It took the fourth and final Test in Ahmedabad for a Test in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy to go the distance of five days and even then, it was after the result had become a foregone conclusion. While the two teams meandered to a dull draw in the end, questions were asked if India had lost the plot at some point.

India’s lead spinner in the series, Ravichandran Ashwin, who picked up 25 wickets in the series to become the first Indian bowler to do so six times, admitted that the series, although decided in favour of India by a 2-1 margin, had been a close call for India.

On turning tracks, India had been caught out, and but for their rear end batting as well as spells of bowling, as the spinner put it, the result could have easily swung the pendulum the other way. While Rohit Sharma wanted to present a more emphatic picture while collecting the trophy, Ashwin had hit the nail on the head that there would be the need for some time before the impact of this series could be felt and assessed.

Australia will go back home, after the limited overs series, and wonder similarly how they could have let India slip through their fingers. This, when there were times when they had their hands around the throat of the hosts, even if the Indian captain would not admit it outright.

Australia has only themselves to blame. Their greenhorn spinners, Todd Murphy and Matthew Kuhnemann, played their part. But the batting was led down by some shoddy selection decisions that betrayed Australia’s best interests.

The decision to keep Travis Head out early into the Test series, particularly when Australia were in highly suspect mode ahead of the first Test in Nagpur might have been the most sordid one, given that Head showed what Australia missed when he was belatedly added back to the team. Head and Cameron Green showed that Australia do have the firepower to withstand the Indian bowling assault on spinner friendly tracks as well as sedate ones as the last one in Ahmedabad turned out to be.

After the criticism where Test cricket barely made it to the third day for three consecutive Tests, sanity appeared to have returned to the five day format, but it was at a cost where the batsmen, once set, were difficult to dislodge, giving one the impression that a Test draw was always on the cards as far as results go.

Australia’s shocking win in Indore in the third Test by nine wickets did create a bit of drama in that it left the door open on the second finalist for the second World Test championship in June, Australia having already qualified. It was obvious that India’s rejoicing post lunch came not because they had made inroads into Australia’s batting, but because news filtered through that New Zealand had won their first Test against Sri Lanka at home by two wickets, a result that was definitely not decided on the previous day.

Had the result gone the other way, it would have been a bit of a touch and go, and it wouldn’t have been funny, particularly given that there was a feeling of complacency in the team after that news, and the tame away in which Australia seemed to be going about their way for a draw.

For India, a few things became obvious. Despite Rohit Sharma’s assertion that India needed to back their pitch strength even when spin had garnered so much criticism, India have not been the most robust facing up to conditions at home. They needed players and particularly spinning all rounders like Axar Patel and Ravindra Jadeja to hold up their end of the bargain, with bat more than ball.

India had to push out KL Rahul and make room for Shubman Gill, after the defence for inclusion of the former was becoming harder to justify in the absence of consistent performances. Meanwhile Gill has done his reputation no wrong, showing both promise and precision as he went about fetching runs, standing tall alongside fellow centurions in the series like Rohit and Virat Kohli.

After the brouhaha about the supposed spat between Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma and the scandal involving the former chief selector Chetan Sharma who alluded to Rohit versus Kohli camps within the BCCI, it was important for Kohli to score his 74th international century and his 16th versus Australia. It justifies his value to the team as a pure batsman if not captain and the value of cohesion within the team at least for purposes of beating the opposition.

In the same breath, it should be mentioned that even in the age of Twenty20-style strategy as England have adopted even in Test cricket, the value of Cheteshwar Pujara cannot be overstated, showing how it is done even when the chips are down.

India will however have to do a bit of soul searching, having come off worse for wear, for showing unusual interference in the preparation of pitches instead of leaving the work in the hands of the pitch curators at the various grounds. With some of their decisions nearly backfiring, Rohit Sharma might have a hard time justifying the call for the team management to have a say in such matters. And the BCCI would be wiser, one hopes, when making eleventh hour decisions, of taking Test cricket from novice venues like Dharamsala to over prepared and overplayed pitches such as the one presented in Indore.

Conversely for Australia, the call for Steve Smith to take over the captaincy in light of the fact that Australia have looked stronger after Pat Cummins had to unfortunately leave the team and return to Australia to be by his now late mother is about to create more divisions within their own cricket fraternity. Smith has not been Australia’s rugged captain in terms of reputation and past chequered reputation post sandpaper-gate coupled with the dearth of faith in the upcoming players in terms of leadership position.

So, it is bound to create a fair bit of chatter ahead of the ICC World Test championship come June when the two teams will have an opportunity at the Oval in London to face up to each other.

Australia’s biggest bug bear has been their batting and while it would appear that Travis Head, Usman Khawaja and Cameron Green have settled the debate, the fact that Head was left out after a phenomenal season back home says Australia are far from settled when it comes to selection muddles and they will need to take a hard look at it.

It is interesting that Rohit Sharma had to address the issue of the proximity of the conclusion of the Indian Premier League 2023 season. Australia were criticised heavily for arranging a training camp but not choosing to play a tour match or practice match. The Indian captain had a tough time explaining how the players would be able to gather together for a practice/conditioning session ahead of the all important ICC World Test championship and could only respond that at least six teams would not be at the business end of the tournament and therefore, arrangements would be made to use as many players as available.

It is a tricky ship to navigate on choppy waters given that there are injury concerns and particularly after some players have been cleared by the BCCI only for them to break down again. Shreyas Iyer was one such player in this Test whose back concerns meant India were a batsmen down. Jasprit Bumrah’s injury and lay off and appearances in the IPL have not gone down well with Indian fans. So, it will be a keenly watched contest even in the IPL as eyes will be on the players and in terms of how they show up for crucial India challenges thereafter.

The series might have concluded with India retaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2-1 which is not a small feat and particularly with lack of convincing victories. It might keep the ICC World Test championship final prospects open. But it also reveals that even the top teams do not have it all figured out.

This might make a good contest but also, an under par one which this was in some ways, not only because the sporting nature of the pitches was called into question ever so often, undermining Test cricket by its ability to stand out on quality of the contest alone but also, because of selection matters which leave a lot of scope for improvement also contribute to Test cricket losing ground when the best players are left warming the bench which both teams have been guilty of doing in this series.