The late legendary John Arlott should have been at Adelaide today. The “golden voice” of cricket who in the middle of last century defined the brand of cricket the Australians play and the spirit with which they play as “Australianism” would have surely coined a name for the kind of cricket the Indians played.
Arlott wrote that the difference between the Australians and cricketers from other countries is in the whole Australian attitude to the game. It is a “single-minded determination to win—to win within the laws but necessary to the last limit within them”, he wrote.
Australianism, Arlott explained, began at the Oval way back in 1882 when England twice seemed to have the match won only to have it snatched away in the face of all cricket possibility and eleven great English cricketers”.
“Australia has its own character. That character is in its cricket because Australian cricket is part of the life of those people.” And, we have seen that in the way the entire nation respected and loved young Phil Hughes, who died last month following a freak accident when a bouncer hit him on the back of his ear.
It was more or less the same at the Adelaide today. The Indians had played with fortitude and batted out of their skin to keep the Aussies on the floor almost all through the day. With eight wickets in hand and two frontline batsmen scoring at will on a good wicket, albeit a miserly off-spinner often turning it square with mouthwatering flight, the Indians should have been kicking their heels by now, having won the first match on the fifth day.
But, they gave it away like bored kids running over the sandcastles they have built on the beach.
One aspect of Australianism is that if you give them a chink, they will take an acre. There were two dismissals in the Indian innings that turned out to be crucial. First, Murali Vijay’s dismissal on 99. The opener was playing so well that he could score blindfolded off the meat of the bat. But on 99, he grew cold feet and he tried to hit Nathan Lyon across the line on the back-foot, and was adjudged in front of the wicket. Umpire Erasmus could have given the benefit of doubt to the right-hander since he had earlier turned down more convincing shouts.
Once the Aussie broke through the pair, they smelt a chance.
The second was Wridhiman Saha’s rush of blood against Lyon. Having lofted the off-spinner for a straight six and swept him for a boundary, he could have given the strike to his skipper, Virat Kohli, who by then had under his belt the second hundred in the match.
This is where experience and level-headedness come into play. Saha is a talented stroke-player but in Test matches, there is an invisible factor that separates the wheat from chaff: endurance under pressure. That’s why cricketers still swear by the longest form of the game. Flashes in the pan can be a fluke but consistency and class are hallmarks of a Test player.
These two dismissals gave the Australians more than a toe space, and they just snatched the match away from the Indians.
It was a fitting tribute to Hughes, who at the age of 20 had scored two hundreds in his second Test against the South Africans, as both David Warner and Kohli notched up two centuries each.
The Indians can take home many positives. They batted well under conditions. Kohli’s both innings were gems. It was heartening to see Varun Aaron clocking past 150km/h. One of his spells in Australia’s second innings, in which he bowled Warner with a no-ball, was hot stuff. But, India sorely missed a quality spinner on a track that turned almost square. Kohli’s captaincy was raw and lacked subtlety.
That’s where the Australians outplayed the visitors. Lyon was a brave-heart. The hungry-looking off-spinner with orthodox flight and dip was the champion for the Australians with 12 wickets from the match.
The Indians played well but the Australians played to win—true to the character of Australianism. Arlott must have smiled in his grave and said: “Didn’t I tell you?”
But then what would have the patriarchal Englishman said of the Indians who more often that not find incredible escape routes from victory? Indian cricket is much like the people and the country—a mosaic of brilliance and dullness. Let the wine connoisseur tell us in his poetic prose.
RIP Mr Arlott, all is fine and “cemented” in Indian cricket.