Trailing in the series, India strives to regain its mojo against Australia

With Steven Smith’s side leading the series 1-0, Virat Kohli-led Team India will have a mountain to climb when it takes the ground in Bengaluru for the second Test.

Ajinkya Rahane takes a tough catch as Ishant Sharma and Ravichandran Ashwin look on during a practice session in Bengaluru on Friday.   -  PTI

 

A fortnight ago, Virat Kohli’s men were scaling cricketing peaks that included an unbeaten streak of 19 Tests. But once the team imploded twice against Australia in the first Test at Pune’s Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium, the subsequent heights were the ones the players reached in their treks up the Western Ghats.

The Indian think-tank considers the 333-run loss in Pune a blip in a blistering form-book always on the upswing. It is a mindset that has united the team and Kohli believes that amends would be made in the second Test commencing at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium here from Saturday. The venue is a second home to him, thanks to his stint as skipper of Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Indian Premier League (IPL).

A section of fans and critics, who stake their self-esteem on the ambit of national sporting triumphs, are struggling to cope with the defeat in the series opener. But the reality is that Steve Smith and company, through their gutsy performance, have opened up the series and gone against the prophecies of India effecting a clean sweep. Australia leads 1-0 and if India doesn’t recoup, the Border-Gavaskar Trophy may prove elusive.

READ: Smith: 'Just a couple of sessions away from series win’

India did not pile up the runs in Pune, yielding a combined score of 212 across both innings. Its bowlers had nothing to defend. To make it worse, the visitor’s left-arm spinner Steve O’Keefe bagged 12 wickets.

This is not the first time India has collapsed or a rival practitioner of the slow-art has reigned. In 2012, England arrived and its spinners Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar hoodwinked M. S. Dhoni’s troops. Bengaluru is no stranger to such quirks. In 1987, Pakistan’s Iqbal Qasim and Tauseef Ahmed spun a fatal web here. India lost by 16 runs and Sunil Gavaskar’s splendid 96 was destined to evoke wistful sighs.

ALSO READ: Kohli: 'Won't produce a performance like Pune again'

That surface three decades ago was a minefield but the current one, despite the grass being shaved off, should not evoke the ghosts of the past. It will aid spin as the game progresses and Kohli said he had a few options with regard to the playing eleven. Hardik Pandya, with a shoulder injury, is ruled out while the rest are fit. It remains to be seen if Bhuvneshwar Kumar would step in for Ishant Sharma and whether the team-management is tempted to find a slot for local lad Karun Nair or still persist with Jayant Yadav.

India’s Murali Vijay and K. L. Rahul are fine batsmen but failing as a combine. They have opened together in 11 innings and are yet to stitch a 100-run partnership. This has been overlooked as the middle-order—especially Kohli—has sparkled but on bad days like the ones in Pune, the deficit at the top hurts.

Kohli’s counterpart, Smith, is seemingly sitting pretty. Buoyed by his second innings century in the first Test and empowered by O’Keefe’s wickets and Mitchell Starc’s biff with the bat and his dismissal of Kohli, the Australian captain might presume that the aces are in his pocket. But he is equally aware that India, in its backyard, remains a daunting opposition.

History offers some stirring tales. In 2001, trailing 0-1 against Australia, India found magic at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens. V. V. S. Laxman’s 281, Rahul Dravid’s 180 and Harbhajan Singh’s 13 wickets, all combined to produce cricket’s greatest Houdini Act and a series was flipped on its head.

Bengalureans, happy with their activism that forced the government to abandon a steel-flyover project which threatened the environment, are hoping that they will have more to cheer as India strives to regain its mojo in Tests.

The teams (from)

India: Virat Kohli (captain), Ajinkya Rahane, Murali Vijay, K.L. Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, R. Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Wriddhiman Saha (wicket-keeper), Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Karun Nair, Abhinav Mukund, Hardik Pandya, Jayant Yadav and Kuldeep Yadav.

Coach: Anil Kumble.

Australia: Steve Smith (captain), David Warner, Matt Renshaw, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Matthew Wade (wicket-keeper), Ashton Agar, Mitchell Starc, Steve O’Keefe, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon, Jackson Bird, Peter Handscomb, Usman Khawaja and Mitchell Swepson.

Coach: Darren Lehmann.

Umpires: Richard Illingworth and Nigel Llong. Third umpire: Richard Kettleborough. Match referee: Chris Broad.

Play starts at 9.30 a.m.

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