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Australia Vs. India – Series Review

Updated: Apr 10, 2019

The Indian team created history by winning their first series Down Under. An analysis of this historical series and what the future holds.

The victorious Indian Team with The Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Courtesy: ABC

The curtain finally came down on a blockbuster overseas year for India with the world’s number 1 Test ranked side finally justifying their ranking with a dominant performance against hosts Australia, sealing the series 2-1 at the Sydney Cricket Ground. (Although rain most definitely saved the hosts from going down 3-1)

The tourists were head and shoulders above their opponents and their much-vaunted batting unit finally shone – having failed miserably on the tours to South Africa and England – in the southern most continents. No longer were they solely dependent on their talismanic skipper Virat Kohli for their runs as senior pros Cheteswar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane, along with a couple of fearless youngsters in new opener Mayank Agarwal and wicket-keeper Rishabh Pant finally put their hand up.

The bowlers who had been the shining beacon for India all through the year continued their stellar performance as they hounded the home side’s batsmen throughout the series. They bowled their hearts out and secured India a series win with outstanding bowling on 2 flat tracks. They continued their tireless effort in The New Year Test as well, strangling the home team and forcing them to follow-on at home for the first time in 31 years. They were helped by their batsmen rattling up 622 runs in the only innings they batted, courtesy of a 3rd century from their one-drop batsman Pujara and a swashbuckling hundred from their ultra-talented wicket-keeper Rishabh Pant. (Jadeja and Agarwal also made handy contributions). Leg-spinner Kuldeep Yadav- who finally got picked- then bamboozled the Australian batsmen-as he did in Dharamsala last year – to claim a five- wicket haul and India had no hesitation in enforcing the follow on. The Australians then pleaded to the rain gods to intervene, which they duly did to save the home team the ignominy of another loss and a scoreline of 3-1.

Here’s a look back at what was a fascinating series and an attempt to dissect the pluses and minuses for both sides.

The Big Moments

India had clearly lost the big moments in their preceding two tours to South Africa and England and coach Ravi Shastri kept emphasizing that in order to win a series overseas, India would have to win the big moments. And there was no bigger moment than when India was 3 down for just 18 runs on the opening day of the series. It was then that Cheteswar Pujara stood up and together with the lower order rallied to help India to a respectable total. Had India lost that key moment, the momentum would have been with Australia and the series result could have been entirely different. From then on India went on to win most of the key moments, scoring vital runs or creating crucial breakthroughs when the game was in the balance. The only time when they surrendered a key moment was in Perth when Kohli and Rahane had Australia at their mercy, but relinquished the opportunity by giving away their wickets and letting Australia take control of the contest.

India’s batting juggernaut shines while Australia’s crumbles

For the first time in 3 overseas tours in the year, India’s famed batting line-up came to the fore. The team managed to post 300 plus totals in every Test they batted barring on the green top provided at Perth. Pujara, Kohli and Rahane all came up with crucial knocks in the series and were aided by notable contributions from Agarwal, Pant and Jadeja. In contrast, Australia’s inexperienced line-up capitulated time and again with only young opener Marcus Harris giving a good account of himself. The experienced hands in Khawaja and Shaun Marsh – who were expected to shoulder the responsibility of big runs in the absence of Warner and Smith – flattered to deceive time and again. Khawaja did contribute a match turning 72 in the Perth Test that resulted in an Aussie win but Marsh failed time and again despite some good starts. Travis Head made one decent contribution and Tim Paine fought hard but no one managed the big knocks that were required to win Test matches and a series. The Indians amassed 2151 runs for the loss of 62 wickets in the series while the Aussies managed only 1813 runs by comparison for the loss of 70 wickets, conceding substantial ground by the way of 300+ runs and 8 more wickets. The gulf between the two opponents’ batting might can be summarized by just one simple statistic: No. Of centuries made by batsmen in the series: India- 5, Australia- 0

