India might win more Test series in the decades to come Down Under, but the first one will always remain special. Like Ajit Wadekar’s team that won in West Indies and England, Virat Kohli and Co will go down in the history books of Indian cricket for being the first team to triumph in the fortress that is Australia.
The win reinforced India’s status as the world’s number one team by winning a historic first-ever series in Australia on Monday in an achievement the skipper called the biggest of his storied career.
It is the first time they have managed the feat since they began touring Australia in 1947-’48.
India got the series off to the best possible start by winning the tight opening Test in Adelaide by 31 runs on the fifth day – their first Test win in Australia for a decade. The victory was built on Cheteshwar Pujara’s first innings 123 and his second innings 71, while wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant took a world record-equalling 11 catches.
Australia bounced back in Perth to level the series, winning by 146 runs. But another Pujara century in Melbourne set the visitors up for a big first-innings total and when Australia capitulated in reply to 151 all out, the scene was set for India to take a stranglehold on the series coming into Sydney.
Here are ratings out of 10 for the Indian team, and there are no prizes for guessing who tops the class of 2018-’19:
The topper — Cheteshwar Pujara (10/10)
Well, he can’t dance, can he? But apart from that, Pujara had a career-defining summer in Australia. And he finished it off with words that were music to the fans’ ears: “Test cricket is my priority, it’ll always remain my priority.”
A rare gem in the modern game who deserves all the praise coming his way.
Read more here: While Australia were obsessed with Kohli, Pujara made the summer Down Under his own
The wrecker-in-chief — Jasprit Bumrah (9)
The year 2018 in Indian cricket will go down as the one where Bumrah’s legend was born. Three overseas Test tours to begin his career and he was the best Indian bowler in two of them. He finished as the top wicket-taker in Australia, alongside Nathan Lyon but at a much better average. Like Pujara, enough has been written about Bumrah on these pages. He doesn’t get a perfect 10 only because of the first innings in Perth, where he and the rest of the Indian bowlers were guilty of letting Australian openers get away on a tough pitch, to build a match-defining century partnership.
The 8-pointers — Kohli, Pant and other key players
The first Indian wicket-keeper to score a century in England, has also added Australia to that list. In his first tour Down Under, Pant finished as the second-best run-getter in the series, even ahead of Kohli, thanks mainly to a 159 not out in Sydney in the final Test. While nearly half his runs came in one innings, Pant showed a tendency to improve his shot selection as the series went on, learning from the rash shots he played in Adelaide.
He set wicket-keeping records (joint most number of catches in a match) but the tendency to drop a sitter or two still remains. He is technically not the most gifted gloveman but neither was MS Dhoni when he started off. Pant can only improve from here and should ensure that he remains a wicket-keeper who can win you matches with the bat and not the other way around.
Second-innings Shami came to the fore in Perth with a nasty spell, but first-innings Shami wasn’t half bad either. Finishing the series behind Bumrah and Lyon on the wicket-takers list, Shami ran in hard match after match, innings after innings and rarely looked off the pace, which is saying something for him. Easily the second most important fast bowler in the side now after Bumrah.
Imagine if Agarwal was part of the original squad and his form in domestic cricket was rewarded instead of M Vijay getting a call-up based on his runs in county cricket. Agarwal looked the part in the three innings he played, registering two 70-plus scores and a 46. To do so after being drafted into the side in the middle of the series speaks volumes of his confidence level. Only criticism of Agarwal would be him missing out on a certain hundred in Sydney with a rash shot, but he’ll learn from it.
For all the pre-series predictions about Kohli vs Khawaja being the battle to watch out for, the two main batsmen for the respective teams finished as the third highest run-getters — Kohli behind Pujara and Pant, Khawaja behind Marcus Harris and Travis Head.
That is not to say Kohli had a bad series, from it. The century in Perth was one for the ages, even though it ended in defeat. It was an innings that showed how he is operating at a level different to the current crop, when faced with a tough challenge. It won’t matter to him as the series is won, but some of the shots he played to get dismissed were loose by his own incredibly high standards.
