How Australia exploited India’s World Test Championship predicament to capture Virat Kohli’s wicket
@Ben_Wisden 3 minute read
Normally, with his team 2-1 up in the series, Virat Kohli would have witnessed the field that faced him with glee and some surprise.
With Kohli past 180, India in the lead and time running out in the game, Australia’s path to victory and a series draw seemed narrow – they needed to close the India innings as quickly as possible, score lots of runs quickly tomorrow, and then possibly dangle a carrot and hope for something remarkable on the final afternoon.
And yet the field setting suggested they were happy to drag it out. Kohli was batting with the tail when traditional cricketing wisdom suggests you keep the field spread to start with and then bring the fielders in, allow the possible boundary, but prevent the single to keep the tail-ender on strike for the whole of the next over.
Instead, after Umesh Yadav fell and Mohammed Shami – a proper No.10 – came in, Kohli was allowed to milk easy singles on the fifth ball of each over.
Perhaps this was Australia and Steve Smith going through the motions in a game they felt was past them. Perhaps even with the possibility of a 2-2 draw alive, they were choosing to go after a drawn game, still a creditable result against a side so used to winning at home. Certainly the pre-stumps passage, with three runs scored in six overs and Matthew Kuhnemann anti-nighthawking his way to 0 off 18 suggests as much. But maybe there was something else at play.
For India, while a draw would be enough to secure the series, it would leave them in danger of failing to qualify for the World Test Championship final, and needing New Zealand to do them a favour against Sri Lanka. If India were to win the final Test against Australia, they would face the Aussies in the final at The Oval. But if they draw or lose and Sri Lanka beat the Black Caps 2-0, it’s Chris Silverwood’s side who will qualify for the showpiece clash at the People’s Ground.
Could this have been at play? Were Australia saying, ‘a draw doesn’t help us much, but it helps you even less, so you’ll have to do the running here’? If they were, it worked a treat. Two overs after Umesh’s run out, the fifth ball of the over arrived again. Again, the field remained spread. And this time, Kohli tried to manufacture something. The slog-sweep came out, the bat twisted in the hand, and the former India captain’s epic was stopped at 186.