India Assert Dominance, On And Off The Field
Team Australia has been forced to eat humble pie
They say, the best way to silence critics is with a noteworthy performance. The Indian cricketers can congratulate themselves for doing just that in the Border Gavaskar Trophy, staving off not only Australia’s purported insinuations about demonised pitches but also, overcoming (or overlooking, as the case may be) dirt thrown in their face by the allegations from their now former chief selector.
Two Tests down in the Border Gavaskar Trophy and Australia have come nowhere close to revealing the kind of big talk Pat Cummins gave after Australia had the better of a beleaguered South African team down under around Boxing Day and New Year’s. If anything, Australia has been forced to eat humble pie.
On the other hand, things could have gone better than planned for India. Their opener’s slot has become a topic of hot debate. And the batting order found themselves in a fair bit of trouble for a while on the second day before they were bailed out by a wagging tail, this after Australia’s senior spinner, Nathan Lyon, left his mark on the game.
But as it turned out, the performance of their late batting order complementing the work of their premier spinners was enough to embarrass Australia for a second successive Test and more importantly, for the hosts to retain the Border Gavaskar Trophy for the fourth time with an unassailable 2-0 lead in the 4 Test match series.
Victory by an innings and 132 runs in the first Test in Nagpur. Victory by 6 wickets in the second Test in Delhi. Even more humiliatingly for Australia, both victories for India came within three days as Australia’s batting needed just one session yet again in which to self-destruct. While Indian spinners did weave a web, Australia had built up demons in their own head, hastening plausibly the inevitable in the first Test. And in Delhi, it was simply a case of premeditated strategy that fell flat as Australia simply followed a line of parade back to the dressing room, this after being placed rather well to potentially trouble the hosts.
How else does one explain how Australia, with a psychological lead of 1 run over the hosts and standing steady at the close of play on day 2, were suddenly uprooted, losing 7 wickets for next to nothing and eventually crumbling to a defeat that will be hard to shake off?
Some might say the seeds were planted on the second day itself when Australia could have easily had a 100 run lead, diminished by the rear guard action of India’s lower batting order but also, because of some of Australia’s own dubious fielding choices which were a hot topic even amongst former Australian cricketers-turned-commentators through the Test.
It still does not explain why Australia had to adopt inexplicable tactics which cannot even be called defensive ploy given that the sweep shot became the only choice in their repertoire for some strange reason. But in a case of the pack following the herd, batsman after batsman was found guilty of following a preconceived line, and failing to meet the ball on the pitch, laying the ground for their own collapse to be bowled out with India barely having more than 100 runs to chase in the end.
When one sees how easily the tables could have been turned, with India tottering at six and seven wickets down in their first innings and looking at conceding 100 run lead which could have had a decisive plot twist in terms of the outcome of the match, the work done by India’s tail, which is a bit of an insult given that these bowlers/all rounders are capable of playing out of their skin, it only puts Australia’s efforts in an even poorer light.
The fact that India have not needed the services of their third spinner to turn his arm over enough in both Tests and instead used his services as an additional batsman tells quite the story. Axar Patel might not have been needed in the picture as far as captain Rohit Sharma was concerned in the two Tests where Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja (who picked up a seven wicket haul here) were running riot. But Patel has made himself noteworthy with the bat, particularly in helping bail India out in their first innings and laying the groundwork as part of that contribution to put pressure on Australia to have to do it all over again.
Australia needed at least 200 runs on the target board to put pressure on India. Instead it was 90 minutes of mayhem as Australian batsmen played like novices on the third day morning, using the sweep to anything and everything that the Indian spinners had on offer. Whatever modicum of respectability Australia gained on the evening of day two despite losing the potential of a more sizeable lead was lost in the humiliating capitulation on the morning of the third day, making the result not only inevitable but imminent on the same day itself, drawing the ire of Australian commentators who could not help but express anguish and shock at the unfolding and also, slam the team for their overaggressive, clueless plot.
