Day five at Adelaide turned into a humdinger as Australia’s lower order showed the stomach for a fight that was evidently lacking in its top order.
India’s relentless pace attack alongside off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, though, kept probing the batsmen and eventually prised out the last man with the hosts still 31 runs adrift of the target.
India hasn’t won a Test series in Australia yet and this Test win is its first in the country in 10 years, the last coming at Perth way back in 2008.
India has also never won the first Test of a series in Australia and looks set to rewrite history in the series with a 1-0 lead going into the second Test match at Perth on Friday.
There are several factors that tilted the balance India’s way but here we list down the top five reasons.
‘Not everyone’s Pujara here’
India’s chirpy wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant was heard constantly chattering to the Australian batsmen and one phrase he used a lot was that “Not everyone’s Pujara here”. While the quip could go down as a dig at the Australian batsmen, it was perhaps one reason the hosts couldn’t win. Cheteshwar Pujara showed immense resolve and composure for India from No.3 and took them from a precarious position after lunch on day 1 to a formidable total. In contrast, Australia’s top order played quite a few reckless shots in both innings’ and threw their wickets away which ultimately cost them big. If one batsman had shown the tenacity of Pujara and rallied together with the tail, Australia might have walked off with the highest run chase in Adelaide to their credit.
Effectiveness of India’s pace attack
Before the Test series began, Australian media had a sly dig at Ishant Sharma’s woeful record in terms of strike rate in the country. That, though, seemed a thing of the past as India’s pace bowlers matched the hosts’ seamers ball for ball. Jasprit Bumrah consistently clocked over 145kmh while Sharma was as immaculate and relentless as Josh Hazlewood. Mohammad Shami’s odd spell was as good as Cummins’ bursts and he provided quite a few crucial breakthroughs – like dismissing Starc’s late on day 5 to break a budding partnership – that effectively tilted the game India’s way. The pace attack had produced some fine numbers in England and South Africa earlier this year and going by Adelaide, the trend is set to continue Down Under.
Ravichandran Ashwin taking a leaf out of Lyon’s book
The last time Ravichandran Ashwin toured Australia in 2014-15, he tried a lot of variations, bowled quick and short and was milked for runs fairly easily by the Australians. His 12 wickets across three Tests came at an average of 48.66. Here, Ashwin took a leaf out of Lyon’s book. The Australian off-spinner has had immense success at home on the bouncier tracks using a fuller length and slower pace through the air. Ashwin was evidently slower this time around and used the rough outside the right-hander’s crease well to generate bounce and turn. One other factor was the six southpaws in the Aussie batting line-up. Ashwin has a terrific record against left-handers. This year, in the away Tests in England and South Africa, Ashwin took 21 wickets, of which 17 were left-handers. When Australia lost its top four in the first innings, Ashwin had claimed three lefties. Of his six wickets in the Test, only Aaron Finch in the second innings was a right-hander.
The psychological advantage of a 15-run lead
If Australia thought it had the upper hand after reducing India to 5-86 in the first innings, it was made to eat humble pie by a dogged Pujara and some fight from the tail. India ambled along to 250 on day one, a competitive score given where it was placed after the first session but wasn’t believed to be good enough to win the Test. That quickly changed as Australia’s top order played reckless shots and, despite the tail wagging, got to only 235, giving India a 15-run lead. In hindsight, that crucial margin proved to be a psychological advantage for the Indians, who came all guns blazing in the second innings with the bat. KL Rahul and Murali Vijay stitched together their maiden 50-run stand away from home and the platform rubbed off on Ajinkya Rahane, who has had a disastrous few months in Test cricket.
While it’s easy to pinpoint the toss as a decisive factor, it could well have been given how trends in Test cricket have been. All of the past 12 Test matches played in world cricket have been won by the side that won the toss. Recently, New Zealand drubbed Pakistan 2-1 in the UAE where all games were won by the side that won the toss. India had a wretched luck with the toss in South Africa and England. But when the toss has gone his way, Kohli knows how to churn out a win. Kohli has won the toss in 20 Test matches and hasn’t lost one (17 wins and three draws). So was the toss crucial? Apparently. But we will only know for certain as the caravan moves to other parts of Australia for the remainder of the series.
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