Auckland, February 27, 2017
The series opener of the much-hyped Border-Gavaskar Trophy got off to a spectacular start in India.
Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja are the top ranked Test bowlers. Respective captains Steve Smith and Virat Kohli the top two Test batsmen, with Ashwin also ranked the top all-rounder.
The highly-anticipated mouth-watering contest got off to the worst possible start for the home team.
Not for a moment did the annihilation of the Indian team, currently the top ranked Test team, seem normal.
Such was the enormity of the win for Australia that their modest skipper rolled his tongue at ease to state the exact number of days since the last Australian victory there. In Smith’s words, it was a 4502 days’ wait.
That showed the determination of the Australian team.
Apart from their extensive tactical and physical preparation, the Australian team appears to be psychologically well prepared as a part of the tour orientation camp that they attended in Dubai.
The match wrapped-up within two-and-a half days during which all forty wickets fell.
Alarmingly, India lost twenty of those inside a total of 74 overs.
This must have deeply unsettled the Indian camp.
More so because India had been on super-hot form spearheaded by Kohli, who, less than a month ago, matched the great Sir Don Bradman’s record of scoring a double century in four successive Test series.
He led the team to dominate a very strong England squad on the recently concluded Test series.
Australia had just recovered to beat a feeble Pakistan team after being humiliated by South Africa in their home and away series late last year.
On paper, this was the weakest Australian team to tour India to play one of the strongest Indian line-ups in years.
To aid the home team, a traditional ‘spinner friendly’ was prepared.
This time, the strategy backfired spectacularly for India.
The nonsensical pitch saw India introduce spin in the second over.
India seemed to have the edge when they folded the Australian first innings under 300.
However, India’s own spin strength quickly became their weakness as they capitulated for 105, and towards the end lost seven wickets for eleven runs.
It was hard to digest India had been beaten at their own game that too in their own backyard. As Smith put it, “India played into our hands.”
The game was won by the heroics of man of the match Steve O’Keefe, Captain Smith and youngster Matt Renshaw.
The last time Australia won in India, in late 2004, O’Keefe had not played a first-class game, Renshaw was in New Zealand attending primary school, and Smith was still in high school.
O’Keefe was written off by many, including the legendary Shane Warne, who commentated moments before his incredible spell labelling the spinner as “Australia’s weakest bowler”.
Keefe’s reply was befitting- 25 deliveries that read as follows “W 1 W1. W1. W1. W1. W1,” six wickets for five runs.
It is hard to imagine bowling in Test cricket getting more remarkable than this.
O’Keefe bagged 12 wickets whereas Ashwin and Jadeja managed 12 between them.
The Indian batting was so submissive that even the visitors’ opening bowler Mitchel Starc scored more runs off his bat than any Indian batsman.
The irony is that all this happened on a pitch suited and prepared for the home team.
In every facet of the game, Australia outperformed India.
This result means that we can expect a spirited reply by the Indians.
Kohli loves to lead with a passion and we can expect a cracker of a series.
As Smith gracefully summarised, “It is only one game. For us, it is about taking it one day at a time.”
Sanity can return if there is no insanity in pitch preparation.
Photo Caption: Steven Smith leading Australia to victory (PTI Picture)