It’s the third ball of the ninth over of Australia’s second innings. Bhuvneshwar Kumar bowls a poor delivery, short and wide, to an Australian captain in red hot form. Steve Smith pulls, but for once he hasn’t creamed it, he’s got a bottom edge, and the ball clatters into his off stump. Smith is furious with himself, Bhuvneshwar and India celebrate.
This is the moment India knew they had won the Test and the series. Through sheer luck Bhuvneshwar had dismissed India’s greatest foe, and the one man who has stood between them and reclaiming the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
India have managed to claim the series 2-1, and if not for their own hubris in preparing a rank turner in Pune, it could well have been 3-0. The poor pitch narrowed the gap between the sides, a gap that would have been better exposed on more traditional Indian pitches.
Prior to the start of the series, many predicted India would romp to a 4-0 whitewash over Australia. Smith’s side were branded the worst Australian side to arrive on Indian shores by former greats Harbhajan Singh and Sourav Ganguly, despite this moniker Smith’s side showed trademark Australian fight and no shortage of fire and hardness in a series where very little other than total annihilation was expected.
In Bangalore, Australia fought hard to take a lead after the first innings on a pitch with plenty of life, but India managed to build a defendable total in the third innings before sparking the Australian collapse that many had expected to level the series. Rare twin failures from Smith exposed the soft underbelly of Australia’s batting order and their batting fragility has been exposed again at Dharamsala.
Batting collapses have become all too familiar a tale for Australia on recent tours to the subcontinent, something they were unable to rectify after consecutive whitewashes in India in 2013 and Sri Lanka in 2016. In this tour of India, only captain Smith seemed consistently able to repel India on tracks with more life than those the Australian batsmen are used to back home.
In Bengaluru, Smith failed in both innings, and Australia were bundled out for 276 and 112, and in the second innings in Dharamsala, Smith made only 17 as Australia were steamrolled for 137. Australia’s reliance on their captain has become a worrying sign on this tour as the rest of the batting order have shown only glimpses of being able to handle the turn and unpredictable bounce in India.
Highly-rated opener David Warner has struggled, passing fifty only once in eight innings, and failing to fire at his explosive best. Glenn Maxwell, brought in for the last two Tests to replace Mitchell Marsh, is the only Australian batsman other than Smith to reach triple figures. Young opener Matt Renshaw, who has shown very promising signs in his short career so far, has been full of grit but has struggled more and more as the tour wore on while the likes of Peter Handscomb and Shaun Marsh showed great resistance in Ranchi on the flattest pitch of the series, but haven’t been able to capitalise in the other matches.
Unfortunately for Australia, too much has been left to too few, and in the batting department too much has rested on the captain’s shoulders. While they fought bravely all series to hang on and put their hosts under immense pressure, eventually the dam wall burst and India were able to claim victory in Dharamsala despite playing well below the standards they had set earlier in the home season.
Once Smith fell, Australia’s innings had an air of inevitability about it, even when Maxwell fought hard for an aggressive 45, the top score of the innings, it seemed only a matter of time until Ravindra Jadeja and co wrapped up this Australian innings. Jadeja claimed three more wickets to make him the leading wicket-taker in the series with 25, while Ravichandran Ashwin’s three wickets took his tally to 21 — an impressive haul considering he has been well under par all series. Even Umesh Yadav claimed 17 wickets to be the leading seamer on both sides.
The fact Jadeja and Ashwin have claimed 46 wickets between them in four Tests, with Ashwin being far from his best, just highlights Australia’s battle with spin. Through a pre-series preparation camp in Dubai the Australian batsmen worked hard on new methods to overcome their nemesis and there is no doubt they showed positive signs throughout the series, but in the end their old tormentor returned to open the wounds of Asian tours gone by.