Fitting tribute to their 13th man

AP

The Test was played in great spirit over the first three days but there were temperamental flare-ups on Day Four. S. Dinakar reports.

The Test swung one way then the other, was an emotional roller-coaster, and produced a gripping final day that tested character.

There were heroes but none bigger than Australian captain Michael Clarke, who, risking everything, played in the Test. It was, in several respects, a tribute to his departed mate Phillip Hughes.

Clarke suffered a back injury on Day One and could so easily have opted out of the rest of the match. Instead, he, on 60, came out to bat on Day Two after taking pain-killing injections to see out the second new ball, made a hundred of brilliance and innovation and then returned to field.

And when he hurt his hamstring on the final day — the scans revealed a tear — Clarke found himself ruled out of the Test series with a fitness cloud over his future.

Asked whether the risk was worth it, Clarke responded, “No regrets, this was the most important Test of my life.”

It was a Test that India was poised to win, being 205 for two at tea on the final day, chasing a target of 364. The first Test of the Border-Gavaskar series then exploded into life.

As the dust settled, Australia, with stand-in captain Brad Haddin continuing to maintain attacking fields, triumphed by 48 runs as the Indians, brave as their methods might have been, dug a hole for themselves.

Stand-in captain Virat Kohli came up with what was a great Test innings on the final day when there was appreciable turn for off-spinner Nathan Lyon on a surface with footmarks and a rough.

Kohli’s pulse-pounding 141, that followed his 115 in the first innings, underlined his stature as a world class batsman who could embrace several landmarks in his career.

A few of the shots Kohli pulled off during the chase were astonishing; he used his feet and manoeuvred his hands to fire the ball through the gaps. Given that the surface was gradually deteriorating, some shots were played on sheer instinct.

In the process, Kohli had also left behind the unhappy memories of the England tour. He had struggled in England, not being able to cope with swing, on or around the off-stump.

In Adelaide, Kohli was better balanced as he moved towards off-side, his head steady and feet movement firm. Much of his driving through the covers was majestic. He also wristed the ball with immense power, and pulled the pacemen.

India was on course on the final day with the technically adept Murali Vijay applying himself; Vijay and Kohli added an invaluable 185 for the third wicket. But when Vijay (on 99) played back to a sharp off-spinner from Lyon after ea, the sluice gates were opened.

And when Kohli was held at deep mid-wicket by Mitchell Marsh off Lyon, the contest was all but over.

Despite Kohli’s heroics and Vijay’s determination, the manner in which India capitulated after tea, when it had eight wickets left, was disappointing.

India lacked plan ‘B’ and many Indian batsmen did not appear to possess the skill required to counter Lyon on a surface that assisted the spinner but was by no yardstick “unplayable.”

Despite Kohli’s statement that India went for the target and he had no regrets, the visitor should have shut shop once the danger of a defeat lurked.

The lower order should also have displayed greater character. Instead, the contribution from the lower order and the tail was almost non-existent.

This was a Test where Australia, electing to bat on a drop-in surface, progressed to a strong position before declaring at 517 for seven. The left-handed Warner’s first innings 145 was full of intent and diverse strokeplay. The southpaw’s second innings 102, although well-constructed, was not without controversies.

Warner’s on-field confrontations with Varun Aaron, Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma in two separate incidents marred his otherwise exceptional displays. After the match, he was fined along with the Indians.

For Australia, Steve Smith’s unbeaten 162 in the first innings was full of promise. He bats the old fashioned way, employing his feet to spinners and getting to the pitch of the ball for the drives and the lofted stroke.

He is a solid batsman, yet the enterprise in his ways cannot be ignored. Smith can work the ball around, defend with purpose, execute scorching drives or dump the ball into the stands. He is comfortable against both pace and spin.

While credit is due to the Australian line-up, the Indian bowling largely disappointed.

The pacemen bowled short at Clarke in the first innings that allowed the Australian captain to get away with his ‘stand and deliver’ stuff. Instead the pacemen should have pitched fuller forcing the injured Clarke to employ his feet. The crucial second new ball was wasted on the second morning.

The Indians also blundered by picking debutant leg-spinner Karn Sharma ahead of experienced off-spinner R. Ashwin.

On a surface where Man of the Match Lyon scalped 12 for the Test, getting the ball to turn and jump off the rough, Ashwin could have been invaluable for India. Instead, India had to make do with part-time off-spinners Vijay and Rohit Sharma.

Karn had a disappointing first Test; there was neither noticeable turn for him nor did he send down a potent googly.

The Test was played in great spirit over the first three days — when Virat Kohli was struck on the helmet by a Mitchell Johnson bouncer the Australians were quick to come to his aid — but there were temperamental flare-ups on Day Four.

In the end, the Aussies won it for their 13th man, Hughes.