India Show Backbone As Second Test Comes Alive
India's middle order finally went to the well under a burning sun as they established a foothold in a tense and fluctuating Second Test in Bangalore. An unbeaten 93-run 5th wicket stand between Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane has swung the match in the home side’s favour for perhaps the first time in the series. On a dry and difficult pitch, with plates like a jigsaw, the Australian bowlers were made to toil for the first time in the series, having earlier in the day established a handy but not indefensible first innings lead of 87. Matthew Wade lived up to his reputation as a street fighter with a well fought 40, while Mitchell Starc chipped in with 26, before the final four Australian wickets fell quickly for just 25 runs as they were bundled out before lunch for 276.
In reply, India strode to 0/40 before losing 4/73, as Australia threatened to turn the screws on the match and take an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series. When Indian captain Virat Kohli was once again out cheaply trying to challenge a borderline umpiring decision, Australia looked like they had their foot on the throat, but they were unable to ram home the advantage. Despite picking up 8/50 in the first innings, Nathan Lyon went wicketless through 27 overs as India finally showed some fight and some backbone to set up this Test Match tantalisingly.
Kohli Under Pressure
Whilst everyone has been quick to sing the praises of India's superstar batsman and the attitude he has brought to a "new India," I think he has gone too far at times in this series. His outbursts have become more and more regular and, whilst some are dismissed as a ploy to fire his side up, I think at times he has shown a lack of respect for the game and has inadvertently heaped pressure on his misfiring team mates. Kohli spoke with conviction and assurity after the First Test loss, basically guaranteeing that India would never play that sloppily again. However, his own performances here in Bangalore have been underwhelming and pushing the boundaries in terms of onfield behaviour.
After storming off the field like a petulant child after being adjudged LBW by the DRS, Kohli is starting to show signs of cracking under pressure. Whilst in the past his aggressive body language and ability to attack and get in the opposition’s face has worked in India’s favour, here he appears to be putting pressure on his own team mates and has been distracted from the job at hand. Kohli is yet to pass 15 in his four innings with the bat and, in such a high stakes series, that is a big failure for supposedly the best batsman in the world. In the field, Kohli tried to get in Steve Smith’s face on Day 2 and was particularly loud out there. However, his frustration and mannerisms at some of his team mates has hardly been warming, and I think some of them look like they are scared of further upsetting the Captain.
Hazlewood Shines Once Again as Smith’s Tactics Brought into Question
Josh Hazlewood really cemented his spot as the best fast bowler in the world right now with another relentless display of consistency on Day 3 in Bangalore. Hazlewood ripped out three key wickets on his way to 3/57 from 16 overs, and has proved by far the best of the seamers on a wicket that, whilst it contains variable bounce, is more suited to the spinners. Hazlewood's ability to hammer away at a good line and length has made him especially hard to play on this surface and he has been rewarded with 2 bowled and the key LBW of Virat Kohli as he continues to challenge the stumps and make the batsman play.
However, I was surprised that Australian captain Steve Smith failed to employ Steven O'Keefe at all in the first 24 overs as India looked relatively comfortable reaching 1/84. All-rounder Mitchell Marsh’s role in the team was further brought into question as he was called upon for just 3 overs of Australia's 72. There is doubt that Australia’s four front line bowlers have been all over India which has rendered Marsh almost an afterthought. However, my argument is, having looked at the surface of both these pitches, Australia might have known this was going to be a spinner friendly, low scoring struggle like Pune and perhaps playing a 6th specialist batman might have been more effective. Whatever the case, Marsh's career might be on the line in what is sure to be a tense and high octane 4th innings run chase on a tiring wicket.