“With the imminent returns of Smith and Warner, and also Bancroft, Australia do not need to push the panic button just yet. But with a better show against India could have shown the world that the current team are no pushovers”
Australia were always expected to struggle in the absence of Steven Smith and David Warner. Also, with Cameron Bancroft’s ban, the Border-Gavaskar Series gave birth to a new opening partnership as well. However, it was a collective failure from both batsmen and bowlers that saw them reduced to a 1-2 series loss – their first against an Asian nation on their home soil. Despite poor performances in three out of the four Tests, Australia do have a silver lining. For one, they have established that they can put on a good fight against a strong unit like India and also win against such teams. Also, not to forget, they have found a solid attacking opening batsman in Marcus Harris, who ended the series as their leading run-getter with 258 runs at 36.85.
Ricky Ponting had predicted that Usman Khawaja would end up as the leading run-getter in the series. To put things into perspective, there was a gap of 323 between Khawaja and the highest run-getter of the series. Batting for three out of the four Tests at No. 3, Khawaja let Australia down throughout the series. He would bat for a decent number of minutes, get a start, but then fail to convert it into anything substantial. The same can be said about Shaun Marsh too. Both the batsmen scored just 381 runs between them and were the reasons why Australia never managed to get a big score in the series. One can excuse the inexperience of the openers, but in 15 innings between Marsh and Khawaja is going to produce just 381 runs, Australia will continue to struggle more often than not.
79 was Australia’s highest individual score in this series. Contrary to that, India, slammed as many as five centuries and 8 half-centuries in the series, while Australia managed just 8 fifties. India has as many as four 100-plus partnerships in the series, but Australia managed just one. It was clearly an unsettled batting unit. After a decent performance against Pakistan in the UAE, Australia were expected to be a force to be reckoned with at home. They let the match slip at Adelaide at crucial junctures and at Melbourne, they were outdone by a poor first innings performance after India put on nearly 450 on the board. The final four wickets proved to be flesh in Australia’s thorn throughout the series. While Australia scored 414 runs for the final 4 wickets at 19.71, India managed just 141 at 9.4, largely boosted by Ravindra’s Jadeja’s inclusion in the final two Tests.
For Australia, they have found an able all-rounder in Pat Cummins, who slammed 163 runs at 23.38, which included a career-best score of 63 to go with his 14 wickets in the series at 27.78. His spell at Melbourne during India’s second innings was one of the best in the series. Had Australia not conceded a huge first innings lead, they could have made a match of it. He may not score many runs or score at a quick pace, but he can bat for a long period of time, which becomes very frustrating for the bowlers. Not to forget, having someone like Nathan Lyon is surely a huge boost for them. On a Perth pitch, which many felt was going to favour the quicks, Lyon sprung a web around the Indian batsmen and won his side the match, picking up 8 wickets in the match – Australia’s first win under Tim Paine.
Mitchell Starc came under a lot of scrutinies, especially for the way he bowled in the first Test. In fact, many experts also believed that it was the most defensive Australian side they had seen in a long time. It is well known that Starc is playing with an injury in his leg, which requires surgery. If he does undergo the surgery, he may miss at least a couple of months of action. Despite that, Starc bowled with tremendous pace throughout the series and troubled the batsmen on many occasions. The bowlers fared reasonably well, until the final Test at Sydney, when they leaked 622 runs. With the series on the line, the bowlers allowed the Indian batsmen to dictate terms and once they got those many runs on the board the series was as good as lost.
India have a settled batting unit, more or less, and Australia have a settled bowling unit. Yet, the batsmen got the better of them in the series, which are worrying signs. If we can give Australia the benefit of the doubt for the way their batsmen played, there is no excuse for the way the bowlers buckled under pressure and did not step up when needed.
After the three-match ODI series against India, Australia will turn their attention to Sri Lanka against whom they play a couple of Tests. Australia have already rested some of the key players for 50-over series. Sri Lanka at the moment too are not in the best of form. With injury to their star player Angelo Mathews, there are more of a weaker unit. They performed well in parts against New Zealand recently, but overall, they are still a struggling and rebuilding side, pretty much on the same lines as Australia. For Tim Paine and Australia, it is a great chance to win a series, by addressing areas of improvement and working on them. The series loss to India should be a huge wake-up call for Australia. The only way to get over that is by playing good cricket and winning series. The Test series against Sri Lanka could very well be the first step towards redeeming themselves.
With the imminent returns of Smith and Warner, and also Bancroft, Australia do not need to push the panic button just yet. But with a better show against India could have shown the world that the current team are no pushovers. The absence of some of their best players no longer an issue, that is not in their hands at the moment. However, performing to their best with the resources they have is something within their control. Australia need to realise that quickly.