Incredible Indore is the fitting treat for Aussies on tour where far more went right than wrong
The focus of this tour of India from those who were paid to write about it was so focused on the things Australia did wrong.
A lack of warm-up games to get used to the subcontinent. Dropping Travis Head for the first test. Picking Ashton Agar and then sending him home in the middle of the series. This miserable raffle to kill the second test in an hour of madness. Playing David Warner in the first place.
But despite all that, the Aussies’ masterful nine-wicket win over India at Indore was proof that despite their mistakes, they still got a lot more right.
Against a juggernaut who has only lost twice on home soil in a decade after losing the toss, with captain Pat Cummins at home, on a field tailor-made for two of history’s greatest spin bowlers, Australia has India simply surpassed. They beat the champions at their own damn game, in conditions where they chew up visiting teams and spit them out for at least half a century.
In all honesty, it’s the team’s best win since they twice knocked down a top South African side on their own shores in 2014 – I rate that win as superior to their win against India in Pune six years ago on the basis that they were better then were fiendishly difficult batting conditions thanks to winning the toss.
Australia went into every Test of this series with slight changes on the same plan: tie down India with a bevy of precise spinners, take the fight to Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja with the bat and never let the game stand still.
It went terribly wrong in Nagpur and worked perfectly until a catastrophic surrender on the third morning in Delhi; it has now been confirmed in the grandest way.
When the Australian public and all the talking heads in the media you could name ripped off Australia’s madcap approach in the second test, they could easily have jettisoned those plans, reverted to more conventional methods, and suffered for it.
Instead, batsmen paid more attention to sweeping the right balls, putting the right balls on the field, and defending the right balls with the full face. It was muted aggression, but underneath was always the knowledge that this Aussie team wanted to score, not just survive.
Team selection also deserves a lot of credit, with practically every big call nailed aside from the head howler. Even in that case, the problem wasn’t with Heads replacement Peter Handscomb, but with the players who had lagged behind him from Australia’s last Test – Warner and Matt Renshaw.
Brought to Nagpur out of the blue in 2017 due to his reputation as a good spin player and a more than decent tour of India, Handscomb has risen to the challenge on some really awkward hitting conditions.
His average of 32 – reinforced by his 72 not racing in Delhi – is the third highest of any Australian in this series, behind only Marnus Labuschagne (35.6) and Head (37.66); But it’s the way he’s scored his runs and the crowd that really catches the eye.
The Aussies have made a point of encouraging each batter to play their own way in this series: Usman Khawaja has been given the green light to fight his way to big scores, while Handscomb is about playing out of the crease, singles to work and smother the spin where possible.
His choice of horses is the kind of horses for courses Australia has been reluctant to do even in India over the years. Handscomb has done nothing but justify it since receiving the nod.
Similarly, the Aussies have been bold with their liberal use of an untested raw spin bowling attack.
Three weeks ago, Todd Murphy was seen smoking for a Test debut and Matt Kuhnemann was preparing for Sheffield Shield cricket with Queensland.
Now both have played a crucial role in a run that has been full of positive results despite being 2-1 down on the goal-line for Australia. Murphy has 11 wickets at 21.81 and is building well from his debut to seven with accuracy and patience – no player on either side has a better save rate than his 2.61 for the series.
Kuhnemann, on the other hand, proved to be the best left-armed spinner in Australia with his game-changing five-wicket move in Indore: none other than Virat Kohli found him particularly difficult to handle
Then there’s Nathan Lyon. 10 years ago, a far more short-sighted, reactionary Australian selection committee knocked him out of the XI after a stunning first Test, only to watch Xavier Doherty and Glenn Maxwell fade into obscurity en route to an innings victory for India.
There were some – not many, but some – who wanted the same after a poor opening of Lyon’s series, especially with Murphy comfortably outshining him at the other end. Since that shaky start, however, he has 18 wickets at 11.94, by far the best of any bowler on either side in these last two Tests.
Previous Australian teams would never dream of picking three spinners on the same team, anywhere.
Especially when two of them had never played Test cricket before this series. Especially when the only two quicks on hand, Mitchell Starc and Cameron Green, were both playing their first matches after long breaks.
In fact, Lance Morris and Scott Boland were both deeply considered to be named in Indore, presumably at Kuhnemann’s expense.
That change never happened and Australia now has a Test win because of it.
But if the selectors deserve credit for assembling an un-Australian, unorthodox eleven that has proven perfectly suited to the task at hand, Head deserves credit all to himself.
A weaker player would have been shaken to the core following his removal for the first Test, having been a dominant force in the past two summers at home. A weaker player might also have felt disadvantaged, having been recalled for being ripped out of middle order and asked to open at short notice in the second Test after Warner’s concussion-forced absence, and then full-time again in the third Test as well.
But since then he’s made every post a winner: his free-running hitting twice, giving the Australians ideal starts in their second innings. In Delhi, no one else could count on his 43; in Indore his 49 not out was so good that no one else needed it.
Despite all the doubts about his handling of spin, he seemed confident, proactive and focused every time he entered the crease: his footwork, particularly coming down the lane to knock Jadeja and Ashwin off their lines, was a delight.
It means questions – and the good kind – for the selection committee going to the Ashes and even more options to prevent Warner from resuming their one-sided fight against Stuart Broad. At home, Shield’s Cameron Bancroft is cutting runs for fun while Renshaw is the reigning second opener behind Warner; but it could easily be said that in its form, Head deserves a chance to showcase its wares at the top of the order.
All in all, Australia can conclude this series knowing that it has gained and learned a lot from the experience. Facing a host of challenges throughout the remainder of 2023, including an away game at Ashes and a World Cup on these shores to close out the year, they have shown the resourcefulness, resilience and determination to face them all with the utmost confidence, using their methods and tactics.
Fans accustomed to Australia dominating all rivals from pillar to pillar and expecting success in every corner of the world must also recognize this: even winning a single Test in India is an extraordinary achievement for a tour side.
This is the toughest place in the world to play cricket and as unlike traditional Australian climes as it gets. And if conditions weren’t tough enough, then meet the resident cricket behemoth of the world, with two all-time spinners, a fearsome batting order that runs as deep as Ashwin, a man with five Test centuries, ranked No. 9 and a billion people to choose from for all the replacements you need.
Australia will not win back the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in this series. But regardless of what happens at the final test in Ahmedabad – and yes, India will start again as hot favorites – after a tour that must now at least count as a qualified success, they can go to their next assignment with their heads held high.
Australia got a lot of things wrong in this series. But they got more things absolutely right.
https://www.theroar.com.au/2023/03/04/incredible-indore-fitting-reward-for-aussies-on-tour-where-plenty-more-has-gone-right-than-wrong/ Incredible Indore is the fitting treat for Aussies on tour where far more went right than wrong