The despondent Australian Team. Source: The Australian

Australia’s famed bowling line-up is trumped by India’s potent new formation

The pace trio of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins along with the best off-spinner in the world Nathan Lyon were supposed to prove too hot for the tourists’ batsmen to handle. But what transpired was beyond anybody’s imagination. One of the best bowling attacks in the world proved to be cannon fodder for the Indian batsmen by the third Test at The MCG and an unheralded Indian bowling unit, who destroyed the home team’s batting line-up time and again, upstaged them. A lacklustre Mitchell Starc and an off-colour Josh Hazlewood proved no match for the fast bowling triumvirate of Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami and whichever spinner they played, (Ashwin, Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav) over the course of the series. (Umesh Yadav formed a pace quartet in the Perth Test) The Indians captured all ten Australian wickets (70 wickets) in every completed innings while the Aussie bowlers managed to dismiss all the Indian batsmen only 4 times out of the 7 innings they batted. India’s pace bowling unit also managed to take the maximum amount of wickets of any pace bowling unit in a calendar year. (172 wickets at an average of 23.72 in 2018)

The Indian pace attack of Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Shami were in fine form throughout the series and in the entire year as well. Credit: CricketCountry.com

Opening conundrum

When India lost their talented new opener Prithvi Shaw to injury- even before the first ball of the series had been bowled- they were forced to return to their third choice in M.Vijay. (Once India’s first choice opener) He continued his poor form from England and looked uninterested and lazy whenever he batted. Adding to the team’s troubles was the indifferent form of K.L Rahul, who tried to hit his way out of trouble and failed more often than not. With both openers not coming off and with Shaw out of action, India were desperately seeking answers to their opening conundrum.

Australia had their fair share of problems at the top. Aaron Finch who had recently only been selected as an Australia Test opener looked way out of his depth and perished cheaply every time he tried to play strokes too early. With the absence of Warner to suspension and Renshaw to form, the hosts turned to rookie Marcus Harris who answered the call with some gritty knocks in the series. However Australia’s woes at the top continued as they resorted to using Khawaja to partner Harris in the final Test.

Cheteswar Pujara was the mainstay of the Indian batting line-up. Image: The Tribune

Arise Sir Pujara

If Kohli is the king of Indian cricket, then Pujara undoubtedly proved over the year that he is their knight in shining armour. Such was his contribution to India’s win Down Under that even a batsman of Kohli’s caliber was left in his shadow. His series tally of 521 runs with 3 centuries put him head and shoulders above the rest of the batsmen in the series. In doing so, he finally corrected his overseas record and cemented his place as India’s permanent one-drop batsman for all conditions. If not for his day one century at Adelaide, the series result could have been much different than what it eventually turned out to be. He then scored a crucial 70 odd in the second innings of the same Test, which India won, by the narrow margin of 31 runs. He followed that up with gritty hundreds at both Melbourne and Sydney, which resulted in India winning their first series ever on Australian soil. He was clearly the difference between the two sides.

Pat Cummins The All-rounder

While India definitely missed their flamboyant all-rounder Hardik Pandya, Australia seemed to find one in their pace bowling star Pat Cummins. Apart from making crucial breakthroughs throughout the series – and snaring the big wicket of Kohli consistently- he batted for more than 400 minutes in the series and scored a wonderful 60 at The MCG to follow up his 6 wicket haul in India’s second innings of that match. He consistently contributed with the bat and helped Australia’s lower order add some valuable runs to the total. With genuine talent with the bat, Australia could do well to groom him as a genuine all-rounder for the future. For that to happen, Cricket Australia must take great care of this precious asset and manage his workload judiciously, as he is known to be prone to injury. If they do, he could serve the baggy greens well as a true all-rounder for years to come.

Bumrah The Destroyer

In just his first year of Test cricket, Jasprit Bumrah emerged as the indisputable leader of the Indian attack. With a unique action and a short-run up, he was able to extract tremendous pace and zip from all the pitches he played on around the world. His control and ability to bowl the right lengths saw him rattle up 48 wickets in just 9 test matches in 2018. His 9 wickets on a flat MCG pitch saw him win the match for India and be rightly adjudged the player of the match. His talent, ability to learn quickly, ambition and fitness make him the paceman to watch in 2019 and beyond.

Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon were the shining lights for Australia. Image credit: India Today

Australia’s tireless soldier

The pace trio of the home team were supposed to cause mayhem for the Indian batsmen but it was the wily off-spinner Nathan Lyon who created the most trouble for the visiting batsmen. His tireless efforts and skill kept Australia in the game at Adelaide where he snared 6 second- innings wickets and won Australia the match at Perth, with 8 wickets in near perfect pace bowling conditions. Such was the threat he presented that even Virat Kohli during the course of his masterful century at Perth, failed to dominate Lyon. He also made it a habit of snaring the big wickets and crucial ones every time his team needed it. But for his efforts Australia may have been out of the contest much sooner than it actually transpired.

