In this bonkers simulated universe we all now occupy, the India versus Australia series was off to a decider.
After three Tests, India had won one, Australia had won one, with the third Test being drawn.
Obviously, then, the fourth Test was destined to be a tie, so that the series could successfully claim what cricketing nerds like to call a ‘cricket results full house’.
Instead, India won by eight wickets. Weird.
Here are the ratings for the fourth Test between India and Australia.
Steve Smith won the toss and elected to bat. But it was a hollow victory, because Virat Kohli, in a stunning act of macho bravado, had outmanoeuvred the Australian captain by refusing to participate in this deciding Test at all.
“My leadership is so good,” Kohli was essentially saying with his absence, “that I no longer even need to be part of the team. They can do this without me.”
Sure, he’d implicitly been saying the same thing with his inept batting in the series to that point. But an act of typical Kohli boldness to make it so explicit.
Smith had no such option available to him, because he had been forced, virtually single-handedly, to fight this series on Australia’s behalf.
While others chipped in here and there throughout the series, Australia remained competitive in the series almost solely because of the presence of their skipper.
This trend continued in Australia’s first innings, with Smith making his third century of the series as Australia stumbled their way to 300 all out shortly before the end of the first day.
It wasn’t just with the bat either that Smith was keeping his team in the contest. On the third day, he took two brilliant catches in the slips to help constrain India’s lead to a relatively paltry 32, or 10.67 per cent, as nobody ever measures it.
In retrospect, given that Australia had only one over to bowl before stumps on that first day, it feels like madness that Smith didn’t step to the crease with his leg-spin filth to complete the job properly.
The reason why Australia had been dismissed so cheaply on that first day was due primarily to Kohli’s replacement – the left-arm leg-spinner Kuldeep Yadav.
Kuldeep destroyed the Australian batting, taking 4-68 in the first innings, and in the process becoming my new favourite spinner whose name sounds like a stoner’s response to seeing The Matrix for the first time – “Cool. Deep.”
The effort also triggered controversy when it was suggested that maybe the term ‘Chinaman’ could be retired from common cricket use, given its potential for causing offense.
A perfectly fair request – I can’t think of many words that give me so much pleasure that I’m going to keep using them once people point out to me that their use upsets them. Well, perhaps ‘Maxwellball’.
Still, this cricket terminology controversy could’ve been nipped in the bud if left-handers had simply been banned from playing the game, as God intended.
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Matt Renshaw’s hands
India’s lead on the first innings could be attributed primarily to a couple of dogged batting partnerships, but also to Matt Renshaw’s sloppy hands at first slip.
The baby-faced opener dropped two catches off Pat Cummins, with the second from Wriddhiman Saha being the critical one.
That spill enabled the Indian keeper to combine with the ICC No.1 ranked swordsman Ravindra Jadeja to put on a 96-run seventh wicket partnership that turned the match in India’s favour.
Renshaw later tried to claim the whole thing was an optical illusion and that the hands that dropped the catch were, in fact, Peter Handscomb’s. But he was sadly unable to find an alternative camera angle that proved it.
The Wade-Maxwell rivalry
Going into their second innings 32 runs behind, Australia were hopeful the openers could knock the deficit off swiftly, leaving, effectively, a one-innings showdown to decide the series.
It didn’t happen, as Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar knocked over the top order with Australia still a run in arrears in a blistering spell of pace bowling. These lightning-fast Indian pitches are becoming a blight on the game.
Glenn Maxwell came to the crease and, obviously, counter-attacked. With Handscomb and Shaun Marsh falling cheaply at the other end, the delicious opportunity for a Glenn Maxwell-Matthew Wade partnership to save Australia was on the cards.
Sadly, an LBW decision against Maxwell put an end to that dream. Maxwell was adjudged to not be playing a shot to Kuldeep. A correct decision, because we all know that if Maxwell was playing a shot, it would have gone for at least six. That’s just common sense.
But, more unluckily, a rare double umpire’s call on review meant Maxwell had to go. And with him went the chance of setting a decent target for India to chase.
Ultimately, India needed just 106 for victory. Despite a brief muddle-headed period where all their batsmen tried to be run out by none other than Maxwell, they comfortably chased down the total early on the fourth day to bring to an end a remarkable series.
In retrospect, though, perhaps the single most remarkable thing about the series was how by the end of it, many Australian fans were disappointed with a 1-2 result.
Who could have possibly foreseen that six weeks ago?