A few days can be a long time in Test cricket, and a lot can change. After the humiliation of Pune many questions were being asked of the Indian team and whether they could respond to the challenge being thrown at them by Australia.
They responded well and in style at the M Chinnaswamy stadium in Bengaluru. After the doom and gloom of Pune where it appeared everything that could go wrong for India did, it was a much happier tale in Bengaluru. Whereas only Umesh Yadav could walk away from the first Test with his head held high, the rest of his teammates, barring captain Virat Kohli and opener Abhinav Mukund, stepped up and pulled their weight in the second.
India were written off by some after the Pune debacle and their claim to the number one ranking in Tests was questioned after losing so comprehensively in conditions tailor-made for them to succeed. We all waited with bated breath to see if this Indian side could respond to the adversity like a true number one side.
Ravichandran Ashwin, in particular, was well below his best in Pune, and even in the first innings in Bengaluru. India’s leading bowler had been comprehensively outbowled by his Australian counterparts and the home side was desperate for him to lift, and lift he did. Both Ashwin and his 'partner-in-crime' Ravindra Jadeja returned to their destructive ways in Bengaluru to claim a six wicket haul each across the match. Jadeja’s spell on the third morning turned the momentum in India’s favour, and Ashwin’s on the fourth day sealed victory for the hosts.
Most impressive for India has been the role of the faster men, and, in particular, the control and discipline shown by Umesh. He has always possessed raw pace and a heap of potential and in this series he has managed to harness that pace and use his attributes to emerge as the leading fast bowler after two Tests with nine wickets at an average of 17.55.
Alternatively, the highly-rated Mitchell Starc, who was expected to do well in India after his success in Sri Lanka, has only taken five wickets at an average of 30.55 and an economy rate of over three-and-a-half runs per over in a series that has been dominated by the ball. In a further blow to the Australians, their big left-armer and spearhead has been sent home due to a stress fracture in his right foot.
The body blow to the Australians will further buoy an already pumped up Indian team riding the wave of an intense and hard-fought victory in Bengaluru. While Starc hadn’t been at his best, the hosts would have been wary of the impact he could have had in the Indian conditions with his pace and swing.
After India’s meek surrender in Pune the signs were worrying and all the momentum was with the tourists, but Kohli’s side managed to arrest the slide in Bengaluru through gritty, determined cricket and no shortage of passion and fire. The Indian players admitted they raised their game in the verbal stakes in an attempt to get themselves back in the match and the series.
India’s fiery approach got under the skin of the Australians and appeared to unsettle them while providing a much-needed boost to the Indian players. The turnaround from Pune in attitude by India was pleasantly surprising for the Indian fans who expected their side to dominate Australia from the outset and were left shocked by their team’s performance in the first Test.
Momentum is most certainly with India now, and the way Australia collapsed in both innings in Bengaluru will open old wounds of failed campaigns in the subcontinent for the visitors.
Despite the fact that Steve Smith leads a fresh-faced Australian side, many of whom don’t bear the scars of the 2013 whitewash, the manner of their defeat was a familiar old tale of panic against the turning ball and unpredictable bounce often encountered in India.
The Bengaluru victory, which Kohli described as his sweetest ever, will ease the minds of worried fans and team members that the disaster in Pune was just an aberration from a tired and complacent side. India’s challenge now is to avoid complacency creeping in again as their long home season nears its exciting finale. The Australians might be wounded after Bengaluru, but any chance or opening presented to them in Ranchi will be taken with both hands by Smith and Co.
India will need to be just as ruthless and efficient as they have been all season, as they swept aside New Zealand, England and Bangladesh, if they want to reclaim the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. The Pune defeat might just have been the spark that was needed to reignite the fire of a team who will want to end the season without conceding a series to any of their visitors.
The aggression with which India played with in Bengaluru suggests they won’t let up, and any advantage will be seized upon and used to quash any resistance from Australia.
In Pune, India’s stars were conspicuous by their absence, in Bengaluru the team’s heavyweights stood up and led from the front in a back-to-the-wall performance that brought the side back into the series. The only ingredient missing for India now is a significant contribution with the bat from their firebrand skipper. One feels Kohli won’t be kept quiet, with bat or in the field, for long. That doesn’t bode well for the Australians.