With the Test series now complete, and India not only having won but installed themselves as the #1 Test playing nation once again, and Virat Kohli completing what has been an ugly six weeks for him by declaring he now has no love for the Australian cricketers, we can only reflect on what has occurred and what lessons can be gleaned from it to ensure that Australian cricket goes forward in a positive – but not blinkered – fashion.
There is little doubt that if you had said six weeks ago that Australia would tenaciously fight for a 1-2 series loss, most Australian cricket fans would have thought that to be a fair result. Many pundits (myself included I can say without shame) thought that it would be a 0-4 whitewash given some of the selections that were being bandied around before it all began. To have seen Australia still in with a chance of winning the series with three days remaining was the most pleasing aspect of the tour. This however should not paper over the cracks that are still in this team, nor cloud the fact that three sessions of cricket cost the team their chance of a miraculous series victory.
In proof that statistics do not tell the full story, the Australians’ figures are defining. Matthew Renshaw was a salvation for Australia at the top of the order. Apart from his tough final Test match he was the man who batted out against the new ball and into the old ball. He faced double the amount of deliveries that his opening partner did, and his innings in those first three Tests both put Australia in a stronger position and saved them from disaster. Yet, Matthew Wade finished with a higher average, and Warner, whose series was abysmal and was completely out-thought and out-played by the Indians, finished only a few runs behind him. It is not a fair comparison to their respective worth to the team effort. The same can be said of the bowling. Steven O’Keefe finished on top of the bowling average and aggregate for Australia with 19 wickets at 23.26. But take out the 12/70 that he took in that 1st Test, and for the rest of the series he took 7 wickets at an average of 53.14. His economy was sound and he served his purpose as the second spinner, but it highlights the extra caution the Indians took with him after that breakout performance.
Along with Renshaw, pass marks would be awarded to Handscomb and Maxwell. They would both have hoped to have done better, but they look comfortable at the crease which is half the battle. While Handscomb appears to have a big future, it will be interesting to see if Maxwell is retained and given his opportunity to make number six his own. Though he was barely used for his bowling at all, surely he will be expected to work on his off spin to ensure it is a tool that can be called upon in the future, even in short spells.
Warner’s troubled series will haunt him for some time, and given his similar lack of success in Sri Lanka last year, will only give rise to claims he is a flat track bully. With very little sub-continent cricket likely for Australia in the next couple of years he at least has time to address this before their next engagements on those types of surfaces. Likewise Shaun Marsh, who was chosen specifically for this tour because of his form on the sub-continent. In four Tests he averaged less than 20 with the bat, and despite his match-saving innings at Ranchi, his place appears the most vulnerable. Having been overlooked all series, it appears inconceivable that Usman Khawaja will be ignored any longer, and must slot back into the batting line up. It may seem unfair that Marsh will be the only scapegoat from the batting line up, but surely he has played his last Test for Australia.
The bowlers, apart from a couple of sessions where they lost the plot a little, did a fantastic job in the circumstances. Mitchell Starc before going home injured, Josh Hazlewood and the returning Pat Cummins all toiled hard in unhelpful conditions. While they weren’t always on song and sometimes appeared to waste opportunities they kept running in hard and giving their all. Nathan Lyon and Steve O’Keefe are probably flattered by their series returns, as both got one big haul in a Test and then only bits and pieces for the remainder of the games. While they never seemed as dangerous as their opponents, they probably exceeded expectations. The Indians, once they treated their bowling with respect after the 2nd Test, denied them the wicket taking opportunities they gave them in those first encounters, and thus put the pressure on them to force a breakthrough rather than gifting it to them. Ashwin and Jadeja did this much better than the two Australians could, which was the difference in the last two Tests.
Matthew Wade’s figures look better than one suspects he played, finishing with a batting average of 32.66 and taking 9 catches and 4 stumpings. Despite the continued feeling outside of the Australian team and selection panel that Wade is still not the best answer for the team behind the stumps, it would appear he has cemented that position. No one doubts his grit – just his consistency with gloves and bat. In tough conditions for a wicket-keeper, he probably didn’t make any more mistakes than anyone else would have.
