In 1987, the young Australian team of Allan Border and Bob Simpson astonished everyone by lifting the Reliance World Cup in front of a jam-packed crowd at the Eden Gardens. The Australians landed on the subcontinent as the no-hopers, but as the tournament progressed they were seen upsetting the hot-favorites India and Pakistan and then arch-rivals England in the final. The City of Joy embraced them as one of their own, but despite being the World Champions, that Australian unit was still a project under development.
In the following season, they were beaten by Pakistan away and West Indies at home and losing at Brisbane, and Melbourne was still thought to be normal back then. Then, things started to change. The 90s and 2000s witnessed Brisbane becoming a fortress while it was hard for anyone to beat Australia in a Boxing Day Test. The baton of aura of invincibility was passed to Australia from West Indies in 1995 at Jamaica.
Even that greatness of Australia started to exhibit fragility and ultimately they became just a competitive unit – still Brisbane and Melbourne were their happy hunting ground. After the end of one of the most memorable Test series in recent times, Australia had been reduced to mortals in those two venues.
The last time Australia stumbled through an entire home Test match without a single batsman passing 50, against the mighty West Indies at the MCG in 1988 and the last time they lost at Brisbane was in 1988 against the same team.
The West Indies of the 80s could beat anyone and okay, it was acceptable, but if you lose against an injury-prone side who are relying on their bench strength – then questions do arise about the temperament of the team, who are widely known for their mental strength, ruthlessness, and professionalism.
Had the Indian batsmen not nicked at everything on that eventful session at Adelaide, where the Australian pacers were breathing fire – the scenario could have been different. Meanwhile, after the heat at Adelaide, the Australian bowling unit forgot to display the aggression and Spartan line and length throughout the series – it was there of course, but in patches more often – among the four frontline bowlers, if one bowler was seen bowling better the rest led the pressure ease.
Most importantly, the Australian batting unit frustrated throughout the series. They were below-par and none of them had the patience or the intent to fight like their counterparts. The batting unit was playing without confidence or system, allowing the visitors to dictate terms.
Steve Smith was out of form – which was a surprise, Marnus Labuschagne gave away starts, and David Warner was seen eager to get out rather than playing sensibly while the rest of the batters were found wanting against an inexperienced attack. The execution of shots never matched the standards of Australian cricket and the shoulders started to drop as soon as the opponent piled up the pressure – even when Border and Simpson were shaping up that Australian unit after Reliance Cup, they exhibited fight rather than giving up too easily.
Perhaps, Border’s proactive captaincy played a huge role in galvanizing the mentality of the side, but this time around, Tim Paine, neither matched the class nor the character of the Australian captains of the past. He was like a boy in a toy store running everywhere to choose his toys and shouting for nothing – the art of mental intimidation seemed to have lost the razor-sharp edge at the hands of Paine – they motivated the Indians rather than making them shaky.
It was Paine who looked extremely shaky and short of idea and mental strength.
Then, why the Australian bowlers targeted the body rather than attacking stumps – especially the top of off – remains a moot question! That was poor tactics from Australia and even this was not applied by Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie – they attacked the stumps consistently and choked the life out of the visiting batsmen.
Well, how would one describe the track at Gabba?
It was ideal for scoring runs rather than testing the batsmen whereas, the Gabba has always been famous for its bounce and pace. For the visitors, it posed a stern test – instead, the track for the fourth Test was like those used in the Indian Premier League. As Greg Chappell in his latest column on Sydney Morning Herald wrote, “However when the team saw the colour of the Gabba pitch, alarm bells should have been ringing. This was never going to be the ‘Gabbatoir’. It was more like a T20 pitch on day one, not the Gabba of old. How did they not see that?”
“I think there’ll be huge fallout from this (defeat). There are not too many times that you lose to the second or third (choice) side,” Shane Warne was quoted as saying by Fox Cricket.
“Their (Australia) tactics will come into question, and they have to. Bowlers will come into question; people’s spot in the team will come into question. It has to. You can’t just deflect it and flick it off and say India were too good for us,” he added.
“That’s not taking anything away from those Indian guys that played but their first selection side, there are probably only two or three players in that side who would play,” Warne further said.
“Yes they were, but Australia had so many chances in this series to bury it and crush India, but they couldn’t do it. They just couldn’t do it,” he said.
“I think at times their tactics haven’t been good enough, and I suppose that’s got to come down to Tim Paine as captain,” he said.
“It’s not just Tim Paine’s fault, the bowlers are allowed to say ‘Tim I want to do this’, and so it’s a combination between the bowlers and the captain. But at the end of the day, you are captain, you have to take responsibility. He’ll be disappointed,” Warne signed off.
Ricky Ponting expressed ‘shock’ over the result.
“I’m quite shocked that Australia weren’t quite good enough to win this series. The cold hard facts of it are pretty much that was the India A team that played this Test match and still won,” Ponting told cricket.com.au.
“Considering everything the Indian team has been through in the last five or six weeks, with the captain leaving, all the injuries they’ve had – they’ve been through 20 players – (Australia) have been at full-strength, bar Davey (Warner) missing early on, so it’s really hard to comprehend.”
The statements of the two legendary Australian players sum up the state of Australia throughout the series.
India deserve all the credits for such a great feat, but Australia cannot deny the way they wasted the key moments, which is never the Australian way!