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Australia's phenomenal reversal of fortunes

Rahul Monie
Modified 20 Dec 2019, 09:52 IST
Steve Smith’s brilliant century helped Australia post a formidable total

Few would have seen this coming. Even fewer would have seen India being thrashed by an Australian side who had never won a Test match in India since 2004. India's former ace spinner and Australia's nemesis, Harbhajan Singh, even went on to predict an Australian whitewash, stating that Australia would need to perform very well just to prevent a 4-0 whitewash at the hands of the Indian cricket team.

Australia's stunning comeback

Sure enough, Australia stuck to their game-plan and performed exceedingly well on a turning Pune pitch. They not only put Harbhajan's score prediction to rest but also silenced the entire cricketing fraternity by thrashing India.

This victory could easily be ranked as Australia's best victory on foreign soil in recent times. Rewind six months and Australia were dead and buried in Sri Lanka and were humbled by South Africa at home. The fact that the team could turn it around in such quick time makes the victory even sweeter. It also speaks volumes about the support systems in Australia. Be it Cricket Australia, the selectors, the coach or the captain, each one of them has put an incredible amount of effort in fixing the malaise in Australian cricket.

Well-planned initial strategy

On a rank turner in Pune, the Aussies would have thought hard as to how to go about their business and challenge a strong Indian team. The fact that they had come with a well-planned strategy was evident in the opening few overs of the match. Even David Warner, known to take the attack to the opposition, started cautiously along with Matt Renshaw, who was playing his first match in India.

Extra Cover: India vs Australia 2017: Steven Smith feels Pune wicket was more likely to suit the Indian players

The plan, seemingly evident to the commentators and to cricket fans all over the world, was to get used to the new conditions and spend as much time as possible in the middle. Although Warner got out bowled to a cracking delivery from Umesh Yadav, it was not before a solid opening combination with Renshaw, which would lay the platform for the rest of the match.

Youngsters, the stand-out performers

Uncertainty over the performances of the youngsters prevailed for days before the first Test match. The players themselves would have been terribly nervous, considering it was their debut series in India. But just three days into the Test match, the youngsters would have probably exceeded their own expectations, leave alone expectations of others, in churning out an amazing performance in front of an enthusiastic Indian crowd.

Renshaw was astoundingly assured at the crease in his first innings. Most could have been forgiven for mistaking him to be a seasoned campaigner. Other than the comical incident of having to retire ill for a brief period of time, Renshaw's innings was flawless and articulate.

Renshaw was extremely composed in his knock of 68

Facing two of the best bowlers in the world in Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja can give nightmares to any batsman in the world. However, Renshaw knew that once he saw off these bowlers, batting would become easier. And it did. His strike rate improved as his innings progressed and the southpaw went on to make a well-compiled half-century.

Peter Handscomb, who had an incredible start to his Test career, was high on confidence going into this Test series. Although there were no substantial contributions with the bat, he snaffled three terrific catches in India's first innings, the first being the best of the lot.

Showing amazing reflexes, Handscomb literally plucked the catches from thin air. To be able to make his presence felt in the fielding department was extraordinary, given that the focus had been on Handscomb's batting all this while. Make no mistake, he did not do badly with the bat either, considering that the pitch was extremely difficult to bat on.

Lethal pace attack

As usual, Australia's two fast bowlers, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazelwood, were lethal and created doubts in the minds of the Indian batters all the time. If Starc’s deliveries were a combination of deadly pace and aggression, Hazelwood’s were a combination of accuracy and precision.

Starc's delivery to dismiss Cheteshwar  Pujara was a fine example of brutal pace mixed with fierce aggression. His two wickets with the ball stymied the Indian batsmen and set them on the back foot. As if Starc's contributions with the ball were not enough, he made a more than handy contribution with the bat as well, aggregating 91 runs in the Test match, including one fifty.

Virat Kohli
Back to the drawing board for Kohli and his men

Hazelwood's contributions with the ball cannot be overlooked either. Although he did not have much of a role to play in the second innings, he set the tone for the rest of the bowlers by removing Murali Vijay with hardly any runs on the board. His relentless accuracy combined with decent pace helped keep pressure from one end at all times, thus allowing the spinners to induce false strokes from the batsmen.

Steve O' Keefe - the dark horse

Hardly anyone would have bet big money on Steve O' Keefe to be the Man of the Match. But that's exactly how it turned out. O'Keefe picked up a sensational 12 wickets, six wickets in each innings, to hand India its worst defeat in recent times.

Having himself admitted that he did not start too well with the ball, it required grit and determination for him to believe in himself and come out triumphant. Granted that the conditions assisted O'Keefe greatly, but the fact remains that he was the only spinner in the match who troubled the batsmen on a consistent basis.

Extra Cover: Australian media hails "superhero" Steve O'Keefe after dominating win against India

Not even Ashwin, the world's best spinner, could give the Australian batsmen any major discomfort. Although Jadeja bowled very well and was a constant threat, the batsmen did well to see him off without much damage.

Steve O’Keefe was the wrecker-in-chief for Australia (Image credits: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

Smith – the captain who led from the front

Everything that Steve Smith did in this Test match was worth its weight in gold. His astute captaincy in rotating the seamers by giving them short spells and believing in O'Keefe and Nathan Lyon's abilities with the ball speaks volumes of how much he has grown as a leader.

His startling century in the second innings on a very difficult pitch was easily one of the best innings ever played on Indian soil. Granted he had his luck along the way, but batting in unhelpful conditions required a solid temperament and a fearless attitude. And Smith showed exactly that.

Indian team can bounce back

It was nice to see Kohli taking this defeat on the chin and admitting to the fact that his team was second-best in all departments. Having himself admitted that batting let the team down, this defeat served as a good wake-up call to the entire team.

Nothing is lost yet as this is just the first match of the series and India have the ability and resolve to bounce back strongly, the tour of Sri Lanka a case in point. However, India will have to pull their socks up and produce a much-improved batting performance to challenge this inspired Australian team.  

Published 26 Feb 2017, 15:53 IST
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