There is always a special feeling when the target is achieved for the first time, especially if it has put an end to drought of 71 years. This is a long time in Indian Cricket history and ticking the checkbox for a series triumph in Australia, means a lot. Not that the previous Indian teams were not better, yes they were, but it was always Australia who were strong both on paper as well as on the field. However, it is a famous saying that “Better be late than never” and this is India’s, Carpie Diem.
In fact, the huge difference between this Indian team and the previous ones – is the pace battery. Virat Kohli has the privilege of leading a side which has a potent fast bowling unit. And as they say in cricketing terminology, “Batsmen wins you games, bowlers win you tournaments”. Once again, the history is a fine testimony of the statement. The potent bowling attack was a common lethal weapon in the previous teams of West Indies, Australia, Pakistan and South Africa.
However, this Indian team didn’t have one luxury which the previous one had in abundance and which was keeping them at bay from their overseas success. The Batting Unit. In fact, it was all about India’s batting getting clicked and you knew that bowlers will get the job done. Once the batting fired at all cylinders in Australia, it was always going to be India’s series. That is where Cheteshwar Pujara was the major difference between the two sides.
Cheteshwar Pujara scored 521 runs – the most by any batsman in the series. He faced 1258 balls and batted and batted and batted and batted till he sucked every ounce of energy of the Australian bowlers. 1258 balls are equal to 209.4 overs, which is almost two and half days of Test cricket if we add another 15.2 overs.
These are huge numbers. Not only Cheteshwar Pujara faced these many balls but also he made Australian bowlers tired. In fact, the host’s bowlers must have felt that they are bowling to a WALL as they could not crack the code to break it before it had done all the damage. Furthermore, one more benefit of playing a huge inning in which Pujara puts his heart and soul is that such a batsman allow others to bat alongside him. Ask Rishabh Pant who scored 159 in the Sydney Test. The stage was set and Pant made most of the match situation to add salt on Australia’s wounds. In fact, nothing should be taken away from the young man’s knock but Pujara had made his life easier.
Test cricket is the game of conditions. You play out the first session without any damage in the wickets column. The top order protects the middle order from the new ball, you give the first hour to the bowlers. That’s the beauty of the pristine form of the game.
Consequently, this is why the role of the openers and the number three batsman is imperative in the red ball version. Hanuma Vihari played 66 balls for his eight runs in the Boxing Day Test match. To some, it must have been a boring inning where Vihari was playing everything with a dead bat. However, Vihari had done justice to his job of a makeshift opener which was to shield the middle order from the new red cherry.
Cheteshwar Pujara is someone who knows his game and backs it to the hilt. He remains authentic to his own personality and it is pivotal to remain who you are both in cricket and in life. Everybody has their own definition of intent. In fact, intent in the purest form of the game can be a simple leave, where the batsman knows where his off-stump is.
Matthew Hayden defines aggression beautifully. “All this going around is not aggression. If you want to see aggression look into Rahul Dravid’s eyes” – Matthew Hayden had said.
Cheteshwar Pujara knows he cannot play a reverse sweep and it makes sense for him not to try that shot. In fact, one will agree that Pujara will never attempt to play such a shot even in the nets.
India had their backs against the wall when they were 41-4 in the first innings of the tour. It is said that well begun is half job done and once again the Indian team was staring down the barrel of the gun. In fact, it is very difficult to get back into the series after losing the first Test match and India’s demons of poor-starters were hanging close to their eyes.
Pujara scored 123 out of team’s 250, to save India’s sinking ship. He backed it with another 71 in the second dig to put his side noses in front. Consequently, India won the Adelaide Test as Pujara scored a total of 194 runs. According to Australia’s captain Tim Paine, it was the turning point in the series.
Pujara likes to play orthodox cricket. He waits for the loose balls and play the good one with a dead bat or leaves them undisturbed. He works hard for his runs and he was the main lead – our HERO of the tour.
Moving on to other supporting actors.
