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Uncomfortably numb: Can this Indian team rise without their best man?

by Gaurav Sethi

There appeared to be some happiness on the first day of the second Test, it was when Virat Kohli won the toss. He looked cheery, that there could be a possible change in his team’s fortunes. He chose to bat. Why? Because that’s what you do when you win the toss in India. So, with a prayer on their lip, and a rosary in their hand, two Indian openers walked out to bat.

When things aren’t going your way, you start to believe that there is such a thing as ‘things not going your way’ – it makes more things go against you. You become negative. The opposition appears far too positive. They have the moves. You, you’re left standing there. As it was with India’s first wicket, the ball appeared to plonk itself on stand-in opener, Abhinav Mukund’s pad like some bird’s droppings. How did that happen? New ball bowlers don’t hurl yorkers at new ball batsmen, they bowl line and length. But Mitchell Starc is not your everyday new ball bowler. He’s thoughtful in an eerily menacing way, as if he shares an axe murderer’s joke with himself in the course of each ball.

That ball he hoodwinked Mukand with, had cruel joke written all over it. Comeback to Test cricket after all these years for this?

If the black holes of disbelief in Mukund’s eyes were anything to go by, you knew, at that precise moment, this team was still very much in Pune. Uncomfortably numbed by the enormity of that defeat, kneaded like dough, baked and knifed, one by one, into 11 equal slices.

It didn’t matter how many you made, how long you lasted in Pune, your misery was infectious and it had infected your mate – you were brothers in need of an urgent balm.  

There was a stink to that defeat. One that doesn’t go away, definitely not in a few days. That stink had accompanied this Indian team to Bangalore. And had latched on to someone who did not even play in Pune. Being a witness on the bench was close enough.

The relative calm of close to two hours when Australia went wicketless was overshadowed by Australia’s menace – it was a prelude to a kill. One that daunted India, much as it propelled the Aussies.

On the stroke of lunch, Pujara became the first of Nathan Lyon’s eight kills. Possibly, the most significant. Pujara, and not Kohli, is the time delay, before the inevitability of this series, wraps its pythonlike grip on the rest of the batting.

After KL Rahul’s 327 balls faced so far, its Pujara’s 147 deadpan deliveries faced that have meekly stalled the Aussies. Followed by Rahane’s 118 largely troubled deliveries. In three innings so far, Virat Kohli has lasted 56 balls – that’s less than ten overs.

And with all those stats churned out of Macs and computing staring them in the face, these fantastic Indians faced the inevitability and sadness of listening to Leonard Cohen speak in their ears – “If you are the dealer, I'm out of the game, if you are the healer, it means I'm broken and lame

Cohen is dead and in all likelihood so is India’s dream homerun.

It died some more with Kohli’s lack of judgement or possibly, excess of judgement. When ‘to play or not to play’ is the question burdening the captain, he will either not play at one he should play at and vice versa. If Kohli’s leave wasn’t macabre enough, the subsequent review and premature walk off was the icing on the EEK!

For a brief moment, India was trapped on 94/3, reminiscent of the ruins of Pune, when 94/3 morphed into Ravi Shastri’s infamous, “7-11 show” mentions.

Rahane hung around long enough to earn himself more ridicule, and comparisons between his overseas and home records. His stay at the crease would’ve made Umesh Yadav of one First Class-100 fame cringe.  But this home series too shall pass, and Rahane was a mere part of a freefall, as were the ones to follow.

Except 303* who made way for Rahane just the other day. Karun Nair played spin and Starc better than any Indian batsman – until, he decided his camaraderie was with his comrades, and he too was stumped like Rahane.  And in the end there were none.

Not long ago, just the other day in fact, there was one. Virat Kohli. The one-man show. The others’ shone in his floodlight. The floodlights a tad dim these days, what the other ten do through this swamp of a series will either sink this bunch further or make them badass, hardened cricketers – players that shine in adversity, and don’t just go down fighting but take the enemy down with them. This could be the series to remember. Or forget.

First published here


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