As a captain, however, Kohli had more hits than misses in this series. The team selection in Perth was the biggest blunder, even if he wouldn’t admit it. But almost all of his other big calls paid off. Changing the opening combination for Melbourne worked, as did most of his field placements and bowling changes. Overall, an impressive series for the King.
One innings on tour, one five-wicket haul. That’s not a bad return, is it? Sunil Gavaskar constantly called for his inclusion in the side during the series and when it happened finally in Sydney, Kuldeep showed he can be a handful even in not-so-helpful conditions. It remains to be seen if he has jumped ahead of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja in the pecking order, but he did a fine job when he was asked to.
The 7-pointers – Efficient without being excellent
His non-selection was the biggest talking point halfway through the series for India but, in a way, Jadeja summed up India’s return to form after the defeat in Perth. He was not perfect with the ball in his hand during the last two Tests but came up with regular breakthroughs, and finished the series with a stylish 81, to continue his renaissance with the bat. And as always, a livewire on the field. If Ashwin’s injury problems start to become a concern for Kohli, Jadeja could well be the lead spinner overseas the next time India play outside the subcontinent.
In many ways, the leader of the bowling attack. Ishant is no stranger to Australian conditions, but the improved version caught the attention of many an Australian pundit, as he impressed with his fuller lengths and greater consistency. Despite missing out in Sydney, Ishant finished with a haul of 11 wickets at 23.81.
“If you want me to choose one [defining innings of the series], I’d say Vihari batting for 70 odd balls at the MCG [as an opener],” was Kohli’s response when asked about individual performances, as he was trying to make the point that the collective mattered more. Even if it was rhetorical, there is a reason Kohli thought of that innings because it solved a major problem for India after the first two matches – the opening partnership falling early. The numbers won’t show Vihari was a massive success in this series, but he played his part when asked to.
The 6-pointers – Case of what if for Ashwin and Rohit
Did Ashwin do enough in the one Test he played to ensure he is the first-choice spinner the next India tour abroad? Did Rohit Sharma do enough to justify his recall to the Test side in the two Tests he played, despite not having played red-ball cricket since being dropped for the third Test in South Africa?
The answers to both questions probably need articles on their own to dissect – it’s not an easy yes or no. Sure, it’s a concern that Ashwin is getting frequently injured. Yes, Rohit frustrated in Adelaide with his shot selection. But both of them did play their roles in one way or another in two of India’s wins.
For now though, they’d have to make do with a six in our report card.
The 5-pointers – Can we talk about Rahane now?
Rahane’s career is an interesting case study. He started off as an overseas expert, scoring centuries in his first tours of England and Australia. But in the past year, his numbers read 644 runs in 21 innings, at an average of just above 30. In 18 innings combined in the three overseas tours of 2018-’19, he has made 513 runs at 28.50. His average in the Australia series was slightly better than that, reading 31.00 for 217 runs. By all accounts, India’s premier middle-order batsman away from home has been registering middling numbers for a while now.
His performances did improve overall in Australia, as he showed more confidence in his stroke-making. But the fact that he has not scored a Test century since August 2017 is a concern that has flown under the radar after the euphoria of a series win.
Figures of 2/139 in the match that he was brought in to make the most of helpful conditions, supposedly. Not the brightest moment of his Test career.
The disappointments – What next for Rahul and Vijay?
It’s hard to give a rating to KL Rahul and M Vijay, the two openers who started the series but fell out of favour mid-way through. Rahul got another chance in Sydney that he blew. One score of 40-plus for Rahul in five innings and scores 20, 18, 11 and 0 for Vijay are ample evidence that these two players were the biggest disappointments of the series for India.
With Agarwal clicking, Prithvi Shaw already earmarked for bigger things in the future, and Shubman Gill waiting in the wings, time is running out for Rahul, while Vijay might be lucky to get another go in the Indian team after this.