Has the Indian Cricket team broken Australia's spirit?
India, came into this tour of Australia with a fair chance of winning it. They are the number one Test team in the world. They have been steamrolling opponents for fun at home for a couple of years now.
They have also been traveling well, albeit with little results to show for it. They showed a lot of grit before going down 2-1 to South Africa. In England, they put up more than just a fight. A scoreline that read 3-1 was a gross injustice to the quality of cricket they played.
And they would arrive in Australia with a lot of hope and promise. The notorious Australian media and the players past and present alike had begun their mind games stating this as the best ever chance for India to ever win a Test series in Australia.
You can’t fault pundits to have believed India had a fair chance. Over the years, India’s loss in SENA nations was always attributed to the lack of quality pace bowling. And India had a solution this time. With a much improved Ishant Sharma 2.0 and the ever so impressive Jasprit Bumrah leading the attack, backed up by Shami, Bhuvi and Umesh Yadav, India had the ammunition.
However, what India didn’t have this time around was the solidity of the fab 5 in the batting line up. True that Australia would miss the services of Smith and Warner, but their bowling attack was proclaimed best in the world and capable enough of winning them matches on its own. Stories were peddled around how Aussie batsmen were lucky to escape unscathed from a steamy net session. And then the series started.
Then Indian bowling unit won the applause in the first match with their pace, skills and relentless attack over the course of the match. And yet with over 200 overs bowled, stories were featured around how the Indians would fail to keep up sustained class and pressure post the victory.
The 2nd Test match loss has to be attributed more to selection errors from India than to Australia’s game. And though India lost comprehensively, there were few questions left as to which was the superior bowling attack, a body blow was delivered to the Australian ego.
An Australian attack was made to look pale in comparison to India’s- a nation rather known for its batting riches, spinners and sluggish tracks. Over the years, fast bowling was supposed to be Australia’s forte. From Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson to Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson, Australia was the fast bowler’s den.
Make no mistake about it, Australia did win the second Test match, but, it was the Indian pace attack and especially the duo of Shami and Bumrah that had the Australians jumping and fending. It was their spell that was termed ferocious and aggressive. If not for that hard-fought win born out of India’s incompetency in reading the pitch, Australia might have well worn out before the boxing day test.
Come the third Test, 165.3, Mitchell Starc is running in once again to bowl. This is his 7th spell of the innings and neither of him or his team knows if he will have to return for more, the third new ball has been taken albeit not immediately after its due.
Uncharacteristically for the mighty Australian pace bowling, they had Aaron Finch to come in and bowl part-time off-spin so that they could take a breather. A 7-2 offside dominant field is set for a left-handed batsman who plays dominantly on the leg side, Starc runs in and pitches the ball at just back of good length and on the middle and leg stump line, the batsman heaves it on to the leg side to collect more runs.
The delivery spoke volumes of the mental frame of mind that the Australians were in by now. Resolute claims of sustained pressure and attack had given way to wayward loose deliveries and faltering plans. India had not scored big, it had not hammered the opposition into submission. It was just resolute.
And just by its gritty and unforgiving presence at the other end, Australia were mentally broken over the course of the two days. The tiny ray of hope that emerged a few days back with that victory at Perth now seemed ages ago.
India had won the toss and batted on and on for almost the entire length of two whole days. Tight lines, negative lines, frustration of low scoring rates a lot has been said and tried but nothing has worked out for the Aussies.
By now, the very sight of a padded up Cheteshwar Pujara walking out to bat would be reason enough for disappointment to creep into the Australian dressing room. such has been his rock like presence at the crease. He would eventually be dismissed by a delivery that did not bounce as expected and kept low.
But not before he had faced over 300 deliveries by himself. Cheteshwar Pujara could be likened to a monk, doing his penance day in and day out, he is not affected by weather, sounds or worldly temptations. Just like body blows, short balls, spin and seam hurled at him. But death was inevitable in the end, and it had to be in the form of that delivery that kept low.
As Virat Kohli came into bat, Clarke remarked on air, he would want to see if it was Kohli or Lyon who was afraid of the other in reference to the field settings. The way it was set though made it evident that it was Lyon who was under pressure. Virat Kohli was finally dismissed on 82 more off the soreness of his back than the bowling.
Both Rohit Sharma and Rishabh Pant, whom Australia would have otherwise hoped to run through would stand still and march on. Lyon had accounted for Pant’s wicket in each of the 4 innings he had come out to bat earlier in the series, however, not only would Lyon fail this time but he would also give away over 100 runs and bowl over 40 overs.
Even before Kohli and Pujara arrived at the crease, 2 new openers, one making his debut and one 2 test matches old and a makeshift opener had weathered the attack for almost 19 overs. And Agarwal the debutant, who as per O’Keefe made his highest first class score against canteen workers and waiters would go on and score a well composed 76, and be eventually be dismissed off luck more than skill.
During the course of the 2nd day, Australia had seen 3 easy catches go begging. One each of Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane and Rishabh Pant. The simplest of the lot, off Rohit Sharma when on 15, would go through the hands of Peter Siddle and hit his face in the only over he came in as a substitute.
The strategy of putting miles in the legs of the bowler that would render them unable to sustain bowling through the course of the series, one that Australia has notoriously claimed to put to good use over the years were haunting them now, they were kept on the field for 170 overs straight. Even Rishabh Pant uncharacteristically displayed patience and grit..
The effect all this had on the Aussie mindset was so profound that Hazlewood and Lyon appeared toothless, Starc was wayward, and Paine’s nice guys could no longer keep up their clean image. But again, even banter failed to create any positive impact for them. Pujara would return a smile to Hazlewood’s words and Rohit Sharma would silently continue marching on amidst Paine’s taunts.
And after the declaration late in the day, the Aussies were made to battle their way to stumps. Marcus Harris was left with a dented helmet, Finch lived dangerously and after having bowled over 30 overs in the day, Pat Cummins sat there in the dressing room, all padded up ready to be the night watchman if summoned.
India might not necessarily have won this Test or the Series yet, but, they for sure have broken Australia!