There is something about touring Down under. In England, you get swing owing to the conditions. You get the extra bounce on South African soil. New Zealand also offers conditions similar to those in England; albeit slightly lenient. In Australia, you don’t get much swing in the air. The wickets provide extra bounce and a bit of lateral movement. But it’s not just the conditions or the wickets that you play in Australia, because The Kangaroos offer an even tougher challenge that is, playing to your mind. If you ask any former Test player about the Tour Down Under, he’ll tell you how tough and uncompromising it is. That is where Test Cricket lives up to its name. Whether you are a batsman or a bowler, all the virtues – skill, patience, perseverance, temperament get tested. That is why, you do well in Australia, you rise in people’s eyes. Everyone starts looking at you differently, with great respect.
And that is why this win at Adelaide is special. Victories in Australia have been scarce for us which is what makes this win memorable. Even before the start, India were being called the favorites. But there isn’t a bigger challenge than beating the Kangaroos in their home. India needed something exceptional, and they got it, with both bat and ball. Let’s revisit this wonderful game which will be etched in everyone’s memory.
India couldn’t have asked for a better start as Kohli won the toss and chose to bat on a beautiful Adelaide wicket. But the hosts rocked the visitors early with quick wickets. While the openers failed to survive, the skipper and his deputy fell attempting loose shots. Rohit Sharma played some delightful strokes which seemed to have eased the nerves. But he couldn’t resist the temptation of playing big shots as he threw his wicket away to Nathon Lyon. Rishabh Pant too followed suit playing in the same fashion. While all this was happening, Cheteshwar Pujara was holding the fort at the other end. Typical Test batsman that he is, Pujara toiled hard, kept the pacers at bay and countered Lyon’s off-breaks with nimble foot-work to build a stupendous innings. He put on useful partnerships with the lower order particularly with Ashwin who contributed with invaluable 25 runs. Pujara soon brought up his 16th Test Century – The one that he would be immensely proud of. He took India from 41-4 to 250 before he was run out courtesy of some brilliance from Pat Cummins in the field. India eventually were bowled out for 250 – a total, not quite daunting but certainly respectable after finding themselves in deep waters.
India needed their bowlers to step up, and how they did! Ishant Sharma started beautifully by castling Aaron Finch on naught. The offie Ashwin then spun the web around the hosts to pick 3 big wickets. He dismissed a solid looking debutant Harris along with Shaun Marsh and the in-form Khawaja to put India in front. Bumrah came back strongly to pick up 2 more wickets to end day 2 for Australia which was probably their slowest batting display in history. After a rain-delayed start on day 3, Bumrah and Shami cleaned up the Australian batting on 235 which was 15 short of India’s 1st innings total. Despite their batting woes, Australia discovered a warrior in the form of Travis Head who countered the disciplined Indian bowling to score a fighting 72. Nathan Lyon too scored a quick fire 28 at the end to get closer to India’s total.
With a slender lead of 15, India needed to bat with much discipline in the 2nd innings. The openers started cautiously as they saw off the new ball. However, after putting up 63 runs for the 1st wicket, Murali Vijay’s resistance ended as he edged one behind off Mitchell Starc. After a steady start, KL Rahul played some adventurous shots to get some quick runs. However, carrying on his merry way, he too edged one behind off Hazelwood to waste a good start to his innings. Skipper Kohli joined Pujara in the middle and what we witnessed was something unusual. While Pujara grinds through his innings, we expect Virat, the run-machine that he is, to dominate and score quickly at the other end. But The Indian Captain battled the situation and the quality Australian bowling with great perseverance. He toiled hard with Pujara, worked the ball around for 1’s and 2’s, hit the odd ball for a boundary and put on 71 runs for the 3rd wicket with Pujara. He was eventually dismissed on 34, but The Indian captain displayed great skill and resistance to counter the disciplined Aussie bowling. Ajinkya Rahane joined Pujara in the middle and both took the Indian innings forward. Pujara was rock solid again as he accumulated runs steadily to bring up a fifty. Rahane, who has blown hot and cold, looked positive from the outset and brought up his fifty as well. They put on 87 runs for the 4th wicket before Lyon ended Pujara’s vigil on 71. After Rohit Sharma’s quick departure, Rishabh pant made a quick-fire 28, smashing 18 off Lyon’s over. Soon, Pant too fell to Lyon as Rahane was left with the tail for company. In trying to up the ante, Ashwin and Rahane were dismissed quickly as India eventually finished at 307, setting Australia a tricky target of 323.
After a lower order batting collapse by India, Australia would have fancied their chances. But some wonderful bowling from the Indians kept the Aussie batsmen in check throughout. While Ashwin got rid of Finch and Khawaja, Shami picked up the debutant Harris and Peter Handscomb to leave Australia reeling at 104-4 at Stumps on day 4. Australia lost Travis Head early on day 5. But Shaun Marsh provided stern resistance with a fine innings of 60. As soon as he was dismissed, India were smelling blood. But these Aussies remind you every time why they are such a tough opposition. When Marsh left, they needed 167 more to win. But the captain Tim Paine led the charge. He played with great intent and positivity before getting bounced out by Bumrah on 41. But The Kangaroos didn’t capitulate. The lower order – Cummins, Starc, and Lyon put on steady, little partnerships as they made the visitors wait. The 8th, 9th and 10th wicket stands were 41, 31 and 32 respectively which was a display of the typically gritty Australian attitude. The Indian bowlers though kept chipping away with the wickets and then the moment arrived. After bowling 52 overs, Ashwin finally managed to produce the edge of Josh Hazelwood’s bat to the slips as India erupted in joy! The visitors emerged victorious in a riveting contest that had everybody on the edge of their seats.
Looking back, while Australia have their problems with their batting, India too have some things to sort out. The openers did well to survive in the 2nd innings but need to show a bit more patience. While Vijay looked a little tentative, Rahul’s approach of attacking his way out of trouble has been baffling. The tourists must look back at Rohit’s selection and should have a word with a young Pant over his approach with the bat. The skipper didn’t quite make an impact as he does so often, but I’m sure the big one isn’t too far away.
There were plenty of positives for India. While Pujara was sensational with the bat, the bowlers were magnificent with the ball. All the bowlers were relentless as they kept the pressure on the batsmen by bowling a disciplined line and length. To be fair, there wasn’t much in the pitch. Yet, it was a game dictated by the bowlers. Both sides had a great attack, especially the seamers who were expected to dominate. But just how good were Lyon and Ashwin! They were supposed to be the stock bowlers, but they were the ones who got the big wickets at crucial moments for their teams. Apart from the variety he has, Ashwin was to be able to get the drift in the air along with the turn and bounce off the wicket. Lyon isn’t quite as mysterious as Ashwin, but he has been outstanding for the hosts in recent past. His ability to get the purchase off such wickets by putting more rev’s on the ball, pitching it in the ‘rough’ to be able to extract the turn and bounce is remarkable. It was a commendable effort by the spinners.
But the contest I enjoyed the most was between Lyon and Pujara. Both were relentless; one bowling consistent line and length, constantly asking questions and the other; negating him by using his feet, denying him the wicket. It was refreshing to see a battle between two hard-working, resilient men which highlighted what Test Cricket is all about! It told us about patience, perseverance, the importance of hanging in there. It was a fascinating game of Cricket, a great start to the series indeed. Hope to see another intriguing battle between these two top teams as we move to Perth.