Winning cricket matches in Australia is hard. Hostile crowds and daunting records greet tourists before a ball is bowled. On the pitch, aggressive batting and intimidating bowling take over. At home, Australia dominate.
The setting for the deciding test between India and Australia was at the seat of this dominion, The Gabba, or ‘The Gabbatoir’ as they call it. Australia had not lost here since 1988. Beset by injury and bereft of their captain, India were lambs to the slaughter. However, with all of day five to bowl out a much-depleted Indian line-up, Australia proved no butcher. Rather, through an incredible batting performance, led by Shubman Gill and finished by Rishabh Pant, India chased down a record-breaking 328 runs to pull off a remarkable win and seal a stunning series 2-1.
Day 5 in Brisbane was just the crowning glory of India’s tour. Preceding it was a month of hard cricket and at least half a year of planning. So, exactly how did India outplay and outthink Australia?
Over the past few years, runs from Steven Smith, David Warner, and more recently Marnus Labuschagne have papered over the cracks of a deeply fragile batting line up. So, the key when bowling to Australia is getting these players out early to expose the frailty of the remaining batsmen. India knew this and achieved it, with Warner producing no 50+ scores and Smith and Labuschagne scoring only three each.
However, the question remains of exactly how India dismissed these batsmen, especially Smith. Magical spells of bowling from Ravindra Ashwin and Jasprit Bumrah got Smith out cheaply in the first two tests. Whilst these were individual moments of brilliance, they formed part of a wider strategy devised by Indian bowling coach Bharat Arun. Arun devised a plan to eliminate the off side by setting a leg side heavy field and bowling a consistent middle-and-leg line which suffocated Australia’s run rate. As such, even when Smith or Labuschagne made a big score, they batted too slowly to make the kind of match-ending innings they have produced in recent years. It is no mystery that Australia did not once reach 400 runs this series.
India’s batting meanwhile, was faced with one of the best bowling attacks in the world. The key to its nullification was Cheteshwar Pujara. Often criticized for scoring too slow, it is this very quality of his which enabled India to win the series. The number of balls he faced and the time he spent at the crease frustrated Australia, while his role as a cornerstone allowed more flamboyant batsmen to play around him. Without him India would have stood little chance of surviving day 5 in Sydney or Brisbane.
Pujara’s contributions, though series defining, were not match-winning. It took a chanceless hundred from Ajinkya Rahane in Melbourne to put India in a position to win, and fearless innings from Gill and Pant to take India over the line in Brisbane.The underlying characteristic of India’s victory was patience. With the ball, they bowled over-after-over of line and length to frustrate the Australian batsmen. With the bat, they twice outlasted an attack which is supposedly the best in the world. Looking forward to the Ashes at the end of the year, England need to emulate this patience to stand a chance. They need to stick to well thought-out plans while bowling and need to be resilient with the bat. In Joe Root and Ben Stokes, England can replicate the classy innings of Rahane, Pant, and Gill. What England need most of all is a Pujara.
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