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Takeaways from India's first series victory down under

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Takeaways from India’s first Test series victory Down Under | World No.1 for a reason

Takeaways from India’s first Test series victory Down Under | World No.1 for a reason

 

After 71 years, the wait for winning a Test series in Australia is finally over

 

January 7, 2019, the day in Sydney started among overcast conditions but for everyone involved with Indian cricket, including the fans all over the world, there was a burst of palpable sunshine in the ambience, no matter where they were, as their team was on the verge of ticking off Australia from the list of countries where they registered a Test series win.

 

It was a long hard year of Test cricket for the Indian side consisting of tough tours of South Africa, England and Australia. Virat Kohli’s men had their chances in the Rainbow nation and then in England as well, but failed to make the most of them. Ultimately, they did not have much to show for their efforts except a consolatory win in both the series.

 

“All’s well that ends well” is one of the most realistic phrases you will ever come across. The battles with Australia have been so intense that beating them could erase the blemishes of the mistakes made in England and South Africa. Australia, suffering from the consequences of the sandpaper gate meant it was indeed Team India’s best chance to lift the trophy Down Under and the ‘Men in Blue’ did not make a farce of their chances this time to press their foot down on the opposition.

 

With Australia checked, South Africa is the only country where the Indian team is yet to win a Test series. Here are some major takeaways from Team India’s first Test series victory on the Australian soil:

 

#1 Cheteshwar Pujara’s emergence to share Virat Kohli’s burden

Not that the cricket world was not enjoying watching Virat Kohli score runs but witnessing only him among the runs was a cause of worry in the Indian camp. Kohli contributed to one-fourth of the total number of runs scored by India in both, South Africa and England. The next best share was roughly half of his chunk.

 

(Hardik Pandya averaged 5.20 with the bat if you remove his knock of 93 from the Capetown Test. Similarly, KL Rahul’s average in the England series drops down to 15.5 barring his innings of 149 in the Oval Test.)

 

A refreshing upgrade in the Indian batting order Down Under was the way Cheteshwar Pujara emerged to rub shoulders with Virat Kohli at the top of the order. Not only did he share the burden of run-scoring, but he outscored his captain in the series by a comfortable margin in every trait of batting, be it average, strike rate, balls per dismissal or the number of hundreds.

 

Pujara faced 1,258 deliveries in the series, more than any other batsman has batted in a 4-match Test series in Australia (55 balls more than Rahul Dravid in 2003-04). His grit allowed one of the most captivating batting pair at 3 and 4 to flourish in full flow.

 

The average number of runs scored by the middle order in the bowling friendly year of Test cricket, 2018 was 132.77 per innings. The Indian team fell short of that mark in both England and South Africa, but Cheteshwar Pujara wearing down the bowlers with old-school batting helped India do justice to their potential in the middle order.

 

On the other hand, Australian middle order batted with an average of 106.98 in the series, well short of the average number. The numbers clearly backs the popular opinion – Pujara’s resilience was the difference between both the teams.

 

#2 Indian Pacers > Australian Pacers

Seldom does it happen that Indian cricket, known primarily for producing quality batsmen and spinners, outperform the opposition with their pace battery, that too in a country like Australia. The pace trio of Cummins, Starc and Hazlewood is touted as one of the best in the world at present. They rattled the English batsmen 12 months ago but this Australian summer, they were second to India’s troika – Bumrah, Shami and Ishant Sharma.

 

This is the first time that Indian pacers have taken more wickets than their counterparts in a Test series in Australia. In fact, the Aussies have now lost five-Test series at home in the 21st century and every time, their pacers have been outbowled by the opposition’s fast bowlers.

 

(In 2012/13, the South African and Australian pacers took the same number of wickets. However, the Proteas’ pacers fared with a much better strike rate and bowling average in comparison to those of the home side.)

 

India’s fast bowling department has leapfrogged to compile one of the most dangerous fast bowling units in world cricket. Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma and Mohammad Shami took 100 Test wickets between them this year (136), eventually, the most by any pace troika in a year, beating the 35-year old record of Joel Garner, Michael Holding and Malcolm Marshall (130). The Indian pace attack is second only to South Africa in terms of average and strike rate among the Test nations that played more than 10 Tests this year.

(Zimbabwe, Ireland and Afghanistan played only 4 Test matches collectively)

 

#3 Australian batsmen’s inability to play long innings

Bowlers are popularly known to win matches and considering the potential in the bowling attack of both the sides, this series was largely about which set of batsmen manage to cope with the pressure of relentless bowling. Australia have been largely dependent on Steve Smith to perform those duties for the last few years and his absence left a void too big to fill for other Aussie batsmen.

 

While Pujara and Kohli batted for 1,942 balls (approximately 277 balls per innings) together, Australia number 3 and 4 had only 1,042 deliveries approximately 131 balls per innings) between them. As a result, Australia found themselves in more desperate situations with the bat than India despite having better opening stands than their opponents.

 

The 8 batsmen that formed the fulcrum of the Australian batting had only 4 hundreds in the 43 innings between them in the Sheffield Shield competition prior to the Test series. And in the Test series, there were no hundreds from the home side across the 4 Tests with Marcus Harris coming closest with a score of 79, the lowest highest score during a 4-match series at home.

 

On an average, 54 balls were bowled for every wicket in Test cricket in 2018. On 26 occasions out of the 51 innings played by the top 7 Aussie batsmen in the series, only 7 of them managed to score a fifty which reflects their inability to play long innings after getting their eye in.

 

Also, comparing the first-class batting average of the current Australian and Indian batsmen indicate a pitiful picture for the Kangaroos. Usman Khawaja, their most successful batsman at the moment in terms of average is marginally ahead of the man with the lowest first-class average in the current Indian squad, Murali Vijay.

Australia First-Class Average India
Usman Khawaja 43.66 57.52 Hanuma Vihari
Shaun Marsh 40.79 54.23 Rohit Sharma
Peter Handscomb 38.64 54.41 Cheteshwar Pujara
Travis Head 36.68 54.03 Virat Kohli
Marcus Harris 35.57 53.04 Rishabh Pant
Aaron Finch 35.49 50.79 Ajinkya Rahane
Marnus Labuschange 33.23 50.58 Mayank Agarwal
Mitchell Marsh 31.63 46.65 KL Rahul
Tim Paine 29.72 42.79 Murali Vijay

 

#4 Not allowing the tail to wag

For long, Indian cricket has suffered from the syndrome of not being able to close the innings with the ball as well as they would like to after making early inroads. The tendency to leak runs against the lower order batsmen has cost India a lot of Test matches, henceforth, the series.

(India’s tour of South Africa and England in 2018 were relatively low-scoring series with the top 7 batsmen averaging only 24.25 and 30.65 respectively)

 

The Adelaide Test was one instance when Mitchell Starc (28), Pat Cummins (28), Nathan Lyon (38*) and Josh Hazlewood (13) added 107 runs in the second innings.

 

The last time India toured Australia, the home side’s tail (last 4 batsmen on the batting card) wagged at 37.2 runs per wicket. In England last year, the Indian team conceded at an average of 21.95, which is quite a significant number considering a less productive series for the batsmen. Overall, 20% of England’s runs came from the batsmen batting at 8 or below.

 

India rectified the only chink in their bowling armoury this time, conceding only 19.71 runs per wicket to the tail. If you remove the Adelaide Test, the average drops down further to 17.20.

 

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