India stare at a series whitewash in Australia as absence of key stars sees morale take a dip

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  • The 19th of December will go down as a black day in the history of Indian cricket after the most extraordinary of batting capitulations in Adelaide saw them bowled out for a historical Test low of 36.

    Ironically, this ‘massacre at the Adelaide Oval’ comes exactly four years after a triple ton by Karun Nair in Chennai saw the Indians post their highest-ever Test total of 759-7.

    Absolutely no one would have foreseen the remarkable events of Saturday when India’s batsmen took the field against an Australia side who were on the back foot after two days of play. Early domination counted for nought, ultimately, and was undone in the span of just one hour of the most-surgically-precise swing bowling by Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins.

    It was the boxing equivalent of a fighter dominating for 11 rounds, only to be knocked out by a sucker punch from the opponent. Bewilderment was the common expression among pundits and fans alike, as India’s batsmen formed a procession to the dressing room.

    For all the talk about the pink ball gaining notoriety under lights in the twilight session, it was a clear afternoon sky in Adelaide when the horror unfolded for Virat Kohli and his men.

    The post-mortem of that batting display will be laid on television screens and other media for days to come, even though the events might have been of a freakish nature and bereft of any rational explanation. In the past decade alone, there have been epic batting collapses involving formidable Test sides such as Australia, New Zealand and England.

    India’s dramatic fall on Saturday isn’t the first such collapse and it certainly won’t be the last.

    However, it is what awaits the visitors in the three remaining Tests to come that harbors the warning of inevitable doom. They will be without their talisman and best batsman for the rest of the series, with Kohli set to return to India on paternity leave.

    That he looked like their batsman by some distance in Adelaide will only add further salt to India’s wounds.

    Their misery has only been compounded by the injury to Mohammed Shami, with the pacer ruled out of the remainder of the tour after fracturing his arm in the opening Test. It leaves India alarmingly short in the pace department, especially in the light of Ishant Sharma already being unavailable until the third Test at least.

    Even more worryingly for India, Australia’s best batsmen have not even picked up form yet. Steve Smith was uncharacteristically subdued in Adelaide, while Marnus Labuschagne was far from his fluent best in a scratchy innings riddled with lucky breaks.

    Meanwhile, David Warner wasn’t even in the playing XI because of a groin injury. These three batting stalwarts are sure to strike it big soon in the comfort of their home conditions.

    By yielding the early momentum to an Australian side which wasn’t at its very best in the opener, India might well have sealed their fate for the remainder of the tour. Aussie skipper Tim Paine was quick to point this out after the Adelaide win to heap even more mental pressure over a fragile Indian team.

    “I’m absolutely rapt with how we bowled in this Test, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do with our batting – our first innings was well below what we’d expect – so it’s a good thing to have a good win and not play anywhere near our best. It fills our team with confidence,” Paine stated after taking the 1-0 advantage.

    Pressure increases on Pujara to fire in Kohli's absence.

    Pressure increases on Pujara to fire in Kohli’s absence.

    How do India’s batsmen even pick themselves up after being bowled out for their lowest ever Test total? The turnaround for the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne is a short one, and leaves the visitors with barely any time to mentally regroup from the Adelaide drubbing.

    They will need to launch any possible fightback without the services of their best players against an Australia side which has now sniffed blood. The tables have well and truly turned for both sides since the previous series Australia in 2018-19.

    It was Australia then, who were handicapped by the absence of Smith and Warner, with India taking the early ascendancy in Adelaide.

    The Aussies did bounce back immediately with victory in Perth, before being thoroughly outclassed by the Indians in the third and fourth Tests.

    Even one victory seems like a bridge too far for the current Indian side, against a side which has whitewashed Pakistan and New Zealand on home soil in recent times.

    The writing seems to be on the wall for the wounded visitors for now, and even an encore of Cheteshwar Pujara’s 2018-19 displays might not be enough to lift them out of the rut.

    Stranger things have happened in sport though before, and one only has to look at Saturday’s bizarre collapse to see that nothing is really improbable.