Two-nil is probably a fair scoreline but India will wonder if this was the series that got away from them
Brisbane: Good enough but not often enough, better than Australia at times but not for long enough, awful at times for too long. Two-nil is probably a fair scoreline but India will look back and wonder if this was the series that got away from them. If in fact, with India's complete preoccupation with short-form cricket, they even care enough to do a postmortem on this series. One suspects that the hierarchy will write these last few weeks off as a temporary distraction from the main game in coloured clothing for they know full well that their coffers are lined with ODI gold. Test cricket? That old-fashioned game of skill and patience? Don't mention it.
India captain Virat Kohli encourages pace bowler Umesh Yadav on the first day of the fourth cricket Test against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground last week. Pic/Getty Images
There has rarely been a touring team in the last thirty years that has been gifted such favourable conditions in Australia. All things being equal, had India won the toss in Adelaide and Sydney, I have little doubt that they would have won both games. It is unthinkable for Australian curators to produce pitches that would have been so conducive to India if they had bowled last on these surfaces. They gambled on Australia winning the toss and they got lucky.
The Adelaide game was a lesson in how to give yourself every chance to not succeed even before the match started. Had Ravichandran Ashwin played, even batting last, the outcome may have been different. An off-spinner bowling into the rough on that deck would have been too hard to handle. Even Nathan Lyon, modest trundler that he is, unable to take more than two wickets on that last day pitch in Sydney, looked dangerous in Adelaide. Ashwin's superior batting may have given both Wriddiman Saha and Virat Kohli the confidence to pick off that target more judiciously instead of panicking near the end.
Brisbane was the game India expected to lose and when they found themselves bossing the game on day 3, they could not bring themselves to believe their eyes. And in a flash, the mirage had disappeared. I doubt they'll ever get a Gabba pitch as benign as that one ever again, on top of batting first on a hot day with Aussie fast bowlers wilting in the heat.
Melbourne was quite simply a poor cricket pitch. India had their opportunities and spurned them but the same could be said about Australia. The galling part was that the same mistakes were happening again and again. It's almost as if management are too arrogant to admit that there's a pattern that needs addressing. Their stubbornness will rub off on the players who are equally slow at understanding the key moments in a Test match. India's cricket appeared naive and childish at times.
Sydney was always going to be a tough slog when you lose that toss. It's hard to fault that performance except to question if Bhuvaneshwar Kumar's fitness had genuinely been tested before he was selected. You can't run in and bowl at 120 k's on flat Australian pitches. It's just a waste of a player. They would have been better picking a second spinner. It was one game too many for Umesh Yadav too - he was a passenger for much of the game. Is it too much to ask a modern fast bowler to play three games on the trot? Is it too much to ask him to bowl three balls in the same spot?
Lest you think it's all doom and gloom; perish the thought. There is a hushed respect for Kohli, a grudging admiration that has been hard-earned through sheer brilliance. This is a cricketer who will be more loved and appreciated at the end of his career, partly because his abrasive nature is an uncomfortable reminder to the Australians that he is everything they try to be. He just does it with sublime skill.
Murali Vijay should be lauded for his class at the top of the order. Fortunately for him, none of the pitches presented any sideways movement with the new ball but his technique is impressive enough to suggest that he would have coped as well as anyone. Here's a potential 8000+ runscorer if India stick with him through the odd rough patch that every opening batsman will inevitably encounter.
Ajinkya Rahane oozes class and showed in the second innings in Sydney that he has the grit to go with his grace. Australians will long remember his innings at the MCG, not just for the runs he scored but the way he scored them. Unlike Rohit Sharma, equally fluid but lacking substance, Rahane looks to have the stomach for a fight. With Lokesh Rahul at the top, very Dravid-like and textbook correct, India have the backbone of a Test team that could surprise teams, even away from home. If anybody actually cared! A quick ODI hundred from R Sharma and all will be forgiven and forgotten. Test cricket will be that annoying intrusion that India are no good at when they leave home.
There is little that can be said about the bowling that warrants column inches in a serious newspaper. Combined with some abysmal field placings, a complete lack of understanding of what 'momentum' means in a Test match context and the inability (or unwillingness) of the bowlers to persevere with any plan for more than a few balls will consign India to regular 500+ deficits. The way Kohli chased the ball (with his field placings) in Sydney on Day 1 was schoolboy stuff. Funky field placings like leg slips were all the go but someone forgot to remind them that it virtually eliminates every other type of dismissal.
It's not often you say this about India but their catching was arguably less worse than Australia whose straightforward drops in Brisbane (Vijay), Melbourne (Rahane and Kohli)and Sydney (Rahul and Kohli) led to the reprieved batsmen scoring centuries. Yet, if you also look for brilliance in the field, India, predictably, did not make the highlights reel, not compared to Smith and Brad Haddin's catches anyway. On the upside, India's running between the wickets was urgent and impressive throughout, the one positive legacy from their worship at the ODI/T20 temple.
The view from the locals? New-found respect for the batting - definitely. Predictable capitulation at crucial times? We saw that coming. An Australian team that exposed their own vulnerability more than once? Yes, but we knew India would be too slow to move in for the kill. On Australian pitches, you need to be more tiger than jackal. When you sense the prey is weak, you need to go for the throat instead of nipping at the heels. Ultimately, this Indian team will be remembered fondly for their entertaining batting and a sigh of relief that they didn't take their chances. The difference is that in Australia, this Test series will at least be remembered. In India, it may have already been forgotten. Isn't there the small matter of a World Cup to defend?
Michael Jeh is a Brisbane-based former first-class cricketer