Did ‘overconfidence’ take its toll at Pune : A ‘deadly’ match-spell of 12/70 (6/35 in both innings) by the 32-year old left-arm spinner Stephen Norman John O’Keefe, put paid to all hopes of Team India, doing what they did against New Zealand, England and very lately, Bangladesh.
Fresh from triumphs in the home Test series against New Zealand (3-0), England (5-0) and Bangladesh (1-0), Team India morale was on an ‘all-time’ high and they looked like vanquishing any Test team. No wonder they were ranked No 1 in the ICC Test Rankings.
A lot of interesting and fascinating statistics were rolled out for all too see and treat Team India as a champion team.
Australians landed on the Indian soil to play in the four-Test Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2017. They began the tour with a ‘two-day practice game’ against India-A led by Abhinav Mukund that ended in a draw.
Aussies were aware of the spin domination of India and also knew the fact that the offie, Ravichandran Ahswin, was the No 1 ICC ranked Test bowler. They were also aware of the fact that the left-arm spinner, Ravindra Jadeja, was capable of ‘running through’ the opposition on his day.
They had put in a lot ‘home work’ ably assisted by the 41-year left-arm spinner, Sridharan Sriram, who was hired by the Aussie Board to help their team in combating the Indian spin attack.
The first Test that got underway at the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium, Pune, with high hopes of witnessing a great battle between the bat and the ball, by the two top ranked Test teams of the world.
Everything went good for the visitors. Steven Smith ‘called in right’ at the toss and elected to bat.
No sooner the match started, Indian bowlers were successful in sending back half the team (David Waner-38, Steven Smith-27, Shaun Marsh-16, Peter Handscomb-22 and Mitchell Marsh-4) to the pavilion with just 166 runs on the board after bowling 67.4 overs.
For India, Umesh, Ashwin, Jayant and Jadeja had struck and kept the visitors quiet. When it was all going good for India, the last wicket-partnership of 55 runs between Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood troubled the home team much beyond their expectations.
Hazelwood faced 31 deliveries and scored just a single run while Starc went ‘hammer and tongs’ behind the Indian bowlers, specially the spinners.
Facing 63 deliveries and assisted with 6 fours and 3 sixes, he hammered 61 runs at 96.82 strike rate.
The Aussies ended their torment of the Indian bowlers but not before putting up 260 runs on the board in their first knock.
Given the kind of batting depth Team India had with the likes of Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane, overcoming the Aussie total and to take a sizable lead, looked very simple.
However, the Aussies had different game plan for their counterpart.
Hazlewood gave the initial break-through, removing Murali Vijay (10), who edged an ‘outside the off-stump’ delivery to the wicket-keeper, Mathew Wade, who made no mistake.
This opened the ‘flood gates’ for dismissals by the Australian bowlers. Except for Rahul, who showed some resistance, all other batsmen were ‘done in’ by the spinner O’Keefe.
Suddenly the Indian batsmen, who all had scored ‘buckets of runs’ against New Zealand, England and Bangladesh, seemed ‘all at sea’ in getting their bat to meet the ball.
The so-called ‘world’s best batters’ against spin could not simply withstand the onslaught of the Aussie spinner, who was, definitely not the ‘best under the sun’.
All of them, sans Rahane (13), scored in single digits and the Indian first innings folded with 105 runs on the board, lasting for only 40.1 overs. A deficit of 155 runs stared at the home team.
O’Keefe ended the innings with the analysis of 13.1-2-35-6.
Aussie team, showed a lot of ‘character’ and ‘application’ in the second innings. Backed by a well made century by their skipper, Steven Smith (his 18th in his 94th Test innings), managed to set a target of 441 runs for the home team to chase in the fourth innings and in five sessions.
The ball was really turning and had put the batsmen in considerable trouble but the way the Aussie skipper played his innings, gave ‘a lesson or two’ to learn for the Indian batsmen. Smith, who was dropped when he was on 23, 25 and 27 made the best use of the opportunities given and made his innings count.
Dropped ‘sitters’ also bought to the fore, the pathetic fielding display by the Indian close-in fielders.
Chasing 441 was not an easy task but was not impossible also, given the fact that some of the batters (Vijay, Pujara, Kohli and Rahane) had the ability to play long hauls and take the team to a point of safety.
Ironically all the batsmen failed a second time around and succumbed to the agile of O’Keefe.
Falling like pins, the chase got over with just 107 runs on the board. India had lost the Test match by a huge margin on 333 runs.
The batters clearly did not apply themselves and never seemed to be having an attitude of playing a long innings.
O’Keefe ended the innings with another exemplary bowling performance, picking up 6 wickets for 35 runs in 15 overs.
He ended the match with an excellent bowling figure of 28.1-6-70-12.
Indians were beaten at their own game of ‘spin strong’.
The Indian spin consultant to the Aussie team, seems to have done his job with alacrity and his directions were keenly put to effective use by O’Keefe.
Indians also were ‘off the mark’ with their reviews under DRS with most of them being negated.
This loss would have really proved to be a ‘wake up’ call for the team and the team management. They should really assert themselves to the ‘ground realities’. The team might have got drifted away a bit, thanks to their successes against New Zealand, England and Bangladesh, not too long ago.
Kumble and Kohli have their ‘plates full’ and they would be expected and required to introspect and come out with fresh strategies for the remainder of the series.
Aussies go 1-0 up in the four-Test series with the second encounter beginning on 4th March, 2014, at Bengaluru.