Aus v India: Pujara's batting, Indian pacers and toss among deciding factors

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India were denied a shot at victory in the fourth Test in Sydney after rain ruined play on the final two days of the match.

Even so, a 2-1 series triumph is just reward for the No1 Test team in the world after disheartening tours of South Africa and England in 2018 where they let go of winning positions and ended up losing both easily.

Here we take a look at five factors that worked in India’s favour during the Australia Test series.

Pujara’s batting

The biggest difference between the two teams. Pujara scored three centuries in four Tests. No Australian batsman even reached 80. His centuries in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney put India in winning positions and he helped bat Australia out of contention in Melbourne and Sydney.

While he was the only batsman from either team to score more than 400 runs, let alone 500 (521), it was the number of balls that Pujara faced – 1258 – which took the edge out of Australian bowling.

India’s bowling

Bumrah (r) has had a terrific debut year in Test cricket.

Bumrah (r) has had a terrific debut year in Test cricket.

As uninspiring as Australia’s batting was without Steve Smith and David Warner, the Aussies were playing at home and did have some experienced batsmen in the form of Usman Khawaja and Shaun Marsh.

But apart from debutant Marcus Harris and lower order bats Pat Cummins and Travis Head, to an extent, Australia couldn’t withstand the pace and accuracy of Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma. Spinners Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav took over from an injured Ravi Ashwin and made life even tougher for the hosts. Aussie batting looked bad mainly because India’s bowling was exemplary.

Toss

Winning the toss in Test cricket has become critical since the start of 2018 with pitches all across the world proving to be challenging, and almost all of them deteriorating rapidly in the second innings. Generally, batting first and watching the opposition crumble under the pressure of a fourth-innings chase has become a recipe for success. In all four Tests in Australia, the team that won the toss batted first and won the match or reached a winning position – as was the case in Sydney.

Aussie batting

The Australian team was unhappy at the nature of wickets offered during the four-Test series. They believe only Perth was conducive to their brand of cricket. However, the fact is it was spinner Nathan Lyon who won them the Perth Test. And if the conditions were too good for batting in the other three Tests, why didn’t a single Australian score a century? Why was their top score only 326?

Australia didn’t have Smith and Warner. But that shouldn’t have stopped others from scoring runs across four Tests at home. Inability to occupy the crease for long periods or score ‘ugly’ runs shows Australia’s batsmen have a lot of work to do in red-ball cricket.

Off-colour Starc and Hazlewood

Australia pacer Mitchell Starc.

Australia pacer Mitchell Starc.

India’s quicks outperformed a fully-fit Australian pace trio and that is no mean feat. Bumrah, Shami and Ishant adjusted their lines and length immediately and made Australia’s batsmen sweat it out for every run. Even on the penultimate day of the final Test in Sydney, Bumrah was bowling at nearly 150kph against Australia’s tail-enders.

On the other hand, Mitchell Starc’s radar malfunctioned and even though his pace was up, there was no rhythm or accuracy at all. Even Josh Hazlewood pulled his length back which allowed India to bat freely. Only Cummins troubled India with his accuracy. That only one Indian batsman got out lbw shows the Aussies didn’t target the stumps as much as they should have given the variable bounce on offer at all venues.

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Kohli's obsession with winning makes India a team you would pay to watch

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Virat Kohli has an obsessive personality. He is obsessed about being the fittest athlete he can be. He is obsessed about scoring runs against every team, in every condition, in every match. He is obsessed about winning every time he is on the field. And India’s maiden Test series win in Australia is, to a great extent, a result of that obsession.

On paper, India have just four wins in their away Test cycle that started with the tour of South Africa in the beginning of 2018. India lost the series in South Africa 2-1, lost in England 4-1 and won in Australia 2-1. That’s four wins and seven defeats. Rain robbed India of an opportunity to win the Sydney Test and make their record a more palatable 5-7. But India’s historic Test series win in Australia – the first ever by an Asian team – is much more than the 2-1 scoreline suggests.

After Australia levelled the series 1-1 in Perth, questions were raised about the tactical nous of the management. They did not go with a spinner in the second Test, even as Australia’s Nathan Lyon picked up eight wickets and proved to be the deciding factor.

But unlike the tour of England where they refused to learn from their mistakes and ended up selecting an injured Ravi Ashwin in the series-deciding Southampton Test, Kohli got the team combination right in the Melbourne and Sydney Tests and everything fell into place after that.

