On a gloomy day in Sydney when it rained despite not showing up on the radar, Australian cricket hit a new nadir. They were made to follow on in their own backyard. It was the first time in 31 years the mighty Australians had to face the ignominy of having to bat a second consecutive time to save a Test. It was only the 16th time in over 130 years since they started playing Test cricket in Australia that they’d been dealt the cricketing version of a cheque that bounced, a loss of face.
It was the day Australian cricket, mired in strife and controversy over the last 10 months, suffered a systemic collapse. It was the day – to borrow from the late Reginald Shirley Brooks who coined the famous words that birthed the Ashes – a cricket-mad nation “deeply lamented in affectionate remembrance of Australian cricket”. We’re of course only “82 sleeps away” from Australian cricket being resuscitated, like some of the newspapers have been reminding those mourning the current state of the sport here of late – with Smith and Warner’s return. But as India look set to become the first country from Asia to win a series here on Monday, and convincingly so, Tim Paine and his team you feel can only hope that this nightmare comes to an end soon.
The reasons for where the mighty Aussies have reached are myriad and intriguing at the same time. There is no mystery, however, to how they got here, just like there’s none to the man who hammered the final blow at the SCG on Monday, even if on paper Kuldeep Yadav is still tagged as being of the exotic variety.
If anything, it would be disservice to Kuldeep and his skills to bill his five victims as having fallen prey to some sort of sorcery. It’s not. That’s after all the greatest attribute of the young chinaman bowler. That despite being expected to do something unnatural, the 24-year-old does most of his damage by sticking to the basic traits of spin bowling – guile, flight and deception. It’s almost like going to an Ozzy Osbourne show and hearing him sing Wonderwall – that universal, multi-generational Oasis hit.
You just need to pick out three of his dismissals and one that he was denied, courtesy a dropped catch by Hanuma Vihari. Let’s start with his first victim, Usman Khawaja. Yes, Australia’s senior-most batsman isn’t the best player of spin in this team. He in fact gets left out of squads to Asia. But he seemed to have found a way to combat Kuldeep and Ravindra Jadeja, briefly anyway. His strategy was based around using his feet, and trying to nullify any chance of the ball turning by getting to its length.
Kuldeep kept indulging Khawaja by tossing the ball up and luring the left-hander in. A few times, the seasoned Aussie No.3, now opening, was successful too, either reaching the pitch of the ball, or one occasion even taking it on the full. Kuldeep had Khawaja exactly where he wanted him. And the next delivery was given more air and was also a googly. It meant that when Khawaja stepped out, he was duped by the dip on the ball, as he couldn’t quite reach it, and the deception with the release meant that the ball almost turned into him rather than away, and all he could manage was squeeze a weak drive into Cheteshwar Pujara’s hands at short mid-wicket.