By Rae Roberts
India has the best talents in all three formats of international cricket! Their performances against host Australia in a just ended series tell the story. They defeated the home team in their T/20 series, lost the ODI series by the same margin; and culminated their six-week tour with a historical and magnificent victory in the fourth and final test to win the four-match series two matches to one.
This was a confident and competent India team that were raring to go and the players delivered emphatically. Australia, considered a giant – a hard nut to crack playing in their own environment along with their arrogance, tormenting their opponents, still fell short. This was an India team which exemplified and illustrated character, discipline, and a positive attitude to stay the course. Their bowling was a consistent display of high quality that severely restricted the Aussie ability to produce big scores in the test matches.
Each match was a seesaw battle, producing spectacular excitement and intriguing drama. Australia made the perfect start coming from behind to winning the first test. The highlight being their world class fast bowlers who ripped apart the Indian batting in their second innings, bowling them out for their lowest score in history, 36. Few, if any, then gave these Indians much of a chance to recover after their humiliating defeat in that first test in Adelaide. However, it was a highly re-energized Indian team which turned up for the second test in Sydney and inflicted a comprehensive victory over Australia against all odds. Amazingly, they were without their best batsman and captain, Virat Kohli, who left the series after the first Test to be at the birth of his first child, and one of their premier fast bowlers, Mohammed Shami who was injured.
The third test ended in a draw and the fourth and final match was a must win for Australia to capture the Alan Border/Sunil Gavaskar Trophy, which is the symbol of supremacy between the two nations. A draw would be good enough for the Indians to retain the trophy. They won two years ago. India’s misery was a growing long list of injuries to key players; thus ruling them out of that vital game – they included first-choice spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja and fast bowler Jasprit Brumrah.
India’s bowling attack for the final match featured debutants T Natarajan and Washington Sundar, while Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Siraj and Navdeep Saini had only four previous caps for a total of just ten wickets among them, compared with the Australians who had more than a 1000 test wickets among them. Nevertheless, this inexperienced bowling unit proved a good march for Australia’s batters in this final test, making them work for every run. Australia had the upper hand taking a first innings lead against the Indians, and setting them a record run chase 328 at the Gabba, a venue where they have not lost a game since 1988.
India rose to the challenge with two young and brilliant batsmen sharing the spotlight – Shubman Gill and Rishabh Pant, making scores of 91 and 89 not out respectively to ensure a successful run. They batted beautifully, not afraid to take up the challenge on a fifth pitch that was helpful to the bowlers.
The Australian pace attack went after the Indian batsmen but did not have the finishing power. Much credit to veteran batsman Cheteshwar Pujara who faced 211 balls and held the innings together, defending stubbornly against aggressive fast bowlers who struck him 10 times on the body in making 56.
India deserved to win the series. Their cricketers fought tooth and nail in difficult conditions, Australia had their chances to win the third test in Sydney and the fourth in Brisbane. However, they dropped too many catches during the third test – the wicket keeper and Captain Tim Paine put down three. Another criticism of the Aussie captain being much too defensive, particularly at the start of the Indian innings.Their top batsmen repeatedly played the ball at catchable heights between the second slip and gully off fast bowlers, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazelwood and Pat Cummings often bowling at a speed of 140/145. It would have been to Australia’s advantage to use three/four slips.
Also, the Aussies should have replaced a burnout Starc for the fourth test with either Sean Abbort or James Pattinson. The spinner Jason Lyon was generally one dimensional and predictable hence being no serious threat to the Indian batsmen. This is the second time the Indians have successfully chased down record setting targets. In 1976 West Indies Captain Clive Lloyd gave them a target of 403 to win at Port of Spain, Trinidad, and they celebrated victory.
In summary, this was indeed a memorable series contested between two great teams. Going forward India looks the brightest star with so many exceptionally talented young players excelling in all areas of the game.