Hindsight is 20/20 vision. On a day when India went down against Australia by 146 runs to lose the second Test in Perth, it’s easy (and not entirely wrong) to point fingers at the team that was selected by Virat Kohli.
Australia had scored 326 runs in their first innings, and India replied with 283 runs, thanks to Kohli’s 25th Test hundred, thus conceding a lead of 43 runs. The hosts scored 243 runs in their second innings to post a 287-run target.
Kohli though put up a brave front at the post-match ceremony.
“As a team I think we played well in patches which we can hold onto. Australia played much better than us with the bat. 330 on that pitch we felt was a bit too much. They deserved to win,” the India skipper said.
Australian captain Tim Paine said, “It was a difficult Test, both games were tough. Two really competitive sides and two really good fast bowling attacks. It’s been hard work for batsmen and it was a great contest, because the ball was flying through here.”
A poll on The Field’s Twitter account saw more than 70% of voters point fingers at the selection but there were a fair few who chose to reply “all of the above” too.
So here’s a look at the combination of factors that went wrong for India.
It’s an uncontrollable factor in cricket but the toss continues to play a crucial role in Tests around the world, not just for India. In 44 Tests in 2018, 31 have now been won by the team winning the toss. It’s now 13 Tests in a row that the team winning the toss and opting to bat first have emerged the ultimate winners. This Perth Test also extended Kohli’s record of not winning a Test away from home when he has lost the toss.
First session of the match
In a topsy turvy Test match that went till the final day, it’s easy to forget what came in the beginning. For Australia, it was a century partnership for the opening wicket between Aaron Finch and Marcus Harris that set the tone for the rest of the game. As it turned out, that was the only 100-plus partnership in the entire match.
India were made to pay for taking time to adjust to the pitch (that was described as whimsical, capricious, temperamental among other things by the commentators). Jasprit Bumrah and Co fought back well after going wicket-less in the first session but that start turned out to be crucial in Australia scoring an above-par score in the first innings. As Paine said after the match, in his view, that opening partnership was the difference between the two sides.
Which brings us nicely to...
First innings, Kohli walked in to bat at 8/2.
Second innings, Kohli walked in to bat at 13/2.
Even if Murali Vijay played a decent hand the second time around, a combined total of 33 balls faced in the other outings by the opening batsmen is a stat that sums up India’s troubles at the moment. In this match, Vijay and Rahul scored a total of 22 runs (with a duck each to their name). In comparison, Australia’s No 10 and 11 scored 31 runs overall.
Lower order contribution
Kohli’s ton in the first innings that should rank among his top five went in vain as India’s lower-order batsmen refused to wag one more time. With a very useful average of 21.00, Australia’s number 8 to 11 have so far contributed 252 runs while facing 519 balls in the series, but their Indian counterparts have managed only 63 runs from 228 deliveries (average 5.25).
As it has been observed in many places, India went into this match with four No. 11 batsmen batting at 8, 9, 10 and 11. While the last four batsmen cannot be expected to contribute to the team’s winning cause when the top order couldn’t, the lack of resistance showed by India’s tail-enders was a major factor in the result.
And how about this stat: Australia’s batsmen from Tim Paine to Josh Hazlewood (No. 6 to No. 11) scored a 146 runs combined. Same as the margin of India’s defeat.
Spinner, of course
Kohli, as you’d expect, defended his team selection after the defeat. But with Nathan Lyon playing a pivotal role with eight wickets while India did not have a specialised spinner, it’s hard to look past this as the biggest of the factors for the result. Sure, Lyon got a lot out of this pitch than was expected because he is a great bowler but India were left without even the option to hold one end up when the going got tough for the pacers.
The decision to go with a pace quartet after spinner R Ashwin was ruled out with an abdominal strain, recalling Umesh Yadav ahead of Ravindra Jadeja, proved critical. Kohli backed Yadav’s recall at the all-new Perth Stadium, saying the fast bowlers did as well as he expected.
“We as a team didn’t think we definitely wanted to consider a spinner on this pitch, especially looking at the pitch on day one and how we thought it would play the first three days, which is how it did play,” he said.
“We thought the fast bowlers were going to be more productive for us as a team. They executed their plans to 95 percent of what we expected and you can be happy with that. We were pretty convinced going in with four fast bowlers, looking at the conditions, and I think they did pretty well.
“Obviously Ashwin or Jadeja have more ability with the bat,” Kohli said. “It is a very tricky decision to make, what bowling option do you go with or do you want that guy to contribute with the bat. We backed that decision and went with it, we were totally convinced it was our best combination and the batsmen have to take responsibility.”
Alas, it simply wasn’t the right decision.