INDIA TOUR OF AUSTRALIA, 2018-19
When Pat Cummins picked Virat Kohli’s wicket, the Adelaide Oval erupted with the kind of unbridled excitement you can only see in Australia. © Getty
“Where are the Indian crowds? Where is the S-u-wami Army? Where is the Bhar-aa-t Army? I thought they were supposed to outnumber the Aussie fans at the Adelaide Oval today. I think there were more Indian fans at the practice than there are today here…” The taunts continued on the radio as Cheteshwar Pujara battled the Aussies along with the tail. “Maybe they’re all sitting in the shade there,” said another voice on air hinting that the Indian contingent of the audience was huddled up somewhere in the Fos Williams Stand on the eastern side of the stadium.
The commentators weren’t really taking a pot-shot directly at the visiting fans though. The Bharat Army’s inability to fill up the ground like they did during the T20Is in other venues Down Under was only incidental. If anything it was an ode to how the locals had responded to the return of Test cricket to Australia for the first-time since Steven Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft did what they did and admitted to doing it in Cape Town.
Though not substantiated, there were fears after all leading up to Thursday that Australians won’t show up in the stands. That for the first time since the unfortunate Graham Yallop was given the unenviable task of leading the official Australian team in a Test match against the English while the high-profile stars were away playing in the Kerry Packer-instituted World Series in the late 1970s, the hardcore Aussie fans would turn on their own team. But that wasn’t to be, as 80 per cent of the 23,000-odd fans who showed up at the Oval were as Aussie as they come. The beer was flowing from around an hour before Virat Kohli and Tim Paine walked out for the toss. And it continued to flow as the sun held sway all day long, and there were more than a fair share of bare-backed bodies eager for a tan in the stands — though the grass banks were cleverly avoided.
There were also real concerns that the real Australia won’t show up on the ground. With Smith and Warner gone, perhaps it was time that one of the most indomitable outfits on home soil in world sport would be such a pale shadow of themselves that they won’t even start the series as favourites. There were those who had predicted the English to dominate 12 months back when they landed here for the Ashes. But led by Smith and Warner and a stellar bowling attack, the Aussies not only showed why they are such a feared side in their backyard, but also one that thrives on dominating all comers. This isn’t to say that many expected Paine & Co to be completely bereft of the Baggy Green aura. Even their staunchest detractors didn’t doubt that Australia will be competitive. In fact, India coach Ravi Shastri had thundered, “No…” when asked whether Australia had lost their aura at home before the start of the T20I series last month.
As the clock struck 10:30 am in Adelaide on Thursday, it was the Australia that we expect to see on the opening day of a home summer that showed up at the Adelaide Oval. The absence of Smith and Warner might have somewhat diluted that aura a tad, but the Aussies still had the same high-quality bowling attack they did during the Ashes. And with Virat Kohli opting to bat, it meant Mitchell Starc & Co would be the ones kicking off proceedings for the home team, and not the inexperienced batting line-up.
And Starc and Hazlewood ran in with the same venom that they had all summer long last year, and by the end of the 7th over, they’d sent back the Indian openers. Incidentally, the entire bowling attack that terrorized Test teams around the world home and away were on air in the various commentary booths — radio and TV — in the massive Adelaide Oval media centre on Thursday. Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne were there. So was Jason Gillespie. Michael Kasprowicz, who to his credit played an unsung role in the late 90s when Australia ruled the world, was around in another section of the ground too.
On the field, the modern-day Aussie bowling juggernaut was drawing first blood and putting the visitors on notice in the first hour’s play of the series just like McGrath & Co used to. Led astutely by Paine, they came in with a plan, and executed them to cerebral effect. Starc and Hazlewood gave nothing away with the new-ball, along with the scalps of the openers. They were accurate in terms of the areas of the pitch they were landing the brand-new Kookaburra on, and from there they were getting the ball to bounce viciously when they wanted it to, and moving the ball off it in whichever direction they wanted it to. Then on came Pat Cummins. And the generally partisan Australian commentary box reminded its listeners of the young pacer’s “bold” prediction about how Kohli won’t score a century this summer, with one saying, “He might live to regret that statement now.”
Instead, Cummins took only three balls in his first over to prove that he wasn’t just making statements but was good enough to back them up on his own, removing Kohli with help from that catch from Usman Khwaja. The Adelaide Oval erupted with the kind of unbridled excitement you can only see in Australia whenever a visiting captain is sent packing and that too so cheaply on the opening day of the season.
The Aussies were on fire on the field. The Aussies were on fire in the stands, and all was well with the world, Down Under.