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End of bhai bhai; Kohli deserves the Board’s support

Sport

India have worked hard at demonstrating they are not a one-batsman team. Virat Kohli’s batting failures in the Bengaluru Test are important because in the final analysis they didn’t matter. What mattered was that when the opposition showed the slightest sign of weakness, he was able to get his team to walk all over them.Teams tend to mould themselves in their captain’s image, hence the on-the-sleeve aggression of this Indian team, reminiscent of the best Australian outfits of the past. Aggression without skill is coarse, while skill without aggression is looked down upon by the modern cricketer. To have it is to flaunt it (the one exception being New Zealand recently under Brendon McCullum).What Kohli said on the field to skipper Steve Smith may not have been pleasant, but what he said off it, is significant. With the kind of bellicose subtlety displayed by his coach Anil Kumble on a tour of Australia nearly a decade ago, he suggested that what the opposition did was simply not cricket.Kohli didn’t use the C-word which is anathema to all sport, but we can safely conclude that as far as this series is concerned, the Indo-Aussie bhai-bhai days are over. No team likes to be called cheats, even if by omission.Smith has admitted that he did look towards the dressing room when he was given out leg before. Brain fade or not, that is simply not done. You cannot ask colleagues sitting outside the field for guidance on reviewing a decision (twitterworld quickly dubbed DRS the dressing room system).

The Indian captain’s fury is understandable. He had seen it happen twice before. Umpire Nigel Llong was prepared. He handled the situation well, sending one captain off and preventing the other from expressing himself at greater length and in more colourful vernacular.In 2008, when Kumble said at a Test that only one of the teams was actually playing in the spirit of the game, he touched a nerve in Australia, where similar words had been used by the Australian captain about England during the Bodyline series. More relevantly, the Indian cricket board supported him fully, even at the cost of cutting short the tour if it had come to that.Kohli deserves similar support from the Indian board for that one incident, even if the match referee might take offence at his repeated sledging through the innings. No Aussie player has complained, however, for that would be ironic.It is unfortunate if the Smith fiasco takes the attention away from a fabulous Test. There was enough material here for two Test matches, with some emotion left over for a third. It wasn’t a perfect game — not with all those mistakes from both players and umpires — but it was something more important, one that emphasised again why the five-day game is special.One forceful knock, even after Australia had lost six wickets by tea, could have still swung the game a final time. It was a bowler’s Test, which often makes for more satisfying viewing.Also pushed into the background by the drama of the final day was the bowling of Nathan Lyon on the opening one. This was good, old-fashioned off-spin bowling in the city where the great Erapalli Prasanna played the game. No doosra, no carrom ball. It is not always spin which takes wickets, but bounce and the ability to hold the ball back just enough to get the batsman’s footwork all tangled up. Batsmen’s uncertainty is bread and butter to the spinner.

 

 

Yet not too many spinners would have followed up a first-innings eight-for with a wicketless second. Indian batsmen seemed to have worked Lyon out, dipping into a vat of patience that had been misplaced in the first innings. Lyon too seemed to be bowling a tad quicker and focusing less on over-spin than side spin.It will be difficult to top this Test. It has easily been the highlight of the long home season. The stands were reasonably full, although when Kohli conducted the crowd in the manner he has now made familiar, the noise levels suggested a packed house.Sadly, many Australian batsmen returned to the pavilion to boos and catcalls. Smith, who walked without waiting for the umpire’s signal in the first innings, was booed. It was embarrassing.Is this the city that produced Gundappa Viswanath, Kumble, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Rahul Dravid, fine gentlemen and sportsmen? Prakash Padukone, the former All-England badminton champion was a spectator too — and he epitomises the Bengaluru sportsmen just as much as the cricketers.We began with player behaviour and end with crowd behaviour. Perhaps there is a connection. Does the team’s militant behaviour communicate itself to the spectators too? Or was this the IPL effect where fans are expected to jeer at the opposition to give the home team a leg up?Sadly, there are no match referees deciding on fines for boorish crowd behaviour.