By John Cheeran
India 250 & 307; Australia 235 & 291. India win the first Test by 31 runs.
It was a regal as well as relieving moment for India in Adelaide as the last of the Australian resistance ended when the tail end of the tail, Joz Hazlewood, allowed K L Rahul to complete a catch, a not-so-clean effort at that, at silly point.
India won the first Test by 31 runs, but this is the first time India winning the first Test of a series in Australia. This, also, is India’s first Test win in Australia since 2008.
The advantage is truly with Virat Kohli and his men as they move forward to Perth for the second Test starting on Friday.
Before all that, there were a few anxious moments for the Indians as the Aussies, first, led by captain Tim Paine and, later, by Pat Cummins, Michel Starc and Nathan Lyon, completely ignored the cricketing weather in favour of the visitors and applied themselves to taking on the ball.
Yes, Lyon’s belief that a victory was still possible against this very disciplined Indian attack was incredible. And Lyon made most of the reprieve he had from Rishabh Pant, the chirpiest wicketkeeper in the world, off Jasprit Bumrah in the very beginning of his innings. Lyon, who brought Australia back into the match with six second innings wickets, took them very close to victory against heavy odds and his unbeaten 38 should comfort the home team. Solace to Australia was also the elan and calm displayed Cummins at the other end.
But the outstanding visual of the Test would be Captain Kohli’s victory dance, after completing the ritual of grabbing the 10th wicket. Hands outstretched; back foot forward; front foot straggling behind. Someone should have handed over him his bat. It lasted long, and was quite understandable.
There was hardly any doubt about that this was India’s match to lose, and with Australia losing wickets at regular intervals it only bolstered that belief. The Aussie lower order tried gamely but the Indian fast bowlers, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit and Mohammad Shami, never let them settle down and any one batsman play a leading and reassuring role. The pressure was kept intact even though there were questions raised about Ashwin’s effectives in the fourth innings. As the year ends, the statistics show that in 2018, Ashwin’s strike rate was 19.89 in the first innings, compared with 33.07 in the second innings. Yes, as you know, there will always be questions, even in victory.
That India lost their last five wickets for 25 runs in their second innings while the Australians hammered 176 runs by their last five tell its own story, a story of vicissitudes of fortunes.
In the hurry to raise questions we should not forget that you cannot ask more of your fast bowlers than to take wickets at this juncture. This Indian pace trio bowled their hearts out and supported each other in never letting the pressure ease. Don’t expect Ishant, Shami and Bumrah to hit that boundary; they may occasionally steal one. Be happy with that.
And don’t forget who made this ‘great feeling’ (as Kohli described the victory in his post-match press conference) possible. Without Cheteshwar Pujara (123 &71) India would have been blown away by the Aussies. His grit and, in turn, relentless, disciplined bowling by the pace trio have made this victory possible.
And the importance of this victory lies in the fact that ordinary men shaped this outcome; the Pujaras, the Rahanes, the Shamis, the Bumrahs of this world. There was no heroic effort in India’s ‘super proud’ (once again, Kohli’s description) moment. There are only two heroes left in India: one is, of course, Narendra Modi; and the other is Kohli.
As a nation is taken forward not by its heroes alone, so is the team. It matters that everyone makes an effort, and grab all chances that come your way, especially the way the young Pant did it, setting a world record with 11 catches.
That many a time, Indians have frittered away their advantages should make the celebrating fans calm down a bit. This Australia has no batting to test the Indian bowlers, but, remember, they have a bowling attack.