“If Australia play well, India will win 3-0. That is if Australia play well. Otherwise, 4-0”, Harbhajan was quoted as saying by the New Daily just six days before the start of the first Test between Australia and India at Pune. Meanwhile, ten days before the start of the battle at Pune, 113-Test veteran Sourav Gangulay said, “Yes, it will be very difficult (for Australia). As I said, I don’t predict in cricket, but I won’t be surprised if India wins 4-0”.
Sourav Ganguly and Harbhajan Singh didn’t sound arrogant, but in my opinion, their statements were more realistic if one consider’s Australia’s dismal record in India for the last thirteen years. It was in the third Test at Nagpur in 2004, when the Kangaroos beat India for the last time and since then, Australia’s Indian journey had been vexatious. Neither Ricky Ponting nor Michael Clarke’s men could halt an absolute humiliation on Indian soil.
The state of Steve Smith’s team was not good before setting foot on Indian soil. Rangana Herath’s teasing spin broke the backbone of Australia’s batting and during the Australian summer, Faf du Plessis’ South Africa hammered Steve’s men at their own backyard and bruised the ego immensely which created a shock wave in the Australian cricket camaraderie. Smith was down and dusted while the former cricketers and think tank, advised for a change – a much more resolute attitude was in demand instead of hyper-aggression.
Young bloods were injected in the third Test at Sydney against South Africa and few other new faces were seen who played the game with an Australian spirit, but knew very well how to maintain calm and composure. Australia could rediscover their lost form after winning the Test at Sydney and after escaping some close calls in the series against Pakistan, the confidence of Smith’s new Australia gradually grew.
But their ability to perform on Indian soil and against the likes of Ravichdran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja who’re in the form of their lives, still remained a matter of doubt. Not only on Indian soil, but in Asia, over the years, Australia’s performance had not been impressive and spinners like Yasir Shah and Rangana Herath could easily cast a spell over the Australian batters.
The faith in the abilities of Steve Smith’s men was not enough, except Steve Waugh, who said before the start of the first Test, “It will be foolish to write off Australia. I have known this Australian team and they can spring a few surprises. They have some match-winners in the team and I think Sourav is a bit optimistic … anything can happen.” He then added, “Australia won’t be going to India thinking that they will lose four nil”.
Anything can happen in this glorious game of uncertainty and something staggering happened at Pune where, to the astonishment of many, Australia broke the Indian hoodoo after thirteen years and took a 1-0 lead in the Border-Gavaskar trophy.
What might the reasons behind Australia’s amazing victory against the number 1 Test team in the world?
Australia kept the basics right while batting
Firstly, Australia were more resolute and technically superior than India while batting.
“We should have shown more restraint,” Anil Kumble said on day 2 at a press conference. Australia certainly showed it better than the hosts.
On tricky tracks, it’s very important for one of the top order batsmen to display enough resolve and arrest a collapse. In case of Australia, Matt Renshaw in the first while Steve Smith in the second innings, displayed the sort of resolve which is ideal for Test cricket.
Then, on a rank-turner, where using the feet and playing the ball late with a straight bat was the order of the day, the Australian top order kept these two basics right throughout the Test match and thus paid rich dividends.
Superb athleticism of the Australian fielders
Secondly, Australia’s fantastic athleticism on the field throughout the Test match play a vital role behind achieving such a wonderful victory. Especially on the second day, their close fielders were grabbing catches like Eknath Solkar. Peter Handscomb, in particular, was at his very best and was responsible for two brilliant reflex catches during India’s first innings. The close in fielders and slip cordon were like vultures and were always ready to convert half chances into full ones.
Whereas the Indian fielding had been very sloppy. Steve Smith was dropped three times on his way to a half-century and he made India pay for their mistakes by scoring a brilliant hundred.
Cut short of Virat Kohli’s stay at the crease
Thirdly, Australia bowled according to a plan against Virat Kohli to cut short his stay at the crease. Australia knew very well, if Virat stayed longer at the crease, the going would be tough for them.
Steve O’Keefe’s heroics is the talk of the town, but it seems, people have forgotten one man’s majestic display with the cherry in the first session of day 2. Mitchell Starc had played a big role with the bat on day 1 and when the time came to show his skills with the ball, he was simply stupendous.
There was very little for the pacers at Pune, but Starc, along with Josh Hazlewood, made the ball talk to make life difficult for Indian batters. Starc dragged his length shorter and angled the ball away from the batters which led to the dismissal of two of India’s most prolific run-getters in recent times – Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli.
Especially, the wicket of Virat Kohli was a huge morale-boosting. Mitchell Starc used Virat’s super confidence against him. On day 2, he pitched a ball full and wide of offstump at pace so that Virat had a go at it. Virat chased it and walked to the pavilion early.
Australia shortened his stay in the fourth innings as well, by creating doubts in his mind about the length. O’Keefe undid him with a delivery which didn’t turn and Kohli was bowled while shouldering arms – a rare mistake from a batsman who’s already rated among the greats of the game.
Smart use of DRS by the Australians
Lastly, Australia used the DRS very well.
While the home team kept on wasting the DRS, Australia had been very smart in using the same. On the first day, after 80 overs, Australia still had one review left while India used all of their reviews within forty overs. Again, when Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane came out to bat on day 3, they had no reviews left to use as KL Rahul and Murali Vijay used them within ten overs of the day.
On day 2, Australia only managed to use one review which turned out to be a successful one and on day 3, their smart use of DRS continued.
Smith and Co appealed for a leg before decision against Ravi Ashwin in the second session of day 3. The on-field umpire turned it down as he thought, Ashwin might have an inside edge, but Smith went for the review and it gifted O’Keefe his fifth wicket.
According to Sourav Ganguly, “In India, you have to play spin well and bowl spin well to win. It’s simple”. Surely, it’s simple and at the end of the day, Australia did the simple things very well and conquered Pune.