“While Virat Kohli took a dig at Tim Paine, calling him stand-in captain while tooting his own horn, the Aussie keeper and widely admired skipper now, made some decisive moves that changed the course of the Test match”
India had never gone into the second Test match in a series in Australia with a 1-0 lead behind them and when they did so this time around on the back of an eye-catching show at Adelaide, there was immense belief that they could overcome the grass cover at Perth, the aura of the new stadium and an Australian line-up hurt by a close loss in the first Test.
“I was pretty happy to see the pitch the way it is,” Kohli had said ahead of the Test after a glimpse at the pitch. “I hope that no more grass is taken off the pitch because that will mean the first three days will be obviously very lively and we as a team are happy with that. The pitch is going to offer significantly more to the bowler than Adelaide did and that’s something we’re very excited about, to be honest. I’m just lucky they [India’s fast bowlers] are at their peak when I’m captain.”
Yet, by session one, Australia’s dogged openers had taken the sting out of India’s attack with some brilliant cricket. A century partnership from Aaron Finch and Marcus Harris hoisted the hosts onto a perch that Australia never really came down from. That and several other factors led to India’s demise at Perth but a few primary ones are listed down here.
Walking wickets at the top of the order
The form of KL Rahul and Murali Vijay had been dissected at depth even before the series began. While batting coach Sanjay Bangar fumed at Rahul’s tendency to “find ways to be dismissed”, Vijay’s fiery hundred in the warm-up hid flaws that had crept into his technique. The duo averages 18.8 away from home as a pair which is the third worst in the history of Test cricket and at Perth, it showed when they left gaping holes in their defensive bat shots. Both Vijay and Rahul were cleaned up in both innings’ and exposed the Indian middle-order too early to the Aussie quicks.
Walking wickets at the bottom of the order
If there were walking wickets at the top of the order, the excitement surrounding the green pitch led Kohli to dish out his best four delicacies from the fast bowling cupboard – but they had little toppings in the batting department. Four proper no.11 batsmen adorned India’s batting order from 8-11 which left India’s innings nearly done after the fall of the sixth wicket. The last four wickets accounted for 32 and 21 runs respectively in the two Indian innings’ and in the end, it left Australia with little to do once the top had been polished off the batting line-up.
Absence of a holding bowler
While in hindsight it is easy to criticise India’s move to play four seamers, it was a formula that bore success at Johannesburg earlier this year and after a glimpse at the Perth pitch, we shouldn’t have complained. But the choice of fourth seamer perhaps left a lot of us puzzled. Umesh Yadav is a good attacking seamer but India already had three of them and in the absence of Ashwin what they really needed was a holding bowler who could contain the run rate and build pressure while wickets came from the other end. With Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the squad, India needn’t have looked elsewhere but a fetish for pace from this management saw Umesh getting a go ahead. As Australia’s openers put on a century stand in the first innings and Usman Khawaja and Tim Paine ground them in the second, India missed a bowler who could hold one end up. Poor Hanuma Vihari did his best to contain the rate and even though he snapped two wickets up, couldn’t give the pacer at the other end enough freedom to go all out in attack.
Some old-fashioned Australian grind
While Virat Kohli put on a masterclass at Perth, few appreciated the old-fashioned grind that two Aussie pairs put on. Finch – Harris and Khawaja – Paine, across both innings, batted India out of the Test. Khawaja was criticised by all and sundry for his defensive approach and Tim Paine was endlessly sledges by Virat Kohli, even intimidated. But the unperturbed Australian duo frustrated the Indians in a partnership that lasted more than 38 overs. Khawaja’s 72 took 213 balls while Paine’s own effort took 116 balls for 37. But in the end, it not only left India irritated, but also chasing a score way higher than what they would have liked; this after a sensational spell from Mohammad Shami late on day four.
A couple of brilliant moves from “stand-in skipper” Tim Paine
While Virat Kohli took a dig at Tim Paine, calling him stand-in captain while tooting his own horn, the Aussie keeper and widely admired skipper now, made some decisive moves that changed the course of the Test match. With Ajinkya Rahane’s partnership with Virat Kohli giving the visitors a compelling grip on the game late on day 2, Paine pulled his first trick out of the hat, using Nathan Lyon in one over against Rahane (well aware of his weakness against off-spin) at the onset of day 3. Lyon sent back Rahane in the one over and Paine immediately reverted to his seamers against the new batsman Hanuma Vihari. Pat Cummins was also persistently used against Virat Kohli given that the skipper was playing out a lot of dots against the seamer. As many as 43 of the 67 balls Cummins bowled at Kohli were dots, and despite a hundred, the Indian captain couldn’t take the visitors to the lead in the first innings as Cummins had him edging to the cordon.