India showed admirable resolve to clinch the four-Test series against Australia and regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. The world's top-ranked Test side proved its mettle in the series-decider in Dharamasla to overcome Steve Smith's resilient bunch.
Read also | Dharamsala Test: India defeat Australia to regain Border-Gavaskar Trophy
Ajinkya Rahane led from the front in the absence of regular skipper Virat Kohli and kept his calm in the crunch game. Australia won an important toss and seemed to be running away with the game as they amassed 131 runs in the first session for the loss of a single wicket. However, the Indian think-tank's gamble to field chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav paid rich dividends. The debutant's triple strikes in the second session went a long way in India bowling out the visitors for 300 in their first innings.
The Indian lower order had come to the team's rescue on a number of occasion this home season and Dharamsala was no exception. Ravindra Jadeja and wicketkeeper-batsman Wriddhiman Saha's 96-run stand for the seventh wicket dashed Australia's hopes of a first innings lead. Jadeja counter-attacked, while Saha played the second fiddle to perfection as India snatched a precious 32-run lead.
Indian pacers Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar unleashed a hostile spell to swing the game in favor of the home side on the third afternoon. The deadly spin duo of R. Ashwin and Jadeja then made sure that India needed only 106 to clinch the series.
On a track that offered a fair bit of assistance for both the seamers and spinners this would have been a tricky chase. But opener K.L. Rahul, who has been consistency personified, and Rahane made sure there were no further twists in a roller-coaster series and guided India home.
Rare failure for Kohli
There were plenty of gains for India. First and foremost is the fact that India won the series without a single major knock from Kohli. The Indian skipper could manage only 46 runs from five innings and a shoulder injury meant he was forced to skip the series decider. Rahane did a brilliant job both as a captain and batsman in Dharamsala. He went for the kill in Australia's second innings and did not allow the game to drift. His chipped in with 46 and a sparkling unbeaten 38 too. In fact, his calculated assault on Australian pace spearhead Pat Cummins ensured there were no wobbles in the Indian chase.
Rahul oozes class at the top of the order and the Karnataka player notched up six fifties from seven innings. His twin half-centuries on a tough wicket at the Chinnaswamy helped India win a tense game in Bengaluru and level the series after the shock defeat in the opener in Pune. Rahul, though, was guilty of not making his starts count and the youngster can take a cue from Cheteshwar Pujara in scoring big runs. The Saurashtra batsman delivered when the team needed him to fire the most. Pujara and Rahane's century partnership in the second innings helped the hosts set up a winnings score in Bengaluru, while his big stand with Saha bailed India out of trouble and eventually put them in a position to push for a win in the third Test in Ranchi. However, young Australian batsman Peter Handscomb and Shaun Marsh kept the Indian attack at bay on the final day as the Test ended in a draw.
Jadeja's all-round show
Jadeja was brilliant with his all-round show. The left-arm spinner kept it tight and picked up the most number of wickets in the series (25). Jadeja shone as a batsman too. His quick-fire half-century helped India declare in their bid for a win in Ranchi, while he read the match situation to perfection in Dharamsala and produced a game-changing 63.
Ashwin did not have a great series, but such is the man's quality that he came up with a match-winning spell in Bengaluru and then struck crucial blows in the final Test. The fatigue of a long home season seems to have caught up with the offie, but still he did his job under pressure.
Umesh has been simply sensational for India this season. The much under-rated pacer bowled the spell of his life to set up the game for India in Dharamsala during the Australian second innings.
Saha too had a memorable series. He was safe behind the wickets and made vital runs down the order.
Well done, Australia
Smith & Co. can return with their head held high for fighting all the way. Not many gave them a chance prior to the series, but the Aussies surprised one and all by thrashing India in Pune. They defied expectations to eke out a draw in Ranchi and competed hard in both Bengaluru and Dharamsala where they lost. Smith continued his love affair with the Indian bowlers and has got a young team at his disposal that will go on to serve Australia for a long time. Young opener Matt Renshaw impressed one and all with his technique and temperament. Handscomb, Shaun Marsh and Glenn Maxwell all scored vital runs in the Australian middle order along with wicketkeeper-batsman Matthew Wade. However, the dismal form of opener David Warner for the second straight series in India would have worried the Aussies.
The Australian bowlers gave their all. Mitchell Starc provided the early breakthroughs in Pune before an injury cut short his tour after the second Test. Josh Hazlewood was steady as usual, while Starc's replacement Cummins breathed fire. He bowled his heart out on a flat deck in Ranchi and was unfortunate not to have picked up a few more wickets in Dharamasla. Off-spinner Nathan Lyon enhanced his reputation, while left-arm spinner Steve O'Keefe found the going tough after a dream outing in Pune.
Finally, the series was a reminder to all why the longer version of the game is the ultimate test. Pendulum swung from one way to the other and it was absorbing stuff. True, there were moments when emotions got the better of the players from both sides. In fact this was the most bitterly-fought series on Indian soil after the epic of 2001 between the two sides. In the end, it was the perfect end to the long home season for Team India with their seventh series win on the trot.
The real test for India is to win in Australia, England, South Africa and New Zealand. This set of players under Kohli has it in them to do well irrespective of conditions. The future tours will give an answer to that.