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Anil Kumble with Kohli

WARNER IS THE KEY TO AUSSIES CHANCES IN THE REMAINING PART OF SERIES

Two days before the start of the second India-Australia Test in Bangalore, Anil Kumble had walked in a displeased man. India had just been walloped by 333 runs in Pune, their first home defeat since 2012, on a pitch where everyone expected the home team to roll over Australia.

In Bangalore, Kumble shot back to what was the fourth question about the pitch, with ‘it’s only 22 yards, let’s move on,’ and his displeasure at the questions and possibly the team’s performance was clear. He brushed away notions that India had to hit the panic button by saying it was just a game when there was a rare complete failure from the team.

The team went on to prove his point by winning one of the most keenly contested Tests in recent times. In Ranchi, two days before the start of the third Test, Kumble appeared a more calm and composed person. He was generous with a smile and as generous with friendly retorts to questions about his future role in the Indian dressing room and the fact that the two Tests didn’t last the distance.

It’s crazy what a Test win can do. Australia, having played the underdog card in the first Test, came out all guns blazing in the second. Whether that led to their downfall is impossible to gauge, but the spike in confidence was there for everyone to see.

India come into the Ranchi Test, the first-ever in MS Dhoni’s city, in a similar zone. They will, however, hope to show Australia how to maintain momentum.

“I think they (India) have responded really well,” said Kumble on Tuesday (Tuesday 14). “It’s been a long season, not easy playing 17 Test matches on the trot. Back to back, especially for the bowling unit. And of course the batsmen, it takes its own toll. Touchwood, we had very little injuries of course Mohammed Shami is injured as a bowler and he is coming back. So we had some injuries but they have responded well to the challenges that have come about.

“If you are winning constantly and keep performing the way we have been performing at home that helps. That’s been the hallmark. You can’t point just one individual in the whole series that has given us these results. I think every individual has stood up and the captain has led from the front. So it’s really nice and augurs well that each individual has contributed to the success. We would like to finish the last two Test matches in a very good way, and I am sure it will be something that we will be cherishing at the end of the season,” he said.

Much of the talk between the Bengaluru and Ranchi Tests have been about Steve Smith’s reviewgate and Virat Kohli’s responses to the same. Speaking about what had transpired, Kumble was happy the the matter was nipped in the bud by both the boards and that the focus shifted back to cricket.

“I think what was important was to bring the focus back on cricket and I am really glad that the BCCI took a mature call along with Cricket Australia to issue a joint statement that cricket needs to move on and we have moved on from whatever happened in that background. That’s really important because focus obviously has to be on the game, and I think we made a fantastic comeback in the second Test after losing the first Test; especially day two and day three (of the second Test), they were ahead and to comeback from there and win a Test match was rewarding.”

India have had a superb run in Tests, with the rare blip in Pune. Since the start of the season, they have started as favourites in every game and have invariably come out victors. Much of that has been thanks to team efforts. If Virat Kohli has stood tall with four double hundreds in as many series, the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara, Murali Vijay, Ajinkya Rahane and KL Rahul have done well too.

R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja were expected to be the trump cards, but the emergence of Jayant Yadav as the third spinner, and the consistent performances from their pacers have been a great highlight, too.

“This is a very good thing that there have been continuously good performances. Sitting outside, it is a matter of great delight that as I said, if you start with the West Indies series, there have been plenty of milestones for the Indian team. We have won all the Test series and we have had several great individual performances.

“If you take Virat Kohli, in all the four completed series so far, he has made double-hundreds, which has happened for the first time. Ashwin is the quickest to 250 wickets in Test history. And of course, there have been wonderful performances. What stood out for me was the Bangalore Test, Rahul’s batting in both innings. Pujara and Ajinkya under pressure in the second innings. In this series, there hasn’t been a session without a wicket. But we played out a session without losing a wicket and scored more than 90 runs. That I think was the defining moment. Of course, bowling performances are something that you enjoy. And it’s wonderful to see the spinners come on that well. And of course, when a fast bowler runs in and gets you wickets in Indian conditions, that gives you a lot more satisfaction,” he summed up.

Meanwhile, a besieged Australia find themselves in a dark corner. With their confidence sagging after heartbreakingly losing in Bangalore, exacerbated further by the withdrawal of spearhead Mitchell Starc for the remainder of the series, Australia’s dreams of winning in India which astoundingly looked a distinct possibility just 10 days ago appear forlorn.

Australia’s belligerent opener and vice-captain has had a miserable run thus far this series, which has yielded a measly 98 runs from four innings. If Australia are to have a flicker of hope, Warner needs to quickly rediscover his destructive best.

There is a lot at stake for Warner’s standing. He has an incredible record of 18 centuries from 62 Tests drawing lofty comparisons with Matthew Hayden, Australia’s best opener of the modern era. However, Warner’s record is skewed by his dominance at home where he averages 59 and he is starting to develop an unwanted reputation of being merely a bully in his own comfortable terrain.

Fuelling the cynics, Warner averages a lowly 24 in India from six Tests and a disappointing 31.6 overall in Asia. Most worryingly, the 30-year-old has been totally outfoxed by Ashwin who has claimed Warner’s scalp nine times from 23 innings.

David Warner
David Warner

Like most Australians, Warner’s more comfortable playing pace and relishes ball swiftly coming onto bat, particularly early in his innings. On pitches spinning from the get go, Warner has been unsettled and seems unsure whether to curb his natural attacking game, being fully aware that overt aggressiveness is a particularly risky strategy in these conditions.

Warner’s approach is the antithesis of Australia’s batting mantra of patience and concentration. It’s a tricky balancing act but you feel Warner will back his game; after all, his unwavering confidence has yielded so much success over the years and is the bed-rock of his persona.

Australia’s chances in India coupled with Warner’s desire to be feted alongside Australia’s all-time openers may very well rest on his performance in Ranchi.

Shaun Marsh has fared noticeably better, topscoring for Australia in Bangalore with a 197-ball 66. The fluent left-hander has impressively shelved his booming shots in favour of a more refined approach. The 33-year-old has long been mocked for an underachieving career but has seemingly matured and produced more consistency when selected in the past 18 months or so.

Shaun had the misfortune of copping a bad decision – and comical miscommunication with Smith whether to review – which triggered Australia’s fourth innings spiral. Still, there appears to be something good percolating within Shaun.

Maybe, just maybe, in such a pivotal moment, Shaun Marsh can finally realise his prodigious talents when his team needs it the most.