Some will question yet again the pitch and whether it was a great testament to Test cricket. But the pitch cannot be judged by Australia’s batting alone. India pulled themselves through holes of their own making. And when the shoe is on the other foot and foreign teams are caught out hopping on the pitches of Australia to let the hosts score facile wins, the quality of the pitch is rarely brought into question.
One of the parameters of strong Test teams is their ability to bring their temperament to the fore in variable conditions. Australia has not shown the flexibility nor the temperament to sustain the effort. And it will be a big worry as potentially more personnel changes are on the anvil, if the out-of-form David Warner does not require in time for the third Test from the hairline fracture in his elbow and captain Pat Cummins does not return from Australia from an unspecified absence in time for the third Test in Indore.
While Australia will want to shake off this unwanted attention on them, their problems might not be at the deep end yet, as far as the ICC World Test championship is concerned. India have done one service in eliminating South Africa from the picture of one of two teams who could possibly upset the applecart though that would have been a stretch in either case.
South Africa have gone the way of Temba Bevuma over Dean Elgar as South Africa’s Test captain for the two Test series against West Indies. But they would still have the uphill climb of not only beating the West Indies but counting on Australia keeping India down, which has clearly not been the case thus far.
Although Sri Lanka are still an outsider as the third team in contention, barring a massive turnaround of fortunes for Australia and a stunning victory for Sri Lanka over New Zealand in their upcoming Test series, it seems that India and Australia will be crossing swords in the final of the ICC World Test championship. For formality’s sake though, India will still need to win one of two Tests, a task now bolstered by the two wins.
That said, Australia cannot take their place or their reputation for granted. They might be counting chickens at this point assuming the venue for the final to play more to their liking. The truth of the matter is that Australia have come out worse for wear, and nothing they have done down under has had a bearing on the way they have performed thus far in the series, particularly when they had a real chance of putting the hosts in a spot of bother.
For India, opening that door to a potential 100 run lead might have dented their hopes of climbing the top of the ladder and also, more dangerously could have opened the door to the drama unfolding outside of the stadium vis-à-vis their chief selector, Chetan Sharma, who had a lot to say about a great many matters including the BCCI.
India’s victory has not only shut up the critics and Australian bravado but also, has given the BCCI the narrow slip from coming under the radar if what Chetan Sharma shared as part of the unsuspecting sting had even a sliver of truth. For the moment, Pandora’s box was closed in the background with Sharma tendering his resignation in muted fashion and India grabbing the front headlines with stupendous performances, after being in a bit of a peril themselves on the pitch as well.
While India are a cock-a-hoop under the circumstances, the series is only half way done. And while Australia cannot climb back into the series, they still pose a problem or two as they showed India in a few vulnerable spots in the batting line up. Although faith has been reposed in K.L. Rahul in the squad for the next two Tests, he has not been explicitly named as vice captain for the remaining two Tests.
While Rohit Sharma might have been cagey when addressing the problem of the long rope to the opener in front of the media, the fact that the batting did wobble in the second Test with the crucial role of the opening partnership coming under the scanner where it has not been able to form the base from which most teams launch their ambitions, the Indian cricket team will be under pressure to not only use the services of the young guns under their wing, but also, to put up a more robust performance in the third Test to shut the door on Australia not only in their remote hopes of levelling the series but also, to bolster their own reputation at home with utter dominance.
As if giving voice to seeding doubt, Michael Vaughan, who has come under attack previously for berating the Indian cricket team on their white ball practices, did mention in his social media post that while most visiting teams struggle to beat India in India, Australia’s batting seems feebler still if David Warner (who is still out of form) and Steve Smith were to hang up their boots. With the criticism of role of the coach, Andrew MacDonald, and captain, Cummins, ringing louder alongside the issue of the former’s predecessor, Justin Langer, booted out in the manner that he was, Australia might look to the World Test championship to rest the debate, conceding that this tour has not gone to plan, beginning with choosing not to play a tour/practice match.
The Indian team management would not want to leave the Indian team to hang out to dry much longer, which is perhaps why even the winning team is also under pressure to make some changes.