kohli
 Indian captain Virat Kohli with his Australian counterpart 
Steve Smithduring toss before the start of the
third Test Match in Ranchi on Thursday / PTI 

A cricket series against Australia has the curious tendency of going beyond the ball-bat contest. This much is clear from history and also from the happenings in the ongoing Test matches. Since October last there have been cricket matches against New Zealand, England and Bangladesh in India and all that we got to hear from them was the highlights of the performances but little of anything else. So much had been written on the manner India overwhelmed every country and the way Virat Kohli led from the front with scintillating double centuries to carve a niche for himself in the annals of Indian cricket history. Seasoned experts even went to the extent of predicting that Kohli had in him to surpass the feats of Sachin Tendulkar. That was the highest compliment that the current India skipper could have asked for.

Not far behind was Ravichandran Ashwin with his art of spin bowling and the success he earned. Suffice to state, the cricket fans were enthralled that as hosts Indian cricketers showed their supremacy in no uncertain terms. In fact, playing conditions presented in terms of pitch in the main never formed a subject for discussion. On the other hand, there were encomiums for providing sporting settings that contributed to lively cricketing moments.

Look how the scenario has changed with the arrival of the Aussies! Pitch became the main issue to start with and then came another! There was a time when a team from Pakistan came to India feelings soared and that went beyond the cricket field. Of course things cannot touch that level for when it came to contests between neighbouring countries the rivalry had to be different and then again an India-Pakistan contest always had that special effect to charge every cricket fan to look for that extra from the action. As for the Aussies, things began with the build up to the series. The effort on the current occasion was to present a scenario where it was made to understand that Australia would begin on the defensive. India being high on successive victories and Kohli firing on all cylinders, the suggestion was to handle the Indian skipper with care. “Do not sledge him” was the refrain sought, else pay for it! Kohli would be inspired to give the visitors forgetful moments in the country.

india
Indian players celebrate a wicket during the second match in Bangalore/ AP

 

Never was there a pointer by the foreign media on how the Australian had been preparing for the tour, particularly to get acclimatised not only to the weather conditions but also spin medicine which they were sure would be in copious supply from the Indians. Ashwin's heroics in the earlier series could not have been missed and the team even picked up the services of an Indian spinner Sriram to help sharpen their approach to spin weapon and also prepare their own bowlers to make an impression on the Indians. The Aussies are hard fighters when it comes to sports and cricket is no exception. The Australian spirit in competitions is an oft mentioned positive term and each team member of the squad is given to displaying this in large measure. Only, at times for unexpected reasons things can misfire.

It happened a decade ago, in the 2008 series in Australia when Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds got involved in the now famous Monkeygate crisis. Much had been written about it and still there seems more to add to the episode from the past cricketers from the way they touch on the topic in their autobiography, former Australian skipper Michael Clarke being the latest! In the present series there was a fear that skipper Steve Smith's reported gesture to the dressing room for ‘advice’ on a DRS decision not only triggered ire in the Indian side but became a subject for hot debate in the media and elsewhere. It may have been, for all one knows, an innocent look up but interpretations were plenty and the media and experts took over. That there was no official reprimand as such only suggested that there was little to the act.

Clarke
Former Australian cricketer Michael Clarke with former Indian captain Sourav Ganguly launches his autobiography "My Story" in Kolkata / PTI 

 

Yet, the Steve episode may not end there. Seasons from now may be one of the current lot of players when they think of a penning a memoir, some fresh thoughts or light would be thrown in to kick start another round of debate! Sometimes a better picture on the matter would only come that way. Did anyone know that our own Tendulkar had an issue with the former India coach, another Australian, the great Greg Chappell until he spilled it over in his autobiography? It served two purposes. One, it helped the ace batsman to spice up his book and two Chappell's role as a coach was seen in a new perspective. So you never know, the last word on Steve-episode may only be put on hold for now.

Meanwhile the show goes on. The neck-and-neck race for supremacy in the Test arena has shown no sign of ebbing. But a decisive moment seems not too far away.