The world’s highest ranked Test team arrived 10 days before the first Test of the Border-Gavaskar series, trained away from the eye of the public and the media in the outskirts of Bengaluru. They scouted and picked lookalikes of India’s mainstream spinners, practised on worn-out tracks to get used to local conditions and test India’s superiority at home. But all their sweat and labour ended fruitlessly in less than three days Saturday.
Australia stumbled to a humbling defeat, by an innings and 132 runs in Nagpur, their third worst defeat at the hands of India, their second innings tally of 91 their lowest against India as well.
This is how daunting it is to conquer not just the conditions of the subcontinent but also their spin-trident of Ravi Ashwin, who helped himself to another five-wicket haul; Ravindra Jadeja, who tormented the visitors with five wickets in the first innings; and Axar Patel, who was reduced to a 13-over cameo, but chimed in with a valuable 84 that soared India’s total to 400, furnishing them with what became an unassailable lead of 223.
In response, Australia crumbled in a soulless, spineless batting display, brightening India’s hopes of another win in this series to seal their spot in the World Test Championship final later this year.
It has become a truism when playing India at home, that one of the spinners would invariably destroy the rival team. If not Ashwin, then Jadeja, if both fail, there is Patel. That all three can bat — between them they scored 177 of the 400 runs — shows their mind-spinning value.
Their repeated success at home has presented Indian captain Rohit Sharma with a unique dilemma.
“Ashwin says he wants to bowl because he has four wickets and needs one to complete five. Axar is two away from 50 wickets. Jaddu is closing on his 250th. Each one remembers their numbers so well. All three are good, all three would give wickets. So what should I do? Who should I give the ball to?” he asks.
often goes with the classical match-up.
“Look, Ashwin is so good against the left-handers, so when there are left-handed batsmen I throw the ball to him. Not that he has bad numbers against right-handers, but against lefties he is phenomenal. Similarly, Jadeja and Axar have terrific numbers against the right-handers,” he details the art of harnessing arguably the most lethal spin-bowling trio in India’s contemporary cricket history.
As both of Australia’s openers are left-handers, Usman Khawaja and David Warner, he unleashed Ashwin with the new ball. He nailed Khawaja with a piece of copybook off-spin bowling, a ball from around the stumps that drifted, dropped and spun away, whereas he foxed David Warner with a piece of new-age trickery, pinging him in front with the ball that went with the arm.
As soon as the right-handed Marnus Labuschagne came, he summoned Jadeja, who ejected him with a ball that skidded onto his pads.
Thereafter, the spin pair tore through the batting line-up, bowling with relentless pressure, unflinching intensity and staggering variations. Ashwin took out Matthew Renshaw, Peter Handscomb and Alex Carey, all three trapped leg before the wicket.
Jadeja and Patel snared one more apiece before Mohammed Shami scavenged the tail-enders. In the glow of the spinners, the gifts of their seamers should not go unnoticed. It was Shami and Mohammed Siraj who set the tone with a blinding spell on the first day.
The short duration of the match would have cynics crying foul over the pitch. Australia’s captain Pat Cummins admitted it was as much a case of them not coping with the low bounce of the pitch as their batsmen not being “brave” enough. “We could not execute our plans as competently as we would have liked. The pitch was difficult because the bounce was low.”
But as India’s batsmen proved, even the lower order scored runs, the last three putting on 160.
“The conditions were challenging but it is not that you couldn’t score runs. The conditions were the same for both of us, and we have made it a point to not discuss the pitch in the dressing room,” he said.
Though there was variable bounce at times, the turn was slow, giving batsmen ample time to judge the turn and nullify the danger. There was barely a rough spot from where the ball bounced or skidded alarmingly. It was different to some of the pitches rolled out to England in the 2021 series, where the ball leapt and bounced as though a drunk car.
The comprehensiveness of the victory should be attributed to the superiority of a team in home conditions, the consummate trickery of their bowlers and the decades-honed adeptness of their batsmen to play spin, traits and instincts that a few days of training and simulation can’t teach.
There was a time when Australia, too, handed out chastening defeats to their opponents at home.
Today, India exudes a similar aura — having lost just two Tests of 42 at home in the last decade, and winning 32 of them.
In the post-match press conference, Cummins admitted that “things sometimes happen too fast in India that you lose the match before you even realise.” The series, too, could unravel fast if his men don’t muster their characteristic fighting spirit – which, in Nagpur, was barely visible.