Series review: IND v AUS 2017

Rahane Rescues King Kohli’s Creaking Conquerors

India 2-1 Australia

13 home Tests, 10 wins, 2 draws and 1 loss. Four series wins, and when it all came to an end India were world number one and held every bilateral series title.

Easy, right? Wrong. So wrong.

Those Tests came at a rate of one every fortnight for 6 straight months. This is, to use a technical term, batshit. The resultant roll-call of injured shoulders (Kohli, KL Rahul), sports hernias (Ravichandran Ashwin), broken jaws (Murali Vijay), and general brokenness (Mohammed Shami) came as no surprise.

On the field, Australia played with a ferocity, a tenacity, and a level of skill that nobody expected, perhaps not their own fans, and certainly not India. It was the best Test series Guerilla Cricket have ever covered, and a contender for the best since the epochal 2005 Ashes.

It started well enough in Pune, but after the freewheeling Mitchell Starc helped the very much not freewheeling Matt Renshaw slow down India’s rampant spinners, the home batsmen had no answer to the just-about-enough-turn extracted by Steve O’Keefe, and fell inside 3 days to a 333-run humiliation. The look of shock on Kohli’s face as he left a ball that flattened off stump said it all.

This was a series of odd dismissals and scrambled thinking for the hitherto untouchable Kohli – poking leaden-footedly to slip, padding up to a straight ball and reviewing in Watsonian fashion, Hawkeye bat-pad shenanigans, it was all there bar the comedy run-out.

And to top it all, a mistimed dive in the field knackered his shoulder and left India’s fate going into the last Test in the hands of his far less demonstrative deputy. But we’re jumping ahead.

In a Test for the ages in Bangalore, Nathan Lyon’s brilliant 8-50 could have knocked India out of the series. But the relentless Ravindra Jadeja kept Australia just about in check, and first Cheteshwar Pujara and then Rahane decided that Rahul shouldn’t have to carry the batting by himself, giving India something to defend.

In the second innings, Ashwin backed up a stirring performance from Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma, and sliced through the middle and lower order. From 87 runs behind on first innings and 120/4 in the second, India won by 75 runs, and the collective sigh of relief moved seismograph needles in labs the world over.

Amid the drama, there was DRS-induced hilarity as Australia failed to review a howler that saw Shaun Marsh sawn off, saving the last review for captain Smith, who then not only wasted it on a stonewall LBW but tried to confer with the dressing room and caused a diplomatic incident. But what’s India-Australia without one, eh?

The third Test in Ranchi, the city made famous by MS Dhoni and nothing else, was the very definition of attritional, and was utterly captivating.

A staggering 178* from Smith, of whom India must now be sick of the sight, and a maiden ton for the recalled Glenn Maxwell, saw Australia to 451 and put India’s misfiring batsmen in a tough position.

Or not. The “That’s not a knife!” attitude of the England series reasserted itself, with Pujara going one better than Smith and posting his third double ton, a monumental knock that smashed the record for longest Test innings by an Indian.

But in a series of strong supporting hands, the one played by Wriddhiman Saha was perhaps the most crucial of all – the explosive return to Test cricket of Pat Cummins, in for the injured Starc, had left India 5 down and still 131 behind when the Bengali keeper arrived at the crease.

Saha stayed with Pujara, and 200 runs and 80 increasingly punishing overs later, Australia had been ground into the dust. Jadeja merrily flayed the exhausted bowlers to all parts, and India had a possibly decisive lead.

Somehow after 200 overs in the field, Australia had enough in the tank to scrap their way to what in the end looked a comfortable draw on paper. Out in the Ranchi dust, it was anything but.

Ishant bowled another fiery spell, and Jadeja threatened to squeeze the life out of the batsmen. But Marsh and Peter Handscomb resisted, and resisted, and kept on resisting some more.

And so, finally, it came to a showdown in the mountains (note, reader, how I almost resisted the temptation to say ‘summit’). Kohli’s shoulder left it all up to Rahane, who again showed his mettle when it counted

He made the call to go not just with five bowlers but three spinners, and Kuldeep Yadav answered the call in style. The delicious googly to dismiss Maxwell was a particular highlight.

Another Smith ton, another Cummins masterclass, and another Lyon five-for meant that India’s lead was small, but once Smith dragged a Bhuvi Kumar long-hop onto his stumps, Australia buckled at the last. Umesh finally got the rewards his titanic efforts deserved, and the Ashwin-Jadeja axis combined to mean India’s target was too small for even a Pujara run-out to halt the charge to victory.

It was fittingly sealed with a flourish by Rahane, who had captained with imagination and drive, and had twice in the series helped dig India out of a hole with the bat. He deserved his moment in the sun, even driving Cummins gloriously over cover for six, and Kohli was quick to credit him in the post-match debrief.

Australia played as well as they had in India for a decade, possibly even since Dean Jones’ heroics in 1986. Smith was heroic, all of the batsmen bar Warner contributed in either runs or staying power, and while O’Keefe faded after Pune, the other bowlers were hostile and dangerous throughout. Cummins in particular was a revelation.

India were exhausted, in particular Ashwin, who soldiered on and showed his considerable class often enough, but looked like a man who’d bowled a lot of overs.

The returns of the opening partnership remains an issue, despite the undoubted class of both Rahul and Vijay, and the slip catching continued to be woeful. And Kohli, the man Australia feared most, barely scored a run.

And despite all that, India still bloody won.

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Broadcast Schedule

India v England 2024 Test Series
IND v ENG 4th Test, Ranchi
23rd February to 27th February
Start time: 4:00 am GMT
IND v ENG 5th Test, Dharamsala
7th March to 11th March
Start time: 4:00 am GMT