Why Australia's win could turn out to be a positive for India

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© BCCI Media

Why Australia's win could turn out to be a positive for India

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SportsCafe Desk

02/28/2017

Australia have refused to lie down and adhere to the norms. They have pushed India out of their comfort zone, and that is the best thing they could have done for Indian cricket at the moment.

The party hosted by India in this home season has had a clear theme. New Zealand came dressed for it, so did England and Bangladesh. The Kiwis were defeated with ease. The Englishmen showed some resistance in the first Test but by the end of the fourth Test, they were down on their knees. Bangladesh were invited to the party for the first time but they were no match for the host as well. However, one last guest was yet to arrive – Australia.

They arrived late, and they arrived with a lot of battle scars. The wounds from their last visit to the subcontinent were yet to heal. South Africa had thrashed them at home. However, wins over Pakistan in the Test series and defeating New Zealand at home in the Chappell-Hadlee series gave them a sense of resurrection. That resurrection was completed in Pune almost six months after they were demolished by Sri Lanka.

The loss put rankings into perspective

We, as a nation, are obsessed with rankings, numbers, and stats – at least as along as it endorses our beliefs. India’s rise to the top of the rankings last year sparked off huge celebrations among the fans, and rightly so. It took India almost a decade to get to the top, and their performances on the field backed that accolade. Virat Kohli conquered everything that was thrown at him and his team, Ravichandran Ashwin established himself as the best Test bowler in the world, and even Ravindra Jadeja became a force to be reckoned with. Indians found themselves at the top, or near about, in all the disciplines in the ICC rankings.

Cricket, unlike a lot of other team sports, has a lot more scope for individuals to win matches for their teams single-handedly. However, such wins only help in papering cracks. Which is why the defeats tell you more about a team than victories. It is when the bones are laid bare that you notice the crevasses.

Indian spinners finally meet their match and now need to step their game

 © BCCI

The Pune pitch leveled the playing field, and a 32-year-old off-spinner, who has struggled with his fitness last year, playing in this first Test match in India outperformed the No.1 and No.2 ranked spinner in the world. Steve O’Keefe and Nathan Lyon showed India what is it is like to be at the other end of the spectrum. As a team, Australia outplayed the No.1 Test team in their own game in their own backyard.

As a result, someone like Ravindra Jadeja will be forced to have a more definite game plan for every opponent. He will need to attack the stumps a bit more along with turning the ball away. Jadeja's penchant for too much spin seemed to have hindered his ability to take wickets as the batsmen left the away-spinning ones alone as compared to an O'Keefe who could not spin it as much.

India cannot afford to rely on just Kohli and Pujara anymore

The common theme during India’s home season so far has been that of Virat Kohli outperforming his contemporary rivals in the opponent’s lineup. He out-scored Kane Williamson when New Zealand toured India, and then out-performed Joe Root when England visited them. However, it was Steve Smith who drew the first blood in the opening Test of the Border-Gavaskar series. With three more Test matches still to go in the series, Kohli will have to pull off something special to out-do Smith's century on that Pune wicket.

As Kohli played a ball he should have left in the first innings and left a ball he should have played in the second, the rest of the Indian batting lineup crumbled. Cheteshwar Pujara, who has been as vital a cog in the Test team as Kohli without receiving similar credit, also faltered, while KL Rahul showed his immaturity in throwing his wicket away in the first innings after getting his eye in. Sunil Gavaskar pointed out after the match that India played IPL-like cricket. Rahul and co need to be more patient while batting on tough wickets. Batting for just 75 overs in two innings is not going to win a Test match for any team.

 © BCCI

Rahul’s dismissal in the first innings triggered a collapse as India went from 94/3 to 105 all out in the blink of an eye. It was that collapse which had a chain reaction that led to the eventual defeat. The fielders struggled to hold to catches as Steve Smith received five lives on the way to his ton, while the bowlers failed to stop the flow of the runs with Australia scoring at 3.27 rpo on a crumbling pitch – the highest in all the four innings.

A more strategic approach towards DRS

Apart from batting, bowling, and fielding, India also continued to struggle in the newly added fourth aspect of the game – DRS. The likes of Ashwin and Saha’s over-enthusiasm along with Kohli’s apparent gullibility, when it comes to appeals, led to India wasting their DRS calls once again. They repeated the same mistakes they made in the previous series, but this time, it got highlighted due to the outcome of the match.

The Indians need a more measured approach towards the DRS. They should not risk it when the probability of overturning the decision is very less. In the second innings, Australia did not use their DRS, despite having two left, on Kohli since it appeared a marginal call. It is better not to bet on marginal calls being overturned rather than having nothing left in the bank when you face a call that can clearly be reversed.

In hindsight, this Australian team has breathed new life into the Indian home season, which had been pretty one-sided so far. While every pundit and expert expected India to walk all over the Aussies, Shane Warne had warned them that it will be much closer than what people were expecting at the start of the series.

For the first time in a while, this Indian team have been asked to dig deep and show some resilience. For the first time in a while, their authority at home has been challenged, and it will help them to take their game to the next level. It will also prepare them for the more tougher challenges that lie ahead of them away from the comfort of dust bowls at home. But perhaps most importantly, this defeat will make them realize how dependent their tactics, of making rank turners, are on a coin toss.

Australia have refused to lie down and adhere to the norms. They have pushed India out of their comfort zone, and that is the best thing they could have done for Indian cricket at the moment.

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