsmen “failed the right way.” By this he meant that he would not mind if each individual worked out a method to score runs, applied himself, used his head and still could not resist the spinners. On this score, Australia failed spectacularly.
Before the series began, there was the expectation that Australia would compete, perhaps even win, but that proved to be a vast overestimation. At the end of the first Test, there was hope that Australia would dig deep and show the fighting spirit that they are so famous for. This turned out to be an even more unrealistic surmise.
From here on it’s difficult to see how Australia recover. Issues of technique can be overcome, injured personnel can be replaced, but, to misquote Tagore, where the mind is brimming with fear, there’s little chance of any awakening.