Nine months on from the biggest scandal to hit Australian cricket, the embattled team have come out the other side with a victory that on Wednesday was hailed as their most important in decades.
In beating India by 146 runs in Perth, Tim Paine’s men pulled off their first Test win since the ball-tampering saga exploded in South Africa in March.
The saga saw coach Darren Lehmann quit, captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner banned, and Cricket Australia dump a swathe of top executives.
The unassuming Paine was installed as skipper and Justin Langer as coach, vowing to change their win-at-all-costs culture and rebuild a team that had been rocked to its core.
It has taken time and Paine, who has proven to be an exceptional wicketkeeper and a savvy captain, admitted that winning back faith and respect from fans and the media has been challenging.
“I’m relieved personally,” he said after his maiden win as skipper eased the pressure.
Test great Shane Warne summed it up in a tweet after the victory, saying: “This was the best Test win for Australia in a long time. Tim Paine take a bow - we now have a Test captain.”
Former England skipper Michael Vaughan was also impressed by the way Paine has handled himself.
“Quality performance from Australia this week. Tim Paine is a very very good leader who deserves all the credit,” he tweeted.
Importantly, the win in Perth to level the four-Test series 1-1 was also warmly embraced by the country’s sometimes-scathing media, with The Australian hailing “the grit of a new Australia cricket era”.
“The triumph over India in Perth might be the most important Test win by an Australian side since Allan Border led his side out of the wilderness in the 1989 Ashes,” said the newspaper’s chief cricket writer Peter Lalor.
“Paine’s men may not have gone as long without success and they haven’t even won the series, but rarely has an outfit suffered as much as this one in the past nine months.”
- Ponting warning -
The Sydney Morning Herald said that “after nine months, Australia are reborn and rebaptised” while the Sydney Daily Telegraph trumpeted that the nation again had “a cricket team it can cheer for without feeling mixed emotions”.
“Tim Paine’s men are not the finished product,” added the Telegraph.
“They have soft spots and will lose plenty of Tests but in a strange sort of way this makes their victory over India all the more meritorious.”
While Australia’s bowling attack is world class, of concern will be the failure of middle-order Peter Handscomb and continued frailty at the top of the order.
With a win under their belt and the series level, Australia now head to the Melbourne Cricket Ground cauldron for the Boxing Day Test with the same squad, resisting any temptation to change.
Former skipper Ricky Ponting said they needed to keep playing hard, uncompromising cricket without courting too much controversy.
“Just not relax,” Ponting told cricket.com.au when asked what Australia must do stay on top of India.
“They’ve set a bit of blueprint this week with the way they’ve played. They just have to build on that now.
“There’s no doubt with one win a bit of belief comes but they can’t just rock up in Melbourne and expect India are going to play like they did here (in Perth).”
Kohli under fire
Indian captain Virat Kohli, meanwhile, faced criticism both Down Under and at home.
Former Australian paceman Mitchell Johnson called Kohli “disrespectful” and “silly” over his heated exchanges with fellow skipper Tim Paine during the Perth Test.
Former India great Sunil Gavaskar meanwhile hit out at “selection blunders” and the Indian Express daily slammed Kohli’s “explicit lack of confidence” in some of his players.
Kohli and Paine exchanged barbs, at one point prompting intervention from the umpire, during the game that Australia won by 146 runs on Tuesday to level the four-match series 1-1.
It was reported that Kohli belittled Paine as just “a stand-in captain” – a claim angrily denied by India’s team management.
The retired Johnson said the famously combative Kohli’s antics were unnecessary.
“At the end of the match, you should be able to look each other in the eyes, shake hands and say ‘great contest’,” he wrote in a column for Fox Sports.
“Virat Kohli could not do that with Tim Paine, shaking the Australian captain’s hand but barely making eye contact with him. To me, that is disrespectful.
“Kohli gets away with more than most cricketers simply because he is Virat Kohli and he gets placed on a pedestal but this Test left the Indian captain looking silly,” he added.
(With AFP inputs)