Australia’s reasonably inexperienced left arm spinner Steve O’Keefe wrecked havoc on India’s batting order as Australia ended India’s 19 match unbeaten streak since August 2015 in the recently concluded test match at the MCA stadium in “sundar Pune”, as remarked by SO’K himself in the post match presentation when asked about the city.
India’s impressive run in Test cricket experienced a major blip after a huge loss of 333 runs. Taking no credit away from Team India for their performances since the past year and a half, a wake up call was just around the corner having played a majority of their test matches in home conditions against inexperienced teams, in subcontinental conditions, like New Zealand, England and Bangladesh and just two away tours to weakened teams of Sri Lanka and West Indies since August of 2015. And although the fact that the team’s all-rounder is contributing handsomely with the bat bodes well for the team, the fact that he is coming in to bat at number 5 ahead of the keeper of the team is a matter of great concern if looked at in depth. Not to mention the team’s chronic problems in the pace department.
It was the case of Indian batsmen not being able to apply themselves as well as their opponents did and the spinners who were able to spin the ball just enough to cause problems for the batsmen, making merry of the conditions. The Indian spinners, Ashwin and Jadeja in particular, were able to turn the ball square to a huge extent but that meant the ball beating the outside edge by a great margin or missing the line of the stumps for lbw calls. Whereas, the Australian spinner O’Keefe was able to spin the ball just enough to induce the edges or produce no turn at all which created doubts in the minds of the batsmen which was clearly evident when Virat Kohli chose to shoulder arms to a delivery which pitched outside off and came in with the angle without turning to take his off pole out of the ground. Nathan Lyon too kept chipping in with wickets to complement SOK. The all-round performance of Mitchell Starc also helped the team to a great extent as he cracked a quickfire half century and a 30 off 31 balls and took a few important wickets including that of Kohli in the first innings.
More than the defeat, the manner and margin of the defeat is what would hurt India the most as their batsmen and spin bowlers were found to be short of application and also a little bit of luck in the spinners’ case on a raging turner that was termed as an eight day old pitch by the legendary leggie, Shane Warne. It is not the first time when India were humbled on a spinner-friendly track, which also happened when England defeated India in 2012 on a dust bowl of a pitch at Wankhede Stadium on the back of stellar bowling performances by spinners Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann and a masterclass of an innings of 186 runs by Kevin Pietersen, which opens the recurring debate to whether groundsmen in India should prepare more sporting pitches which provide an even contest between the bat and ball instead of raging turners that sometimes backfire at Team India itself as mentioned by Steve Smith in the post match press conference where he admitted that they were well prepared for such a pitch and said, “It was up to them to prepare a wicket and they prepared a wicket that actually played into our hands”.
Smith lauded his teammates for their wonderful performance, SOK, Lyon and Starc in particular. The captain himself stepped up to the plate by compiling a calm and level headed century highlighted by his ability to maneuver the ball in the gaps for singles and doubles after being beaten and also dropped on a numerous occasions on a difficult pitch to bat on in the second innings. On the other hand Virat Kohli accepted that the batsmen, including himself, could not quite apply themselves and adjust to the pitch and said that the team has to “take it on the chin and move on”.
With this test match being taken by the Australians, the series is excitingly poised and it will be interesting to see what kind of a pitch is laid out for the next test at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru.
Brief scores: Australia 260 (Matt Renshaw 68, Mitchell Starc 61; Umesh Yadav 4-32) & 285 (Steven Smith 109; Ravichandran Ashwin 4-119) beat India 105 (KL Rahul 64; Steve O’Keefe 6-35) & 107 (Cheteshwar Pujara 31; Steve O’Keefe 6-35) by 333 runs.