What is luck? It is when opportunity meets hard work. Mayank Agarwal is the perfect epitome of the statement. Agarwal was waiting in the wings for a long time, scoring all the runs for Karnataka and India A. However, he didn’t receive his chance when he should have got it in the first place. But most importantly, he didn’t veer off the track as the best he could do, was to keep scoring runs and he made sure he scored plenty of them.
He was working hard in the domestic circuit and the results were palpable. So when the opportunity was finally thrown to him, he was all ready to embrace it with open arms. And boy, didn’t he made the most of it. The transition from the domestic circuit to International level can be gargantuan. In fact, Australia’s bowling line-up is one of the best in the world if not the best. However, Mayank Agarwal wasn’t giving away his opportunity with ease. He knew how hard he had worked to earn that Test cap. Hence, the talisman Karnataka right-hander was never going to let his two years of work go in vain. The Australian bowlers must have realised that the grassroots of Agarwal batting are strong and he hasn’t played with canteen guys.
He scored 76 in his debut innings and 77 in third innings at the topmost level. In fact, the right-hander was knocking hard at the selection doors from a long time and when the door was finally answered, he made sure he was up and ready to prove that he belonged there at the top of the pile. Hence, Agarwal was like a hungry Lion who was waiting patiently behind the bushes for his opportunity to attack his prey. Consequently, Agarwal did his job of the opener.
Thus, the openers in Test cricket are like soldiers in the first row of the battle who are willing to take the bullet on their chest, to protect their colleagues.
Then there was Jasprit Bumrah. What a find he has been for the Indian team. Bumrah used a boomerang (Australian Aborigines) to prey down the Australian batsmen.
In fact, whenever Jasprit Bumrah had a ball in his hand, there was a strong whiff of a wicket falling down and he must have sent the shivers down the Australian batsmen spine. He took 21 wickets to be the leading wicket-taker along with Nathan Lyon. The gun fast bowler bowled with an average of 17 and strike rate of 44.9. To pick a wicket after conceding 17 runs and after every 45 balls is sensational. And this was not only his first tour to Australia but also his maiden year in multi-day format. To take 49 wickets in 10 Test matches, Bumrah has shown the promise to be India’s best.
No doubt he has become Virat Kohli’s go-to bowler and has taken giant strides in his young career. The highlight of the series will have to be Bumrah’s slower ball to Shaun Marsh. The southpaw was bamboozled by Bumrah’s deadly weapon which he generally oozes in the shorter formats. However, Bumrah decided to take out his life-taking arrow from his quiver. Bumrah’s Mumbai Indians skipper Rohit Sharma was the mastermind behind the idea to leave Marsh in disbelief.
Bumrah is consistent with his pace. He clicks more than 140 km/h with a short run-up, he asks the right questions from the batters, pitches his balls in the corridor of uncertainty and there are no freebies on offer when he is bowling. Hence, he is a complete package and a delight for any captain. Subsequently, Bumrah has made it his good penchant of breathing down the neck of the opposition batsmen.
Mohammed Shami scalped 16 wickets to be the second highest wicket-taker in the series. However, his effort of 6-56 in the Perth Test match went in vain as India lost by 146 runs. Ishant Sharma was on his fourth Australian tour and in the last year, there has been a monumental difference in his bowling. He was India’s leading wicket-taker with 19 wickets on England tour and scalped 11 wickets at an average of 23.81. Ergo, the old horse, however he is still 30 was finally able to make the most of his experience. Hence, India’s bowling coach Bharat Arun, who has worked hard behind the scenes and is the director of India’s pace battery story should be appreciated.
Last but the least, Virat Kohli’s captaincy showed be given credit. He might have scored only 282 runs in the series, which is not up to his mark. However, he scored a magical 123 on the minefield like Perth pitch.
Kohli rotated his fast bowlers with guile as he gave them small bursts. He looked a bit sedate inside as compared to earlier times, but again that is his style of aggressive leadership. The Indian skipper is always the one who likes to take the bull by its horns. He is still learning as a captain but with a win in Australia, he adds an illustrious feather to his captaincy cap.