Get the app

Moment of Reckoning For Kohli, Smith and Dharamsala

The surround sound accompanying the first three Tests has sometimes overwhelmed the quality of play in the middle, which has been supremely competitive and produced some brilliant cricket – individually and collectively.

Ayaz Memon |Cricketnext |March 23, 2017, 5:41 PM IST
Moment of Reckoning For Kohli, Smith and Dharamsala

Test cricket’s newest venue is arguably also the most breathtaking. With snow-peaked mountains from the lower Himalayas as the backdrop, the Dharamsala stadium with its lush green outfield and a colourful pagoda-topped pavilion looks a scene straight out of an Oriental fairy tale.

Otherwise renowned for being the Dalai Lama’s sanctuary in India, Dharamsala seemed an unlikely venue for an international cricket match till about a decade ago.

Though cricket has been played in Himachal Pradesh for almost a century, the state had little heft, either in domestic tournaments or in the power grid of the BCCI to aspire for anything bigger than a Ranji Trophy match.

The erstwhile president of the BCCI Anurag Thakur – who is a Himachali -- played a crucial role in getting the hill city a stadium, and then pushing first for IPL matches and subsequently international cricket.

In early 2013, Dharamsala hosted its first ODI, against England. Thakur wasn’t BCCI president then but his clout within the administration was on the rise. He isn’t president now either, but before his powers were snipped by the Supreme Court, Thakur had ensured a maiden Test for his state.

Fascinating as the background story is – and the beauty of the venue – players from both India and Australia will have little time to explore it. The series stands on a knife’s edge. There will be little bandwidth for anything else apart from trying to win the Test.

After Australia's 'Great escape' in Ranchi, the psychological advantage Steve Smith & Co had surrendered in Bengaluru has been regained. The onus, therefore, will be greater on India; not forgetting the fact that even a draw means Australia retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy.

Australia were the underdogs when the series began but have fought their way into a situation where they could even think themselves a nose ahead in the fourth Test – and not just psychologically.

Conditions in Dharamsala might be the most favourable they’ve encountered on this tour. The cool climate of the hill station should help pace bowlers and will not sap the stamina of players as happened in some of the other venues.

The biggest factor in how the match pans out though could be the pitch. This was also the case in the first two Tests, albeit for different reasons. At Dharamsala, fast bowlers, not spinners, could hold the key as also substantiated by the curator on the eve of the match.

If this holds true, India’s spin threat would get stymied to a great extent. R Ashwin and particularly Ravindra Jadeja have kept the Australian batsmen on tenterhooks for the most time in the middle.

Of course, unlike in the past, India's pace bowlers are not just perfunctory additions to the attack. Umesh Yadav has been superb, as good as any Australian fast bowler. Ishant Sharma, if less successful, has held the batsmen in a tight leash.

That Mohammed Shami has been summoned for the match shows that the Indian management is in sync with the curator’s prediction about the pitch. Indeed, it seems likely that both teams will opt for a three-pronged pace attack.

The choice for Australia on who to drop is relatively easier. Since Glenn Maxwell holds his place as a batsman, his part-time off-spin provides relief for the fast bowlers with one from the specialists, Nathan Lyon and Steve O'Keefe – as the other slow bowler.

India, on the other hand, will obviously be loathe to drop either Ashwin or Jadeja. To play three seamers, the only recourse is to bench Karun Nair, which is a bit of a gamble considering that Ajinkya Rahane and particularly Virat Kohli haven’t been in very good form.

Kohli’s slump has been surprising given his pre-series form. Kohli’s lack of runs is matched by David Warner’s struggles to make a big score though he has got a start in every innings as yet.

These two were in such dominant form in the last 10-12 months that they were tipped to be the highest run-getters for their respective teams before the series began. Their failures have been a huge surprise.

Was it just law of averages catching up with Kohli and Warner? Is the string of low scores the lull before the storm? The next few days should provide the answers.

Both have the capacity to win a match off their own bat, or their side to lose it if they fail. The pressure on both will be enormous, but even more so on the Indian captain.

Even without a major contribution with the bat, Kohli has will-nilly been the central figure in this contest. His passion is unconcealed, and he is unabashed about his ambition. For the opposition, he remains the key figure to tame.

The series has been a roller-coaster ride, some parts of it ugly, many more provocative (with both teams contributing equally to this), but at all times enthralling. In an overview, the last mentioned is the crucial aspect.

The surround sound accompanying the first three Tests has sometimes overwhelmed the quality of play in the middle, which has been supremely competitive and produced some brilliant cricket – individually and collectively.

Hopefully, the final Test will live up to these attributes and drown out all else.

Team Rankings

Rank Team Points Rating
1 India 5046 120
2 Australia 4320 108
3 New Zealand 3449 105
4 South Africa 3177 102
5 England 4593 102
see more
Rank Team Points Rating
1 England 6745 125
2 India 7748 121
3 New Zealand 4837 112
4 South Africa 5193 110
5 Australia 5854 110
see more
Rank Team Points Rating
1 Pakistan 8366 270
2 Australia 6986 269
3 England 5568 265
4 South Africa 4720 262
5 India 10645 260
see more