India v Australia, 2nd Test, Bengaluru, 4th day March 7, 2017

The epic twists of an epic Test

The Bengaluru Test was such that you never knew what could happen, and even when you did, everything changed the very next moment
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Mitchell Starc shattered Karun Nair's leg stump © Associated Press

Crack. That was the sound of what used to be Karun Nair's leg stump. It had just snapped; one part was stuck in the ground, the other catapulted towards leg gully. Nair looked back at the crime scene his stumps had become and Mitchell Starc screamed "come on" as he stared at the batsman like he wanted to dismiss him entirely from the planet. The stare continued as the rest of the Australians converged around Starc and another yell brimmed out of him. "F*** off."

It was only a couple of minutes earlier that Starc couldn't even land it on the pitch. The new ball, which Steven Smith had gambled with, kept clattering around the slip fielders' noses without going anywhere near the batsman.

Nathan Lyon and Steve O'Keefe drew edges that fell short and triggered lbw appeals that were turned down. For half an hour it looked like India were about to lose their wickets to spin again but then the instant the new ball was available, Smith took it. He took it despite the fact his quicks hadn't bowled well at the start of the innings and despite the fact the new ball hadn't been as unpredictable as the old one. The first over with it was a mess of Mitchell Starcness - unplayable brilliance and horrendous garbage. The ball that barely hit the pitch wasn't on its own - an equally ugly companion would come by an over later. Deliveries down leg, full tosses, half-volleys... Starc was bowling as poorly as he had ever done in India.

Then there was another half-volley, one that pitched in line, made impact with the pad in line and was projected to crash into the stumps. Just like that Ajinkya Rahane's innings was over, and so was Australia's misery. The annihilation of Test cricket's most recent triple-centurion happened next ball.

Smith had gambled. Starc had snapped. Game on.

*****

David Warner fell sweeping to R Ashwin © AFP

David Warner came down the wicket out like a pissed off '80s action hero, his game face tattooed on.

This wasn't the shot of a master technician, this was the bull. He had lost his opening partner, seen the ball pop over his head after hitting a crack and then rip past him like a wayward shiv in a prison riot. That was it. It was time to go full Davey.

The target was only 188 runs and this was David Warner, king of the second innings, Australia's only Test match finisher, the goddamn bull. Ain't nobody gonna keep him down. So the foot marks didn't matter, where the ball pitched wasn't important and that puff of dust could go do one.

This was about muscle and power.

The ball cleared the rope, the advertising hoarding and an umbrella. It was out of here. It knows it was hit by David bloody Warner.

R Ashwin suddenly looked worried. He'd been bowling over the wicket for days, ever since that pixie-dust-sprinkled dream of a ball to shatter Warner off stump in the first innings, and he had only taken one wicket since.

India's ace offspinner looked flat. He looked a bit out of ideas. So after 16 balls of aiming for the rough outside the left-hander's leg stump, he went around the wicket. And first ball - the very first ball - Warner tried a big sweep, didn't get his foot work quite right, lost his balance and missed the ball.

Warner seemed to want to walk off, Smith convinced him otherwise, and Warner reviewed with a shrug. The umpire Richard Kettleborough said, "There's no bat involved, pitching outside off, impact umpire's call, wicket umpire's call." And so Warner walked off. That umpire's call would be questioned later, because this is Bengaluru, and not even the words "umpire's call" could be trusted.

*****

Shaun Marsh said no to a review © AFP

Shaun Marsh's leave seemed so right but it ended up wrong. Then again, it was a match of mistakes.

It was Virat Kohli's mistake to let the ball go on day one - that let Australia in. It was Marsh's mistake late on day two that let India back in. It was Cheteshwar Pujara's mistake on day four that compounded the Starc double blow. In a game as tight as this, even the umpire's calls that DRS generated seemed wrong, let alone the umpires themselves.

Take the Kohli lbw from the second innings. You know, the one we lost several years of our lives watching. Did he hit the ball before it hit his pad? Maybe, maybe not, back and forth, over and over, again and again. He has hit the ball. No he hasn't. What was I seeing? Was there a small spike first? Were my ears working? What did I hear? Can I trust what I saw? Did the pad move before the bat or because of the bat? What is bat? What is pad? I want a lie down.

This whole Test was an entertaining version of those three minutes. You kind of thought you knew what you were seeing, but then you didn't believe it, then you knew who was on top, then they weren't.

It was tough for the batsmen - the pitch was bouncing high on day one, keeping low on day two, and cracking up by day three. It was tough for the umpires - every ball was a muted or full-blooded appeal. It was tough on the third umpire - at one point the umpire's call seemed to be vying for Man of the Match.

It was tough even to watch. Every session was like being forced to sit through an interrogation and you weren't sure who was guilty, who would survive, and ultimately how it would all end.

The Marsh wicket brought all that out too. Umesh Yadav was reversing the ball and looking for cracks. He had flown one past Marsh's edge then followed it up with one that came back and Marsh just left it. It was quality bowling, and with some help from the surface, it created a small batting error. Marsh was given out lbw, despite the ball clearly seeming like it would miss off stump. Umpire Nigel Llong made a mistake. Smith told Marsh to go for a review. Marsh just heard "go" and left the field.

This was Bengaluru 2017, where words meant everything, words meant nothing, and go didn't always mean go.

