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Feature

The facade is fraying - for Rohit the captain, Ahmedabad could be the pivotal test

Rohit is at that point now where a small set of results could be decisive, and the fourth Test against Australia is the first step towards that

Pakistan could have been eliminated in the round-robin stage of the 1992 World Cup, but rain saved their campaign after England had bowled them out for 74 in Adelaide. New Zealand only reached the 2021 World Test Championship final because Australia copped an over-rate penalty.
You know what happened next, in both cases, and unless you're being wilfully pedantic, you probably don't put an asterisk next to the world titles those two teams won.
India can get to the WTC final without winning the Ahmedabad Test against Australia. They will have to rely on other teams helping them, but the odds are in their favour even if it comes to that. They may even lose heavily in Ahmedabad, sneak into the WTC final with only rain denying Sri Lanka a 2-0 win in New Zealand, and go on to beat Australia at The Oval and get their hands on the Test mace.
All that could happen, but a loss in Ahmedabad would still be shattering to India. They only rarely lose Test matches at home. To lose two in a row?
Think back to the last time that happened, in Mumbai and Kolkata back in 2012-13. A decade on, that 2-1 series-loss to England looks like the midpoint of a full-on transition. Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman had retired a few months before the series, and Sachin Tendulkar followed them a year after it. Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir only played a handful of Tests after that series.
In the lead-up to this Border-Gavaskar series, ESPNcricinfo had noted that India could be on course for a similar sort of transition, with R Ashwin, Rohit Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja and Mohammed Shami all in the 32-37 age range, and with Ishant Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane having possibly played their last Test matches already.
This generation has been India's greatest Test-match collective, but as good as the players still are, they aren't getting younger. Time is what it is.
Ahmedabad, then, could be pivotal to their legacies, and those of Rohit and Rahul Dravid as India's captain and coach, the last lap of a series that's been high-pressure for India from start to finish. The pressure has intensified now, after the loss in Indore, but it's been there throughout: at 0-0, 1-0 and 2-0.
Winning at home is India's default setting, and India win so often, and by margins so thumping, that it's easy to underestimate how hard they have to work to get those results. It's easy to underestimate the pressure to win when winning looks so simple. And when you begin a four-Test series needing at least three wins to guarantee qualification for the WTC final, that pressure only heightens.
It's why India have rolled out turning tracks in each Test so far, and put themselves in situations where winning and losing were the only possible options. Losing at home has seldom seemed like a realistic prospect for India over this last decade, but only for those watching from outside. India have always known that results like Indore are possible. It's happened now, and Ahmedabad is a tenser occasion than most will have foreseen before the series.
Through it all, Rohit has been, well, Rohit. His speech patterns and manner are the closest thing in international cricket to those of thousands of suburban Mumbai boys who play tennis-ball cricket in apartment parking lots. He speaks with a lazy drawl, his accent and vocabulary remain more or less unaffected by media training, and he seems not so much immune to pressure as unaware of the concept. There have been moments through this series, though, when that facade has cracked a little.
When Pujara was out attempting a rarely-seen sweep in Nagpur, Rohit jumped at the non-striker's end and slapped his bat against his pad. He showed similar, though less outwardly expressive, frustration when India burned two reviews early in Australia's first innings in Indore, and failed to take another that could have brought them the wicket of Marnus Labuschagne. Later, Rohit was seen gesticulating on the dressing-room balcony, in what seemed like annoyance, as if to tell Pujara to get a move on against Nathan Lyon's constricting lines and lengths.
Everyone feels these emotions, of course, but Rohit has shown them far more frequently since taking over the India captaincy. It's natural. It comes with the job.
And a series as high-profile and competitive as this one magnifies the significance of every gesture and tic. The matches themselves have been brief, low-scoring, and intense, and every on-field decision has seemed to come with immediate consequences. It's why Steven Smith looked like a genius when his field changes worked like a charm on day two of the Indore Test, and why Rohit looked both desperate and unimaginative when he plugged away with Ashwin and Jadeja for over after over, ignoring his other options.
But the same wait-and-see style had worked beautifully in the previous Test in Delhi, where Rohit had felt his spinners tried too many things while letting Australia get away to a quick start in the third innings. On the third morning, Rohit told them to stop messing about with their fields, and to bowl in good areas and wait for the pitch to do the rest. He bowled Ashwin from one end, Jadeja from the other, and made no bowling changes. Australia collapsed.
Australia didn't collapse - or collapsed a little too late for India - in Indore, and there's no way of telling if another approach may have brought another outcome. It's how captaincy works. There's only so much a captain can control.
But it's part of the job to take the plaudits and the blame. Rohit is at that point now where a small set of results could separate him from the extremes of one or the other, and Ahmedabad is the first step to either fate.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo