The Australia-India Test series has reached a crescendo. The euphoria that now surrounds the fourth and final Test match in Brisbane has brought life into the conventional form of the game — Test cricket. On equal terms going into the fourth match in Brisbane, both sides have a lot at stake.
A depleted India should look at playing with a positive intent to win, though many of their players are on the injured list. Their coach, Ravi Shastri, has always been one for going all out for the kill and so one hopes that he continues in the same vein. The team has already done extremely well after their 36-run debacle and winning or losing the rain-marred Brisbane match would still make them heroes on their return.
In my earlier articles, I had mentioned that the team that would succeed would be the one that catches well. India failed to do so in the first Test match, whereas Australia blundered in the second Test match. The third was an even-steven affair as India erred. However, Australia did so at a very crucial stage of the match. Tim Paine, the Australian captain, was one of the major defaulters when his team looked all set to win. His frustration and mental state, thereafter, did make a significant impact on his leadership, and his bowling changes and plans, one felt, went a bit awry.
The catching lapses, as one gathers, are also at an even keel, with each side dropping around 10 catchable catches each in the series till now. The number does not include the half-chances that went begging, especially those close to the wicket. The slips, forward short-leg, silly point and leg slips are specialist positions and need proper technique, anticipation and approach in order to be successful.
One can say playing too much of the limited overs format of the game as one of the reasons for the drop in the standard of close catchers. This could be because fielders are more comfortable and trained to field 30 yards away than close to the bat. Cricketers are definitely much fitter now than they have ever been, and so the diving stops and the pick-ups and throws look far better than one saw even a decade ago.
But fielding close to the bat requires a very different skill and approach. One can only acquire this by fielding regularly at a definite position and by practicing to become more comfortable mentally while standing there. A sharp catch needs a close-in fielder to be not only instinctive but calm as well. The mind has to convey to the hands to keep the palms and fingers receptive and not grab at it. Unfortunately, modern day cricket has very little scope for cricketers to specialise in it.
The Australian bowlers in the third Test match in Sydney, one felt, got carried away by the use of the short ball to capture a wicket. The pitch was slow paced and although the Indian batsmen were uncomfortably struck by the ball at times, the ball never popped-up for a catch. The Indian quartet, comprising Pujara, Pant, Ashwin, and Vihari, must be complemented in the way they played and handled the situation.
Cricket in present times has accelerated to becoming a game where run rates and daring stroke-play are the factors appreciated. The patience, determination, and character that each one of them displayed to draw the match on the final day in Sydney was what Test cricket is all about. They played for survival and did so like true warriors. Vihari and Ashwin played through pain and immense discomfort, knowing full well that they were the last of the recognised batters left. Learning to ride the waves and understanding the ups and downs of the situation is what came out beautifully to the fore. Test cricket was the final winner as it showed that to get 20 wickets in any situation is not an easy task and drawing a match is as important as not losing it.
There has been so much of criticism as to how Cheteshwar Pujara’s style of batting is not conducive to the Indian team’s approach or that a five-day Test match should be reduced to a four-day affair. One hopes that these misconceptions will finally be put to rest. One enjoyed the tenacity, patience and concentration that batting legends like Sunil Gavaskar, Geoff Boycott, and Rahul Dravid displayed. Test cricket is about admiring their approach as much as enjoying the batting of Virender Sehwag, Chris Gayle, and many of the other flamboyant stroke players.
The Brisbane Test, two days old on Saturday, is the last match that Australia will be playing to qualify for the ICC Test World Championship. They need to win this match to garner enough percentage points. This is why they will need to play to win. This additional pressure could play a decisive role and end up being beneficial for India. However, catches win matches and the team that drops more will rue the result.