For India, they can thank Rahul and Pujara for their consistency in getting the series victory. While the rest of the order floundered in a similar way to the Australians, Rahul’s consistency in getting fifties at the top of the order frustrated the bowlers, while Pujara did as he always seems to do against Australia, scoring runs with a fluency he seems to lack against most other nations. Saha and Jadeja made runs at crucial times in the final two Tests that helped to swing the balance of the match in India’s favour, and while they only really troubled the scorers on two occasions in the series, they were defining.
While Ashwin and Jadeja dominated the bowling, it was the pace bowling of Yadav and Sharma that proved edifying. Both were fast and aggressive, getting in the face of the batsmen and making decisive breakthroughs, or forcing the breakthroughs at the other end because of their bowling. Yadav’s 17 wickets at 23.41 was a triumph, while it is a travesty of justice that Ishant Sharma’s series figures were 3 wickets at 69.66. He was light years better than those figures suggest.
The two captains had polar opposite series in almost every aspect. Virat Kohli had scored a million runs over the Indian season leading up to this series, and was probably due to have a lean run. His 46 runs at 9.20 gave Australia to pressure the rest of the order. That he rose above this in the field with an increase in aggression and arrogance was done to inspire his team, when in reality his team were inspiring enough without it. His injury in the 3rd Test meant he then sat out the 4th Test, where his team won without him. Even though he probably won’t recognise it, it spoke volumes for the Indian team’s ability that they could win without him there, perhaps lowering his self-proclaimed God-like status. His running vendetta to chastise and demonise the Australians throughout would have been seen in a better light if he himself hadn’t been at least as poor in attitude and action. His final proclamation that he was no longer friends with the Australian cricketers at his final press conference only went to prove that he is incapable of copping the same amount of flak that he is willing to dish out. At a time when he was unable to deliver with the bat himself, it came across as sour grapes. Australian cricketers and supporters will not lose any sleep over his convictions.
Steve Smith just continued on his amazing way with the bat in this series. His first century of the series may have been littered with five chances, but his following two were practically chanceless, and he alone dragged Australia along in his wake to keep them in the contest. His 499 runs at 71.28 was one of the finest displays by an Australian batsman on the sub-continent. His batting feats were shadowed not only by his ill-thought checking with the dressing room about the referral of his dismissal in the 2nd Test, but with the constant on-field sledging battles and with questions over some captaincy decisions. The DRS referral episode should have ended with some sort of disciplinary action, whether it was a warning or fine or suspension, in order to assure everyone it was a one-off ‘brain fade’ but that it wouldn’t be tolerated. Kohli’s posturing afterwards and the lack of action made it look a lot worse than it probably was. And while at times there was little the Australians could do to curb the Indian batting, one felt that captains such as Waugh, Taylor or Clarke would have tried more to budge a partnership at times. His final words spoke of being apologetic for any actions he had made that seemed inflammatory or out of spirit with the game, and looked to have a drink with the victors and congratulate them on their win. Listening to both press conferences, you would wonder who won the series and who lost. Smith’s was the speech of a statesman, Kohli’s was the speech of a man who considers himself above others. In India, he probably is.
Some spoke at the conclusion that it was one of the greatest Test series ever played. That seems to get bandied around a lot when a team beats Australia (India 2001, England 2005, South Africa 2012/13). This was a fascinating series and an enjoyable one. But it is only seen as a ‘great’ one by some because of Australia’s defiance in not rolling over and handing India a whitewash, and that India had to fight every inch to gain the series victory. India will soon have to play cricket away from their shores again, and then we will see how good this combination really is. Australia has won plaudits, but unless they realise that the result does not confirm that the team they picked was the best available then they are no guarantee of victorious results in the future.