Cricket

Published on March 30th, 2017 | by Suraj Choudhari

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Well played, Australia!

India romped home to another series victory and simultaneously ended the home season on a high. Prior to the start of the four-match Test series, one could easily predict India whitewashing Australia convincingly. But it wasn’t to be, the visitors punched above their weight and made India toil for fruitful results. In fact, the fate of the series was hanging by a thin thread and could have swung in any direction till the Dharamsala Test. Australia’s second innings crippling collapse cost them the game and with it the series. They were so close yet so far. Though they might be happy with the fact that they finally managed to win a Test match in India and shrug off their losing record since 2003 but the fact that they haven’t won a series for 13 years in India now will continue to haunt.

Steven Smith-led Australia played with unmatched confidence and were not expected to do so well in taxing Indian conditions. Australia do have some positives to take from this series. This is the kind of a series, where boys transform into men and show character. India are undoubtedly on a roll, having won 10 Tests this home season is no joke. And there is even a possibility that it might never happen again. There are plenty of positives along with loopholes for Australia to take from the series.

Matt Renshaw showed nerves of steel, while Pat Cummins took charge and delivered in the absence of Mitchell Starc. Smith, on the other hand, was just phenomenal while Glenn Maxwell did the unexpected and got crucial runs in Ranchi and a good start in Dharamsala. There were few sparks of brilliance from Peter Handscomb and Shaun Marsh, and saved the day at Ranchi. Their bowlers bowled well in patches, for instance, Nathan Lyon did well in couple of games while Steven O’Keefe wreaked havoc in the first game. Josh Hazlewood delivered at Bangalore with few more occasional strikes. Renshaw, a 20-year old kid, with hardly any experience of the subcontinent conditions, showed immense temperament and defied all the odds for his survival at Pune. In fact, he was the second only Australian batsman to have garnered 200 runs in the series after Smith. Although he failed in his last three innings, accumulating just 24 runs from it, yet he is an emerging cricketer and will be the man to watch out for in the future.

Josh Hazlewood delivered at Bangalore with few more occasional strikes. Renshaw, a 20-year old kid, with hardly any experience of the subcontinent conditions, showed immense temperament and defied all the odds for his survival at Pune. In fact, he was the second only Australian batsman to have garnered 200 runs in the series after Smith. Although he failed in his last three innings, accumulating just 24 runs from it, yet he is an emerging cricketer and will be the man to watch out for in the future.

When Australia named their squad for the tour, many believed that this was the worst Australian side to tour India. Social media handles were flooded with puns and jokes but very few believed in this side. But a storm was about to come in the first Test, a pitch, which was tailor-made for Indian spinners and assist them from the word go. But things turned out to be different.

Yes, a spinner spun a series of web and decimated a batting line-up, yes, there was a horrible collapse. A team just managed 105 and 107 in their two innings respectively, as expected on that doctored surface. But, to everyone’s surprise, the spinner was not R Ashwin and it wasn’t the Australian batting order, which collapsed. Steven O’Keefe ran through the Indian batting in both the innings to hand Australia a record-breaking 333-runs win and more importantly a crucial 1-0 lead. Australia silent their harshest critics with an emphatic win turned the tide in their favour.

It was a big day for an underdog side, but now, the pressure was also on them as people now had expectations. The action shifted to Bangalore, and once again Indian batting stuttered but this time O’Keefe hardly had any role to play. It was Nathan Lyon, who spun Indian batsmen in a series of web and accounted for 8 wickets. Australian batting did a reasonable job in getting 87 run-lead in the first innings and look favourite to win the game, when India were reduced to 120 for 4 in the second innings.

But a match-wining partnership between Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane pulled things back for India and gave their bowlers a battling chance on a turning track, where Australia had to bat in the fourth innings. Australia were just chasing 188; had this been an Australian venue, the target would not have looked as challenging as it looked on the turning pitch of Bangalore. But surprisingly, it was Indian seamers, who inflicted most of the damage. India return from the dead and squared the series, which could have gone Australia’s way.

After all the fuss, MS Dhoni’s home ground, Ranchi, was all set to witness the high-voltage between the two heavy-weights. Australia were left bewildered when Mitchell Starc was ruled out, they roped in Pat Cummins, who played his only Test almost six years back. Smith stepped up to the occasion and smashed his second century of the series as Australia posted a massive total and was equally supported by Glenn Maxwell, whose inclusion was believed to be a gamble that paid off. But India came out all guns blazing and overhauled Australia’s total by a massive margin. Australia batted again and were in trouble at the end of Day 4. Many trusted India to walk home with another victory on the final day, but it wasn’t to be. Handscomb and Marsh’s blockathon, where they endured 397 deliveries between them saved the day for Australia.

With a game to go and the series being equally poised between the two, Dharamsala out of nowhere became a series decider. With the nature pitches changing with every game, Dharamsala was the best wicket to play on. It had pace, bounce and enough help for the wrist-spinners. Australia after an impressive run in the first innings, with both bat and ball, lost the momentum in the second innings, which turned out to be the turning point of the game. They kept losing wickets at regular intervals right from the outset and set an easy target of 106 for India to chase. India chased it down with ease and added another feather to their cap.

Australia after an impressive run in the first innings, with both bat and ball, lost the momentum in the second innings, which turned out to be the turning point of the game. They kept losing wickets at regular intervals right from the outset and set an easy target of 106 for India to chase. India chased it down with ease and added another feather to their cap.

Smith was the centre of attraction in the entire series. It was that kind of a series, where he couldn’t step a foot wrong. From cupping blinders on the field to plundering centuries at the crease, Smith was doing everything dead right and was leading the side with example. He had 499 runs with three tons from the series, which also made him the first Australian to score three centuries in a series in India. He gave a testament of his self-belief and strong and vigorous individuality in Ranchi, where he scored a ton after all the ruckus over his ‘brain-fade’ movement in Bangalore. Seldom believed that Kohli will outshine Smith in this series, but the Australian skipper have put all thoughts to rest with his unorthodox yet effective style of play.

One of the major upsets was David Warner’s form. The manic opener scores tons at will in Australia, let alone runs. His run at the top gives the middle-order some breathing space and a platform to capitalise on, something which went for a toss this series. While Smith flourished under pressure, Warner perished at crucial junctures. With Warner things are rather simple; there is either jubilation or extreme frustration. And, this series corroborated the said belief. Australia have certainly found players like Renshaw and Handscomb, who could turn out to main-stay in the distant future, whereas Marsh, O’Keefe need to find consistency.

Winning a Test series on foreign soil is recognised as a backbreaking job, especially in India. Australia came close, very close, in fact, they let the game drift away from their grasp at Bangalore and Dharamsala. Whatever may be the result, Australia played the series with a big heart and exceeded expectations. They won a Test in India, a feat which South Africa, New Zealand and England failed to do in the recent season.

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About the Author

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Suraj Choudhari is a freelance sports journalist. He is an avid follower of the game and played the sport at club level. With a radical understanding about the subtle nuances and intricacies of cricket, he tries to express it through paper and pen.



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