Standing at the first slip, Virat Kohli received a straightforward catch from the bat of Pat Cummins. After completing the catch, Virat banged the ball on the Adelaide Oval turf with all the anger that he could manifest at that moment. He roared with all his might, giving way to the frustration that had built up. What triggered that emotion? Was it the fact that Australian tail was a bit hard to dislodge? Maybe that would be an understatement from where Virat was concerned.
Now, with Cummins walking back, Australia was nine wickets down and still 64 runs away from the win. India was comfortably winning this Test and yet the proceedings caused the Indian skipper to feel disheartened. Here he was, on the verge of becoming the first national Captain to win an opening Test in Australia. And yet, Australia’s dogged tail was sucking all the joy out of it.
When Australia’s last recognized batsman, Tim Paine, was sent back by a snorter from Jasprit Bumrah, the hosts were 136 runs away from the target. The last rites had begun and the Indian pace battery was expected to cut the tail short. The historic win was just around the corner. And yet, the Aussies chose to fight than die without a resistance.
Last three Australian wickets gathered 104 runs and whittled down required runs to 32. The stupendous effort lasted for 214 balls, making the Indian bowlers toil for every celebration. None of Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon and Josh Hazlewood gifted their wicket away and batted with all the conviction they could muster. Virat hurled every weapon at them from his bowling artillery, but they stood defiantly.
The tail’s tale began with Pat Cummins. In the company of Paine, he saw off Ravichandran Ashwin and Mohammad Shami bowling with the old ball (add Rishabh Pant’s chirping as well.) India was forced to take the new ball immediately at the completion of 80 overs. Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah barraged Cummins and Starc but the pair stood their ground with unflinching determination.
Mitchell Starc, who had shown remarkable constraint in his otherwise explosive batting, flirted with an outside off-stump ball soon enough and returned after a momentous 28 from 44 balls. Cummins was dismissed after adding further 31 runs. The 25-year old showed an extraordinary poise and composure in his inning of 121-ball 28. In the last two years, no tail-ender has faced more balls in Australia in an inning than him.
Even number 11, Josh Hazlewood, exhibited the much-forgotten ‘never say die’ spirit of the Aussies. Lyon had scored 20 from 22 balls till the fall of the ninth wicket. He raised the tempo in pursuit of the impossible. The skirmish forced the Indians to opt for an extra half-hour before the Tea was taken. When final over of the session began, Australia was still 31 runs away from salvaging the Test. It was then that all was over.
An impatient drive from Hazlewood ended in the palms of KL Rahul standing at the second slip and relieved India burst into celebrations. Lyon, at the other end, was on his haunches. His 38 from 47 balls had aroused the hopes but it all vanished in a moment. Still, no one could take away the fact that Australia died a hero’s death.
The most important aspect of the fightback is they didn’t have to do it. Even if the Australian tail had surrendered in front of the Indian bowlers, no one would have batted an eyelid. In the last two years, the Australian lower order (8-11) averages better than only Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Afghanistan. And yet, they refused to go down without a fight.
The final four batted with such application and control that it would put their top order to shame- or did it? With their resistance, they wounded India by displaying their frailty in the endgame. The mathematically pleasing partnerships of 31,41,31 and 32 for the last four wickets ensured that Australia will enter the Perth Test with confidence in their stride. All this when they didn’t have to fight, but they fought and fought well.