In tense times, Ranchi gears up for high drama

There is something about an India-Australia series that seems to bring out the primal instincts in many protagonists.

India coach Anil Kumble takes a look at the wicket in Ranchi on Tuesday.   -  PTI

 

There is something about an India-Australia series that seems to bring out the primal instincts in many protagonists.

It appears only recently that we were all in Adelaide, outside an old building, waiting for the verdict on cricketers involved in on-field spats during the Monkeygate series.

Even as the hearing was on, emotions on both sides ran high, and there was a danger of the one-day leg of the tour being cancelled. The tour survived, so did the cricketers involved.

That was actually quite a while back, in 2008. The series set the tone for the future India-Australia games. Bad blood has been evident, image of the game has suffered.

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Angry words, clenched fists, send-offs…these have all been in view. Both teams are to be blamed. Cricket needs to be back on centre-stage.

When the Indians practised here on Tuesday, ahead of the third Test, beginning Thursday, the players appeared in happy spirits. Is it the lull before another storm?

You couldn’t help but feel a sense of déjà vu when Kohli and the Australians were at it again on the field of play in Bengaluru.

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After all, it was only in 2014, on the tour Down Under, that Kohli had ill-tempered confrontations with David Warner and Mitchell Johnson, incidents that made headlines.

But then, people with whom you spoke to in Australia actually liked Kohli, admired the fight and the spunk in the man when confronted by adversity. Much like the Aussies, Kohli was very much the ‘in-your-face’ cricketer.

It is no secret that the Australians sledged Kohli hard. And he gave it back to them in kind. Here was a man who was unbothered by the thoughts of Johnson’s retaliation with the ball.

In fact, as the series progressed, it was Johnson, enraged by Kohli, who lost his bowling mojo; his length suffered and the pace spearhead was taken for runs by Kohli.

Seen in that backdrop, the events of that dramatic Bengaluru Test came as no surprise. As the pressure and the stakes increased, things took an ugly turn on the behavioural front.

The Aussies are past masters at the art of saying things that disintegrates a side mentally on the arena. Steve Waugh’s men were like a pack of wolves, and Ricky Ponting’s team was no different.

The Aussies, though, have been surprised and taken aback by the Indian retaliation. Key batsmen Warner and Steven Smith have constantly had rather unpleasant words said to them at the crease. Kohli and Ashwin have certainly not been keeping quiet.

The passion and the intensity with which Kohli plays his cricket has to be admired. He wears his heart on his sleeves, can lift his men.

Kohli, however, tends to cross the line on occasions and has to be careful here. As captain, he needs to send the right message to his men on the behavioural front; every team follows its leader.

Some gripping cricket has been played in the series. It’s sad that the performances have been overshadowed by the some words and gestures.

Both the Boards have called a truce. Actually, they should never have got involved in things such as commenting on umpiring decisions during the course of the Test and their role actually encouraged the players to have a go at one another.

Eventually it is the cricketers who can make the difference. Will Ranchi be different?