Melbourne Test: Kohli, Rahane were brilliant, but is this Test cricket?
The two Indian batsmen counter-punched in ODI mode as if to take time to rebuild was not an option during the third Test against Australia at Melbourne, writes Michael Jeh
End of play, Day Three @MCG and proof that India’s obsession with short-form cricket is both nectar and poison. A magnificent batting performance book-ended by batting techniques and mindsets that were more T20 cricket than 20/20 vision. As far as modern entertainment goes, it’s hard to beat but for the Test match purist, it underscores the complete lack of Test match nous. It’s almost as if the contemporary cricketer (and commentator for that matter) is completely out of touch with the rhythms and demands of the five-day format.
Cheteshwar Pujara’s start to the day provided the theme music for ensuing events. Decent delivery, brilliant catch, utterly unnecessary shot on the second ball of the day for The Wall Mark II. What was he thinking? Surely it must have been to bat all day and provide the backdrop for the strokemakers to follow. Murali Vijay then lost patience after a few dot balls and played a nothing shot. Or was that a “something” shot in limited overs cricket?
Virat Kohli (right) leaps to celebrate his century as Ajinkya Rahane runs between the wickets in Melbourne yesterday. Pic/Getty Images.
What followed was sheer brilliance from Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane, counter-punching in ODI mode, as if to take time to rebuild was not an option because the overs were running out.
The genius of their strokeplay was probably a function of their aggressive attitude, refusing to take the option of a slow repair job, opting instead to capitalise on the Australian bowlers’ impatience by flaying them to all parts of the MCG. No two batsmen have entertained a Melbourne crowd better than these two young bucks did yesterday, preying on an attack that showed a complete lack of interest in building pressure.
India’s not the only country to forget some of the old-fashioned ways of playing Test cricket - the Aussie bowlers were not prepared to “bore” the batsmen by sticking to a fifth stump line with a 7/2 offside field, playing perfectly into Kohli and Rahane’s ability to score in a 360 degree arc off both front and back foot.
It was electric cricket but for those of us with long memories, it wasn’t Test cricket. Professional cricketers these days, despite doing precious little else with their lives, have never been less fit in an endurance sense. Both batsmen showed signs of fatigue in conditions that were hardly testing, not when you consider full-time conditioners, sports drinks, ice baths, massages, nutrition and compression garments.
To see drinks, tablets and medical staff attending to batsmen after every over makes a mockery of their so-called “elite athlete” status but perhaps this too is a legacy of a lack of practice in crafting long innings. Think back to Dean Jones’ epic innings in Madras and ask yourself if any of these modern cricketers, from any country, would ever scale those endurance heights.
The Channel Nine commentators then started making ridiculous statements about whether India should contemplate declaring 50 runs behind to “open up the game”. Surely, these wise men, many of them Test captains, must have realised that the only realistic way for India to win the match was to grind out a big lead and hope to bowl Australia out on the last day.
You’d almost think Rahane and Kohli must have been listening because that triggered a rash of extravagant strokes, thrilling in their audacity but threatening to throw a position of complete dominance away. And so it came to pass... Rahane out lbw sweeping again after striking a boundary the previous ball, Lokesh Rahul’s debut innings, stunning for its sheer stupidity and MS Dhoni doing everything possible to bat in T20 mode, including playing a dab shot that was utterly inappropriate in the circumstances. Even if he had made good contact, first slip might have swallowed it. Where was the thinking behind his bizarre innings?
It’s hard to fault Kohli after the purity of his strokeplay but even his shot to finish the day was questionable. Having just about got through to the end of play, having humiliated Mitchell Johnson, surely his priority at that point must have been to start afresh on Day Four and see if he could have coaxed another 70 runs from the tail. It’s almost as if this generation has forgotten to play for tomorrow, having been weaned on one-day (or half-day) games.
It’s been India’s story throughout this series. So many times they’ve got themselves into a winnable position, only to throw it away, appearing ignorant of the cadence and pace of Test cricket. Adelaide was a game they should have won until Wriddhiman Saha’s T20 instincts got the better of him. Brisbane was a game India controlled for at least half the match but once again lost their way, as if navigating the longer form was alien to their Gen Z mindset. With a bit of luck and some street-smart cricket, India could be two-nil up.
The first Australian team to win a Test series in India adopted the mantra of “to lose patience is to lose the battle”. India might easily have adopted that philosophy on tour but they’ve let too many opportunities slip. It’s entertainment aplenty but that doesn’t win you Test matches. So much of the cricket they’ve played these last few weeks has been high quality but not much of it has been smart.
Michael Jeh is a Brisbane-based former first-class player
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