Bhuvneshwar Kumar is running in with the Himalayas behind him. The scores are pretty much even. The series is level. David Warner is prowling around the crease like a heavyweight hoping he looks tough enough; his third-innings hundreds practically tattooed to his face. Matt Renshaw is facing up. He looks like a work experience kid at a law firm that has just found out he has to try a case.
We are three and a half Tests in, with two innings to play. No one is in front, anyone can win this series. Test cricket is screaming naked into the full moon; it doesn't get better than this.
Bhuvneshwar runs through the crease twice as Renshaw handles the first two balls. All is okay with the world.
Then the third ball. Oh, the third ball, it starts then. Whatever is about to happen, it is going be big, exciting. The world is going to shake. This series, wow, this series.
India don't know what to do. Umesh Yadav looks fired up, but India have a deep backward point and a few catchers. They are going to go hard at Warner, and he is going to be Warner as much as he can. Umesh steams in and drops short. Warner launches like it's the last ball he'll ever see. Forget the deep backward point, forget the slips, forget gully, forget everything, this is his ball and he tries to destroy it. He wants to knock the lacquer, the shine and most of the leather off. And no one bothers moving when he hits the ball. Death by Warner.
When Renshaw gets on strike, he plays the role of extra as Umesh curves one in that springs away. It isn't a play and miss; it is a miss. Then Wriddhiman Saha flies; he gets himself as high as someone his size has ever been, just to pluck a ball by Umesh that is flying towards the snow-capped mountains. Warner is snorting, Saha is flying, Umesh is snarling, Test cricket is gnashing its fangs.
Bhuvneshwar gets in on it. Forget the gentle-paced length balls clustered in well-meaning areas. He's up and at Warner with a short ball that bangs into Warner's heart like a surprise fist. Warner steps back in shock, looking back at Bhuvneshwar suspiciously while he gets his breath. When he finally faces the next ball, Bhuvneshwar brings out his real weapons and has him edging to third slip. Karun Nair drops Warner like the first innings. Bhuvneshwar bounces Renshaw to follow up because he can't bounce Nair or Warner.
But that drop gets Warner on strike at the other end, and Umesh follows up Bhuvneshwar's double punch with a final blow.
This is on. Something right here, right now, is going to happen. This is going to be one of those days. You knew it at the start: when it looked like Australia were going to get a wicket first ball, when Ravindra Jadeja slapped balls into the crowd, when the Australians barked at him as he slapped some more. It was going to be one of those days.
Steven Smith looks made of pure runs. While around him, there is something apocalyptic about to happen. Smith takes his first ball off his hip like nothing has happened; like this is a Sunday church game, like nothing matters. It's just a ball.
At the other end, Renshaw seems to be visualising his next play and miss. Smith continues to score easily. He walks across his stumps, he plays across the line, he is in his own world filled with Charlie Parker music and butterflies. At the other end, Renshaw hears nothing but screams and smells sulphur as he plays and misses. Smith plays a ball from outside off stump down into the leg side for two. It seemed like a throwdown, followed by Smith jogging two runs because the coach asked him to. Renshaw edges short of slip as pitchforks are sharpened.
Out of the 36 balls bowled, ten of them have not been well controlled, according to Cricviz. Smith has faced 11 of them and has been in charge of all of them. Test cricket is raining down hellfire on Renshaw, and Smith is walking in a beautiful meadow at dusk with a loved one.
In the first innings, Smith had been attacked from every side. India had essentially started bowling down cricket strategy manuals at him hoping something would get him out. The longer India bowled to him, the worse they got.
Bhuvneshwar goes short at Smith's body. Smith bunts it away. There are two men out on the boundary, but Smith ignores their existence as he finds the gap he wants. Then Bhuvneshwar tries wide. There is a deep point, and Smith drives past him like there is no need for him being on the field.
It isn't just the deep point, it's all of them. They are crash test dummies perpetually driving into the unorthodox wall of Smith. You can't bowl wide, or in the channel, or at the stumps, short is no good either, full gets smashed, spin doesn't work, and seam just goes. Their biggest success against him was when he missed kicking a ball.
In reality, Australia are now just one run behind. In Smith's world, that's barely relevant.
