Though rain thwarted India’s victory hopes in the final Test in Sydney, they created history by winning their maiden Test series win on Australian soil on Monday. The triumph, by a 2-1 margin, is all the more special as no Asian Team had ever won a Test series Down Under. India, who won the opener in Adelaide, suffered a reversal in the second match in Perth before bouncing back to clinch the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne. The Indians batted Australia out of the contest in Sydney by piling on 622/7 declared in their first innings in the series-decider before the rains gods came to the home side’s rescue.
The Australians sorely missed the banned duo of David Warner and Steve Smith, but it can't take anything away from India's epochal triumph. India had struggled to register series wins against weak Australian sides in the past. The Aussies scored a hard-fought 3-2 win in 1977-78 during the time of Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket while a transitional side under Allan Border held them 0-0 in 1985-86.
Indian captain Virat Kohli can be proud of playing aggressive cricket to come out on top at the end of a gruelling contest. There were plenty of gains for the Indians to take home. Opener Mayank Agarwal was confidence personified in his debut series. The Karnataka player, who was flown in midway through the series following the poor form of regular openers Murali Vijay and K L Rahul, grabbed the chance with elan.
He looked in control against the Aussie pace trio of Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc and took the attack to off-spinner Nathan Lyon.
The batting pivot
Cheteshwar Pujara was the pillar of the Indian batting unit. The Saurashtra player scored match-winning centuries in Adelaide and Melbourne and his epic 193 in Sydney all but sealed India's series win. Pujara demonstrated the values of good old-fashioned Test match batting and allowed the other batsmen to play their natural game.
The Indian pace attack led by Jasprit Bumrah continued to impress. Bumrah was the go-to man for Kohli, while Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami provided excellent support to the Gujarat pacer. Ravindra Jadeja pulled his weight by chipping in with wickets and runs in the two Tests he was picked. Jadeja made sure ace offie R Ashwin's fitness issues did not hurt the team much. Left-arm chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav underlined his credentials as someone with a big future by registering a five-wicket haul in Sydney.
Hanuma Vihari, too, had an excellent outing. The Andhra middle order batsman did his job by blunting the new ball when asked to open the innings in Melbourne and looked assured at No. 6. Big runs may have eluded Vihari, but the team management needs to back him.
Rookie wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant also had a memorable tour. The left-hander made crucial runs down the order and became the first Indian stumper to score a Test ton in Australia as he smashed an unbeaten 159 in Sydney.
Pant had a busy time behind the wickets as he set an Indian record of 20 dismissals in the series. Pant has to improve by leaps and bounds both in his wicketkeeping and his selection of strokes. But, it is only natural that the youngster will get better with more exposure.
Kohli and head coach Ravi Shastri need to be praised for blooding in both Pant and Bumrah. The two have grown in stature in their first year in Test cricket.
Getting the tactics right
India got most of their tactics right in Australia. The decision to adopt a more conventional approach by playing six specialist batsmen as opposed to the disastrous five frontline batters theory employed in South Africa and England lent more balance to the team. Though the decision to go in with an all-pace attack backfired in Perth, better sense prevailed for the remainder of the series.
Both Vijay and Rahul had a forgettable series. It could well be the end of the road for Vijay, with Agarwal making a bright start to his career and a young Prithvi Shaw, who was unlucky to miss the series with an ankle injury, all set to return when India meet Zimbabwe in a one-off Test in March. Rahul needs to realise that time is fast running out. However, Rahul is a quality player and hopefully he would be back to his best soon.
Overall it was a fruitful campaign for Team India. Kohli can be mighty pleased with the effort of his men after suffering series losses in South Africa and England. Plenty of white ball cricket awaits India, but once the battle for the inaugural ICC World Test Championship begins in July, expect Kohli and Co. to continue their pursuit of greater glory.