On the first morning of the much-hyped Test series between India and Australia, the visitors were quickly put on the backfoot. Other than Virat Kohli winning the toss, nothing went right for India. The openers, the ones that started the series, were dismissed in no time. And in the 11th over, Kohli was already back in the pavilion, thanks to one of the greatest catches in recent memory by Usman Khawja in gully.
The scoreboard read: 19/3 after 10.3 overs.
It didn’t get better from there either, with Ajnikya Rahane and Rohit Sharma both falling to attempted big shots; both unnecessary given the circumstances.
For a team that struggled to win the first Test on previous overseas tours, the Adelaide game was heading in the same direction.
As Indian fans sit down on Monday, January 7, basking in the glory of a series win, it’s worth looking back at that first day of the first Test in Adelaide once again and wonder: where would India be without Cheteshwar Pujara?
Kohli might have chosen not to pick one particular innings that defined the series win for India. But it is that century by Pujara on that baking hot day, at the very venue where Rahul Dravid had helped India end a 22-year wait for a Test win in Australia in 2003, which gave India the head-start in the series.
Fast forward to Melbourne, for the Boxing Day Test. At the stroke of lunch on day three, Jasprit Bumrah deceived Shaun Marsh with a slower delivery, a near-unplayable one, to stun the Australian batting line-up. He picked up a couple of wickets before that, and a few after, to finish with a six-wicket haul, but it was at that moment that the legend of Bumrah was established.
It was at that moment that you knew, deep down, this Indian team was just too good for Australia and they will, in all likelihood, go on to win the series.
A series win. In Australia. For a generation of Indian kids growing up watching team after team return empty-handed (except Sourav Ganguly’s men in 2004, of course, when India retained the Border-Gavaskar trophy after the series ended 1-1), this triumph is one worth savouring.
And it was largely built on the shoulders of two men: a Test specialist in Pujara, and an all-format expert in Bumrah. Two men with a contrasting set of skills were the pillars of this series win.
India’s bowlers live up to the expectations
Hand to heart, when was the last time the build-up to a series in Australia revolved around how good India’s bowlers were and how it was the batsmen who were under pressure? That was the case for this rubber, and as it turned out, rightly so.
Bumrah finished on top of the bowling charts alongside Nathan Lyon, but with a much better average per dismissal. He was ably supported by Mohammed Shami, who picked up a six-for for himself in Perth as well.
Best match figures in Australia for Indian pacers
Jasprit Bumrah: 9/86 (Melbourne, 2018)
Kapil Dev: 8/109 (Adelaide, 1985)
Ajit Agarkar: 8/160 (Adelaide, 2003)
Kapil Dev: 8 /163 (Adelaide- 1992)
Bumrah of course, was the best of the lot. He broke many a record with his bowling figures in Melbourne – where he became the first Indian pacer to take nine wickets in a Test match in Australia. He also finished on the top of the charts for most wickets in 2018 across formats.
Historically, too, Bumrah’s performance, in terms of the average, was right up there for Indian bowlers in Australia.
While the bowlers largely lived up to what was expected them, it was the batsmen who stepped up in the series for India. While enough has been written about Pujara, India’s batting success stood in stark contrast to Australia’s failures. No wonder, then, that the top three run-getters were all Indian batsmen, with debutant Marcus Harris to follow in fourth. Not a single Australia batsman scored a century, with Harris’s 79 in Sydney the hosts’ highest individual score of the series. For India, there were three different centurions, while Pujara himself scored three.
Perhaps the most crucial takeaway from the series was how India recalibrated after that morning in Adelaide. When wickets fell around him, Pujara dropped anchor and steadied the sinking ship with what he himself called the most crucial of his three centuries, because it came in the series opener. That rubbed off on India’s batsmen in the subsequent matches, with even Kohli opting to rein in his natural attacking instincts, for instance, in Melbourne.
Pujara’s strategy for the series was to bat time and grind down the Australian bowlers. And he did just that.
SCG 1st innings: 548 mins
MCG 1st innings: 481 mins
MCG 2nd innings: 5 mins
Perth 1st innings: 151 mins
Perth 2nd innings: 15 mins
Adelaide 1st innings: 376 mins
Adelaide 2nd innings: 293 mins
Having batted over 31 hours in the series, Pujara set a new record for facing the most deliveries by an Indian batsman touring down under. In all away series in India’s history (and where data is available), Pujara’s record of 1,258 balls faced in seven innings is the second best. Only Rahul Dravid (in England, 2002) and Alastair Cook (in Australia, 2012-’13) managed more in an away series (with maximum four Tests).
And finally, one of the bigger talking points to emerge from the series was the role played by the toss. All three matches that saw a result was won by the team winning the toss. It would have likely happened in Sydney too if the weather had not played spoilsport. Kohli, meanwhile, continued the remarkable record of never losing a Test in which he has won the toss.
Indian fans will hope it long remains that way.