Steve Smith, the captain, defeated; Steve Smith, the batsman, unscratched
Dharamsala Test, day three
Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar are bowling like their life depends on it. They are getting the ball to swing; they are getting the ball to bounce. They are getting the ball to do a lot. The two Australian openers on the receiving end of this fiery spell are completely clueless and have no idea what to do with the piece of wood they are carrying with them. The ball is flying over their heads, missing their bats, and even hits them on their chest.
And then Warner falls. It is inevitable. The pitch is playing games and Umesh extracts the bounce as well as the swing to get Warner’s edge. Now comes at the crease, Steve Smith. The first ball he faces is delivered on a length and is close to stumps. He moves a little, covers the line of the ball and plays it towards square leg. Four runs; four easy runs.
Suddenly the vicious pitch looks flat, the bowling which seemed unplayable becomes average, and the art of batting becomes as easy as driving on a 10 lane straight highway with no fellow commuters.
Extra Cover: In grudging admiration of Steve Smith
That is Steve Smith, the batsman. Throughout the series, he was batting in a different zone, on a different surface and was scoring runs when others couldn’t even survive. He was not the best batsman in the series; he was THE batsman in the series. In this Border-Gavaskar trophy, other batsmen averaged 27.30 per innings, the Australian captain averaged 71.28. 27 other batsmen together scored two hundreds and one double hundred, Smith alone amassed three hundreds.
Before he came to India, the critics had written off him and his team, and the Australian team was labelled the worst ever Australian side to tour India. In the first Test, his side handed India their fifth biggest defeat in terms of runs. In the second innings, Smith scored 109 runs which was more than India’s totals in both innings.
In the second Test, Australia had a target of 188 runs, the Australian captain perishing for 28 runs, and then the 'Brain fade' controversy happened. Australia lost that match by 75 runs.
He was ridiculed, criticised, was called a cheat. He apologised and moved on from the controversy, but there was no end to the ridicules.
The very next innings, he scored 178 runs without getting out. He had certainly moved on, and he forced everybody to forget what happened in the previous Test. Now they praised him, appreciated him. Australia somehow managed a draw in the third Test.
In the fourth Test, Smith scored 111 runs in the first innings. His team managed 300. Until the afternoon of the third day, Australia was neck and neck with India. Smith survived what was arguably the best opening bowling spell in the series and had almost neutralised India’s lead of 32 runs.
And then the real brain fade moment happened. Bhuvneshwar Kumar bowled three short balls - no pace, at an easy height. It couldn’t have been easier for Smith. He pulled. All three times.
The first ball was dispatched to the square leg boundary, the second ball to the third man boundary and the third ball crashed on the off stump. By that time India had given up on all plans of getting Smith out. But he simply brought India back in the contest. He was out for 17 and the Aussies crumbled for 137. India won that match as well as the series.
But India couldn’t defeat Steve Smith.
Bangalore Test, day three
Australia gains a first innings lead of 87 runs. India in their second innings are at 120 for 4, and a lead of 33 runs. Australia has won the first Test and a win in the second Test will see them take home the Border-Gavaskar trophy. And then the 118-run partnership between Rahane and Pujara put India back in the driver’s seat. Match-winning, series-changing 118 runs.
As they score these 118 runs, Smith watches on helplessly. He is unsure of what to do. He is unsure of whom to throw the ball to. So, he does the easier option of waiting for the new ball. But by the time the new ball arrives, India has scored a match-winning total.
Dharamsala Test, day three
Saha and Jadeja resume India’s second innings while India trail by 53 runs with only 4 wickets remaining. The duo add 69 runs in the morning. Smith is again clueless. Jadeja hits one on his stumps and allows Australia to come back into the game.
Usman Khawaja was selected in the Australian side as a specialist batsman who averaged 47.94 in Tests. In the last six Tests, he averaged 52.81, but in the entire series, he warmed the bench. Australia preferred an all-rounder over him; first Mitchell Marsh and then Glenn Maxwell.
Marsh bowled just five overs, while Maxwell bowled six overs.
Smith probably had no trust in the bowling abilities of Marsh and Maxwell. Marsh averaged 12 with the bat and Maxwell 39.75, but scored a century. Still, Khawaja had no place in this team.
India defeated Australia. India overcame Smith, the captain; Smith, the batsman, is still undefeated.