*****

Steven Smith might just have had the most infamous brain fade ever © AFP

Smith had seen enough of the pitch when his first two balls from Ishant Sharma had almost taken him out. When he faced Ashwin, he was on the attack from the get-go: a big sweep, a ropey one-handed cover drive and later a cut to the point boundary.

At the other end, he was batting on pins and needles, on a tightrope, above a tank of underfed sharks as India's quicks made a few balls burrow underground let alone keep low. Nicking one to the rope right through Kohli at slip was as much a victory as Smith looked likely to achieve.

The run rate was healthier than at any time in the match but the batting had never looked more sickly.

To counter the pitch, Smith was moving all the way across to off stump, using no backlift, and the way he reacted to the ball made it seem like Ashwin and Umesh were bowling at twice their speeds. Peter Handscomb too followed his captain's lead and nearly lost his head walking across to a delivery. Here were two of the world's most unconventional batsmen, having torn up their normal freaky techniques to try and invent something even crazier just to play on this surface.

After half shouts, full appeals, endless oohs and aahs, Smith got a ball that travelled like a mole. "This looks dead," Sanjay Manjrekar said on commentary. The whole thing was dramatic enough - the most important batsman, the scud missile under his bat and Kohli screaming what seemed to be something similar to the words Starc used against Nair earlier. But then Handscomb pointed to the changeroom, and Smith appeared to ask them what they thought.

Suddenly umpire Llong was running down the track saying, "No, no, no, no." Pujara and Kohli were involved in the chatting as well. Later, in the post-match press conference, Smith would call it a brain fade. Kohli would all but call it cheating.

The new batsman arrived. Kohli ran past him and said, "Have fun here, haan." Everyone knew there was no fun to be had here.

*****

This catch from Wriddhiman Saha hastened India towards victory © Associated Press

The crowd was chanting "RCB". They were doing the Mexican wave. They were doing what looked like the Icelandic Viking football war chant "huh". They were having fun.

And in the last over before tea, all of this became an orchestra of destruction for Australia.

Matthew Wade, who was selected partly because he has gravel in his gut, had to make it to the break. It may only be a small refuge, a portaloo in a tsunami, but Australia need to get there with only five wickets down.

Wade prodded at the first ball uncomfortably and, from 22 yards away, Ashwin smiled evilly. Ashwin hit the footmarks with the next ball and Wade tried a nervous drive that could never have worked. The Indians close to the bat made all the appropriate squeals at a shot that poor.

The third ball was kept out, nervously, and as the fourth was about to be delivered, Kohli asked the ground to rise for him and it did. Wade was just hanging in there.

By the start of the fifth ball, tens of thousands of people were in Wade's head, a billion with them in spirit. It was hard enough when he just had this pitch and this Ashwin, now he had all this too.

The ball came down and all Wade could do was lunge and hope. It took the edge, hit the pad and flew up high enough for Saha to run and dive to short leg to take the catch.

Ashwin raced to fine leg like a football striker who had won the World Cup. Half the team followed him. Saha got up and was embraced by the men around the bat. Kohli didn't go to either of them. He sprinted out to deep cover, stood in front of the crowd, and howled along with his bellowing blue army.

It had been a whole match of words, but you couldn't hear what was Kohli saying. You couldn't hear what anyone was saying. The only sound was the Indian victory roar.

Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • amithd1954889 on March 9, 2017, 14:24 GMT

    Brilliant article Good job Jarrod

  • Dougall on March 9, 2017, 0:11 GMT

    can anyone explain to me why the Warner wicket is out???I always thought struck outside off was not out when playing a stroke. However this does not apply when a batsman does not offer a shot.???Confused

  • Mallik on March 8, 2017, 15:25 GMT

    Well, Jarod. This might just be the best sports article I have ever read!! Thank you!!

  • Arjun Calidas on March 8, 2017, 12:15 GMT

    Should have said something about Jadeja's over before the over in which Ashwin got Wade's wicket. That was magic too!!

  • footyc2035713 on March 8, 2017, 11:24 GMT

    Superb writing...Having watched the matched live and thru highlights for 4 days would say it was certainly like an interrogation but ended on a happy note for the hosts. Never expected Bengaluru to produce such a match & this article is picturesque of what happened on field..

  •   Madhu Ayyagari on March 8, 2017, 11:19 GMT

    I do not know which one is better, The match itself or Mr.Kimber's presentation of it!!!!

  • Abinash on March 8, 2017, 11:12 GMT

    Hey Jarrod, brilliant yet again. Are you missing the Melbourne coffee ?

  • Bala on March 8, 2017, 11:05 GMT

    New age writing. Old guns would be turning in their graves!!

  • sandeepmellam on March 8, 2017, 10:57 GMT

    Wow! Fantastic write up. Brilliant.

  • sam on March 8, 2017, 9:55 GMT

    @Electric_Loco_Wap4 It is all right, my Kashmiri friend. It is all right. Somebody had to win and somebody had to lose and so that happened. We will get two normal slow, low turning tracks (and not rank turners unlike Pune and up and down wicket unlike B'luru) hopefully in Ranchi and Dharamshala and we can decide from there. For now it is even stevens on two below average test wickets. But the problem with Pune was they were holding a test match for the first time and the same problem might happen again in Ranchi and Dharamshala. Problem lies with over enthusiasm of BCCI to expand test cricket all over the country; fine move but curators should know what they are doing. Such venues should first get test matches vs low profile teams like Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, WI, SL, NZ before getting tests vs high profile teams like Aus, SA, Eng, Pak.