Despite Virat Kohli special, India miss another chance to shut out Australia
Seven innings, two fifties: It was another disappointing series for Ajinkya Rahane. © AFP

The most talked-up topic about Test cricket in 2018 is the coin toss. Especially in tough overseas conditions, it is now an on-going assumption that the visiting team is at an obvious disadvantage when starting off.

There are certain times in 2018 when this argument becomes relevant about the traveling Indian team. Virat Kohli lost seven out of eight tosses in South Africa and England. Surely at Cape Town as well as Lord’s, maybe even in Birmingham, the argument stands against advantage accrued from the toss.

What about the current tour? Did Australia lose the first Test because they lost the toss? The difference between the two sides in Adelaide was merely 31 runs – is it enough to come under the ‘toss impact’ classification? No. What about the current Test in Perth?

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At the end of day three, as Australia sit pretty with a lead of 175 runs, three factors matter. One, India‘s pacers didn’t bowl well on the first day. Two, India’s openers and tailenders contributed 11 runs in total across six batsmen. And three, India played four pacers and no specialist spinner on a pitch where Nathan Lyon took 5/67 in the first innings. None of these factors can be attributed to the toss going in Australia’s favour in the second Test.

The underlying point herein being that India lost an opportunity for the second consecutive time in this series to shut out the hosts. In Adelaide, irrespective of the toss, that chance had presented itself on day four but their tail collapsed. In Perth, again irrespective of the toss, that chance presented itself on day three. And again, their tail collapsed.

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India lost their last six wickets for 60 runs. The last three batsmen added 31 runs. It doesn’t seem to scale when you see that Australia’s last three batsmen added only 16 runs, but expand it to the last six wickets, and the hosts added 94 runs. That 34-run difference is already playing up as the 43-run lead Australia were able to score in this first innings.

Nathan Lyon was at the forefront of Australia's dominance on day three.
Nathan Lyon was at the forefront of Australia’s dominance on day three. @Getty

Who is to blame for this change in script? The Indian team management, of course! In the post-day press conference, when Lyon was asked if India had made a mistake by not playing a specialist spinner, he answered in one word: “Yes.”

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In a year full of mic-drop moments, this was another one. Lyon finished with his seventh five-wicket haul against India, and it is only furtive imagination that their dressing room wouldn’t be worried about what this holds. Sure, there is Cheteshwar Pujara scoring runs, as is Ajinkya Rahane. Kohli batted like only he can on this tough pitch, while Hanuma Vihari and Rishabh Pant can make sizeable contributions too. All put together though, that is three and three-quarters batsmen, not even four!

If anything, this third day spelled out in even clearer terms that India are increasingly dependent on Kohli the batsman. When the day began, it was all about how his partnership with Rahane would evolve. It lasted four balls, as the latter’s increasing frustration with spin came to the fore once again. It was also Lyon’s first blow to India on this day.

Later, he would pick up four more out of the remaining six wickets to fall. In that interim, we saw a glimpse of the batsman Vihari can be if afforded more opportunities at the Test level. There was serious confidence about him, and the ability to absorb pressure at one end. He stayed long enough at the crease to bail India out of their first-hour trouble, perhaps longer than other number six batsmen from the recent past would have.

Even Pant batted with maturity, first with Kohli and then later he tried doing so with the tailenders as well. It was a different side to his game, one he is not adept at, but Test cricket challenges in ways that you haven’t thought of. Pant’s greatest challenge is to develop this side of his game, and for tailenders like Mohammed Shami, it is the same too. They need to put a price on their wickets, or at least voluntarily step down and tell the team management to start sending out Ishant Sharma at number eight.

All of this again put the spotlight on Kohli. There is no batsman on either side who can match up to the sheer phenomenon of his peak ability at present. Taking body blows, manufacturing brilliant shorts where mortals think none exist, and single-handedly pulling India back in contention, he brought this Perth Stadium into his ever-increasing global kingdom.

It makes for some wonderment. If Steve Smith had played this series, it would have been a clash of two awe-inducing batsmen, different in style, but equal in impact. At the moment, it is a clash between two sides filled with mediocre and inexperienced batsmen on one hand, and an experienced yet semi-functional line-up at the other end.

As this second Test enters into the final two days, the only question remaining is how many more runs must Australia score to take the game beyond even Kohli’s reach?