The Young Guns

If India had discovered a diamond in Prithvi Shaw during the series against The West Indies last year, then they unearthed a rare gem in Mayank Agarwal during the series Down Under. Agarwal announced himself on the international stage with a stroke-filled 76 in his first innings and followed that up with a watchful innings of 42, out of a total of 106 in India’s second dig at The MCG. He followed that up with a dazzling 78 at The SCG and gave the world more than a glimpse of his enormous talent. Before him India struggled to get a decent start from their incumbent openers Murali Vijay and K.L. Rahul. Agarwal made all the difference at the top of the order.

India’s young dynamic wicket-keeper batsman Rishabh Pant is fast becoming the biggest rival to South African Quinton de Kock as the best wicketkeeper-batsman in the game today. If question marks had arisen due to his shoddy work behind the stumps in England, they were emphatically answered with some outstanding work in Australia with a world record equaling performance of 11 catches in a Test. The more modest swinging conditions of Australia- compared to England- definitely helped but there was no doubt that considerable work had gone in between his debut series and the just concluded one. But his more telling contribution came with the bat. His handy contributions down the order helped India’s total swell on more than one occasion and he delivered the cous de grace with a brutal assault on the Australian bowlers to the tune of 159 unbeaten runs. If he continues in the same vein, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and other Indian wicket keepers of the past may soon become a distant memory.

Australia’s batting unit may have misfired all summer but in young opener Marcus Harris, they discovered a pugnacious player in the young former Western Australian. His temperament, when more experienced teammates were failing, was top drawer and with two fifty plus scores in the series, he definitely was one of the stars with the bat for Australia and one in which the team should heavily invest in.

The skippers Virat Kohli and Tim Paine exchange handshakes after a hard fought series. Image: ABC

The Tacticians

Ravi Shastri and Virat Kohli finally got their tactics right, having botched them up quite spectacularly in the two previous tours preceding this one. Right from team selections – placing their faith in tried and tested hands in Pujara and Rahane- to batting first every time they won the toss; the Indian think tank got most of their tactics spot on. Getting Vihari to open the batting was a masterstroke as it gave them the option of playing an all-rounder in Jadeja who took 3 crucial wickets in Australia’s second innings and scored a swashbuckling 82 at The Sydney Cricket Ground.

By contrast, Australia’s leadership team of Justin Langer and Tim Paine got most of their tactics completely wrong. Apart from playing the right combination at Perth, they failed on all other counts. Their insistence of playing Finch at the top- irrespective of a good knock in The UAE- despite his clear discomfort, more often left them feeling a batsman short. Dropping and picking Peter Handscomb- who clearly has technical flaws- showed cluttered minds and a team and its management in disarray. Matt Renshaw or Joe Burns definitely deserved a look in and their failure to look beyond the obvious was as much their undoing as was their lack in bench strength.

What the future holds for both teams?

With the eventual return of their prodigiously talented opener Prithvi Shaw and the tenacious Mayank Agarwal at the top of the order, India finally have an explosive and hopefully reliable opening pair. Add to the mix a sure to return, vastly improved K.L. Rahul and India will have a problem of plenty for the openers slots. With Pujara and Rahane cementing their places as India’s men for all-seasons and Kohli as the undisputed best batsman in the world, India have a top-5 which could be demoralizing for the opposition. Add to that the return of flamboyant all-rounder Hardik Pandya and the mercurial wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant and India’s batting order swells to an extent that could be severely damaging to their opponents. With their pace bowling unit firing on all cylinders and three quality spinners in Ashwin, Jadeja and Kuldeep to back them up, Team India certainly presents a formidable opposition to any team that goes up against them. They will definitely be one of the teams to watch going forward and with a fearless and ambitious captain in Kohli at the helm; they will most certainly break new ground and set new landmarks in Indian cricket.

The return of their batting superstars in David Warner and Steve Smith will see Australia return to a fighting unit sooner rather than later. Add Marcus Harris and Matt Renshaw to the list and Australia too will have a problem of plenty at the top of the order. The number 5 & 6 batting slots will have to be closely looked at but if they can sort that out, then the baggy greens will have a stable batting unit capable of gathering the runs that their bowlers so desperately need. The bowling picks itself but the addition of a couple of pace bowlers in Jhye Richardson and Chris Tremain could help their cause.

It’s been an enthralling series to say the least and the next contest between these amazing rivals, hopefully at full strength, could well and truly be epic!

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