The 'big show' makes it big, Steve Smith stamps authority in potential series-decider
The Smith-Maxwell partnership on the 1st day of the 3rd Test put Australia in a dominating position from a state of precariousness.
There is a subtle difference between ability and attitude. Ability would tell the batsman that a half-volley is there to be hit, attitude is what it takes for him to put the foot down on the mat. Four years on from his Test debut, Glenn Maxwell was back to where it had all begun.
That he had played just three Test matches in these four years despite playing more than 100 limited-overs internationals spoke as much about the ability of the guy as it did about the attitude.
Not so long ago, he was at the gunpoint of a never-ending barrage when he'd expressed displeasure over fellow Victorian Matthew Wade batting ahead of him during a Sheffield Shield game. The attitude was omnipresent, but the inability to back it up with numbers made the 'big show’ more of a 'pomp and show.’
Therefore, quite unsurprisingly, his selection for the Test tour of India raised more chuckles than eyebrows, and it was only in the third Test – when Australia had lost their to-be all-rounder Mitchell Starc and the all-rounder who could never be, Mitchell Marsh – that he got a place in the playing XI.
His wish of batting ahead of Wade was granted by his captain Steve Smith, and it was upto him to prove that ability and attitude go hand in hand. When Peter Handscomb was hit on the boot, which was in line with the leg stump, by Umesh Yadav, Australia had stuttered to 140/4, a score good enough but not safe enough keeping in mind the standards that were set in the series.
Maxwell's first shot was a full-blooded cover punch that made him look every bit of the T20 slogger that he has quintessentially been. Hard hands meeting the ball in full force would have made any on-looker believe that the 28-year-old was here to slog.
It would have also made everyone believe that the show would definitely not go on for long. That he made it big and added 159 runs with his captain on his Test rebirth meant that not just the spectators, but Maxwell himself was in for a surprise.
Since that punch off the very first ball that he faced, Maxwell was beaten, or looked to have been beaten, on only one occasion, when a Jadeja delivery spun more than any other delivery had on Day 1 and took the Australian's outside edge.
There was constant scrutiny on the right-hander's approach, his shots and even the way he ran between the wickets as if it were all about him and not the man who, in the course of the day and on the way to 19th Test ton, became the 3rd fastest Australian to reach 5000 Test runs.
For a moment, it looked as if indeed that was indeed the case. It took more than an hour for Smith to cross the nineties and reach his century. For that hour, though, although the run-rate never crossed three-and-a-half runs to the over, everything was about Maxwell.
His short arm uppish jab over deep midwicket as well as his extended straight-batted flourish over long-on, both against Ravindra Jadeja, the former resulting in a boundary, and latter in a six, were the only two occasions when the batsman was air-borne.
By the time Maxwell had played 120 balls – as many as there are in a full T20 game – his strike-rate was a meager 46. Compare that with his T20I strike-rate of 167 and you would know the change in the attitude that the man brought in, especially in a game that could potentially be a series-decider.
As far as the man at the other end was concerned, he had to take the backseat for the while the 'big show’ was actually putting up a show. But his time came, and came with some finesse, as in a series where no other batsman has managed a ton, not even the mighty Kohli – and he might not score one either – Smith has two.
For all the dominance that India have shown throughout the home season, Smith became their nemesis. A nemesis had to be there, lest there be no spark in this clandestine affair between the two teams that just can't stop having a go at one another, as it had happened in Bengaluru.
It is indeed a pity that the greatest Test match that India played this season was overshadowed by a controversy where at first none of the sides were ready to budge, and then all of a sudden, a newly-found common sense prevailed and they decided to move on.
As to whether the allegations made by his opposite number were 'rubbish’ or not is a discussion for some other day, but Smith surely knew how not to be bullied.
Kohli might have had Australian blood running in his veins, but Smith has an Australian soul. Therefore, even as the Indian captain watched from the dressing room, after having injured his shoulder, the Australian captain pushed his name in the upper echelons of the GOAT list. If Australia add 100 more runs to this total of 299/4, they'll feel what Smith would feel when he writes ‘two Test hundreds in India on the same tour’ on his CV.
However, Kohli already has four on his CV, and hence, it is Smith who still needs to catch up.