There is no reason to continue bowling to Smith. It's like the pointlessness of the everyday life. Waking up, brushing your teeth, going to the toilet, having a shower, getting dressed, forcing down breakfast, braving the rush hour, and working. But we keep doing it, and so did Bhuvneshwar. He ran through that damn crease and won the damn lottery. Smith played on. Smith is out. Smith will not bat again this series.
What is going on? Glenn Maxwell is supposed to be skipping around the pitch wearing a giant chicken costume, while swinging his bat at imaginary balls bowled by 300-year-old vampiric werewolves.
Instead, he's playing effortless back-foot cover drives like a picture from a 1990s cricket magazine. In the middle of the carnage, he's the normal one. Seven minutes ago, or weeks, or months, or pretty recently, Darren Lehmann was slagging him off in the press. Now he's the chosen one, the golden hope, the phoenix who must rise, the man who can win the whole damn thing.
Maxwell wasn't even really part of their first plans. He was hidden behind the non-performing unit, Mitchell Marsh. And this was a series that Australia had planned like hell for.
Steve O'Keefe talked to every subcontinent spin expert he could find and then skipped the Big Bash League. Australia left a skeleton team to play a T20 international. They went to the UAE and scuffed up the pitches. They brought in S Sriram as an Indian pitch sage. Their bowlers were going to bowl dry and rough the ball up early for reverse swing. Their batsmen were going to play inside the line and back in the crease. All of the things they planned won them the Test in Pune. In Bengaluru, it wasn't like that. It was a street brawl, and although they almost threw as many punches, it was India left standing. And in Ranchi, they stayed with India until their bowlers were buggered. Then their batsmen somehow survived.
So after all the planning, winning, fighting and surviving, their fate is in the hands of Maxwell. #Maxwellball, the Big Show, the Indian millionaire. Shane Warne on Twitter is already suggesting that R Ashwin will be destroyed by Maxwell and that India is hiding him from Australia's drunken samurai warrior.
After the effortless cover pushes, Ajinkya Rahane tries Kuldeep Yadav, the man who bowled a wrong'un to Maxwell in the first innings. Maxwell probably didn't even pick it when he looked at the replay. It is evident what Maxwell will do because everyone knows how he bats. The same way Virender Sehwag tries to hit reverse-swinging balls into rivers and Kevin Pietersen tries to hit spinners into the wind for six. It's called game theory when academics talk about it. It's kill or be killed in the change rooms. It's either Maxwell or Kuldeep, not both.
When Kuldeep overpitches, it doesn't matter that it is around leg and middle stump, or a wrong'un. Maxwell just drives the thing through covers. If that looked smart and organised, the next one looks like someone punching with a hand wrapped in broken glass. It's a filthy bloody hit, hoicked from outside off, with no thought for aesthetics or care for technique. It goes. The next over, there will be a short ball as Kuldeep thinks Maxwell is coming for him. Maxwell cuts it away. Now Rahane has four men out and Kuldeep is on the boundary asking coach Anil Kumble for help. When Kuldeep finally lands a wrong'un, Maxwell survives it.
Kuldeep is off. Maxwell is too.
It didn't matter that Renshaw came and went in a haze of predictability. That Peter Handscomb was caught by a stunner at slip. Or that Shaun Marsh's entry was delayed, and his exit hastened. Maxwell could do anything. Maxwell had given Australia the lead, punched the quicks away, destroyed Kuldeep, and delayed Ashwin. He was living dangerously at times, but he was the danger. To himself, his team and the opposition.
This is the day, the time, the man. At the end of the biggest season, in the biggest series, the biggest Test and there is Big Show, right in the middle of all of it. Maxwell would do something. If we knew anything, we knew that.
Then Maxwell didn't. Depending on how you view things, he either didn't play a shot at all, or half did and then sort of stopped. The man with all the shots ever invented played none.
Before this match, Cricviz tweeted: "The lowest left ball %age of any player in this match is, unsurprisingly, Glenn Maxwell who has left just 2.9% of the balls he has faced". In this series, Maxwell left 10% of the balls he faced. This was Australia's series where they had thought about everything and tweaked their natural game until it worked in the one place their normal ways don't. And now when they needed their most natural man to be at his most unchained, he is caught between game plans. Australia's fight ended.
Australia had planned, won, fought, survived, adapted, worked, and Maxwelled. It wasn't enough. Australia almost climbed cricket's highest mountain and then they either left their chance or they kind of half took it and then sort of stopped. This series of Test cricket, wow.