Admittedly, the toss went in India’s favour in Melbourne and Sydney but given Kohli’s rotten luck when it comes to tosses – losing all of them in England – he deserved some luck with the flip of the coin. But you still have to score runs and take wickets, which is what India did to cap a difficult away tour cycle on a winning note.

India’s bowling, Cheteshwar Pujara’s exemplary batting and an average Australian batting line-up played their part in the final result. But look beyond the stats, scorelines and quotes, the biggest result from the win Down Under and their overall game over the last season is this – you would pay to watch this Indian team.

The rise of Jasprit Bumrah as the premier all-format quick in the world, coupled with the menace of Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma, with timely support from the likes of Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav and an intermittently fit Ashwin have given Team India a bite that is to be feared in Test pastures.

Other teams like South Africa, England and New Zealand too have a potent bowling attack and are led by a dynamic captain. But there is mettle about India’s Test cricket. Their captain is boisterous. And he makes the right kind of noise, placing the Border-Gavaskar win above the World Cup triumph. Their best batsman – Pujara – has shown that you can succeed if just put your head down and follow your own path. Their replacement wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant does acrobatic flips (he was a gymnast) while taking a record number of catches and outscoring Kohli. Their pacers Bumrah and Shami sustained their hostility –  whenever they played – across 12 Tests. And most importantly, they didn’t go overboard while celebrating wins.

Kohli puts a premium on intent, which resulted in some players like KL Rahul and Ajinkya Rahane losing their radar while bating. Pujara also got caught in its wake but dug deep to go back to his default mode and start scoring again. But the message from Kohli remained the same – batsmen have to remain positive, fielders must throw themselves around, fast bowlers have to run in hard all day and bowl with specific plans. Sometimes you get instances like the Oval Test against England when India went for victory chasing 464 on the final day when a draw was a distinct possibility and lost by 118 runs to lose the series 4-1 instead of 3-1. That defeat showed how deeply Kohli has ingrained the desire for victory in the mind of the team.

It’s not like this Indian team is beyond criticism. They still make massive selection blunders and the injury management of key players like Ashwin and Hardik Pandya leaves a lot to be desired. But whether they win or lose, you want to watch them play. And that is the biggest achievement of Kohli the captain.

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Indian cricket fans waiting to take Sydney by storm

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Indian cricket team celebrates their first test series win in Australia after seven decades

Singing, dancing and waving massive flags, India‘s cricket fans were in party mode as their team achieved a milestone – their first-ever Test series win in Australia.

The two nations are fierce cricketing rivals and India, the number one Test side, came to Australia looking to create history after seven decades of trying.

The self-described 12th man of the team, the vocal Indian fans were a constant presence at the four Tests, eager to witness what seemed like an impossible task in the past become a reality.

“I am very happy now that the time has come that after 71 years ‘Team India’ is going to win this Test trophy,” renowned India fan Sudhir Chaudhary told AFP in Hindi via a translator outside the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Chaudhary – whose upper body and face is painted with the Indian tricolours of saffron, white and green and the name of his patron and favourite player, cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar – embodies the passion of the supporters.

Cricket is hugely popular in India and getting on top of Australia on home soil has been a key goal after 11 previous attempts.

Chaudhary, 37, has followed the Indian cricket team for almost two decades, and made sure he was a visible presence at the SCG as he waved a national flag and blew a conch.

Other faithful fans also travelled from far and wide to Australia to cheer on their star cricketers.

Long periods of rain at the Tests in Sydney and Melbourne did not deter them, with their singing and drumming bringing energy to the dismal sessions.

“It’s a bit of an emotional rollercoaster,” British-based Rakesh Patel, the founder of the supporters group Bharat Army, told AFP.

“After two very tough series (against South Africa and England), we’re finally going to win a series away from home.

“Some of these guys here have travelled from all over the world to be here, to see India beat Australia for the first time.”

With India sewing up the series 2-1 after drawing the rain-sodden final Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground and securing victories in Adelaide and Melbourne, the fans were planning a big bash.

“Our plan is to celebrate with the team. We are the 12th man of ‘Team India’, so we’ll be celebrating with them, and then the party will go on,” Rajul Sharma, who heads up the Australian branch of Bharat Army, told AFP.

“It’s hard to say when it’s going to stop… So yeah Sydney, watch out for Indian fans!”

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