Did Cricket Australia (CA) miss a trick by not scheduling a Test match at the Gabba for the four-match series against India? The Gabba in Queensland’s capital of Brisbane has remained a true stronghold of Australian cricket where they have not lost a Test match for more than three decades. In fact, no Asian team has ever won here after 14 attempts. India’s potent seam attack would have troubled the Aussies no doubt, but most visiting teams have been found wanting here on the hard, solid surface.
Spare a thought for the Sri Lankans, who were blown away inside three days having failed to post 150 at least on one occasion. Sri Lanka’s Test players had come to Australia well in advance. They had camped at St Kilda in Victoria for three weeks where they underwent intense training. But that was for little use as Gabba’s pace exposed their deficiencies.
Mitchell Starc passed a major milestone claiming his 200th Test wicket, becoming the 16th Australian to do so. Starc was not at his usual best. He has struggled with his rhythm the whole summer. But Pat Cummins was on the money.
There was not much of difference between Cummins and Sri Lankan Lahiru Kumara when it came to pace as both clocked 145 kmph regularly. But while Kumara was wayward, Cummins was spot on with his length bowling constantly at the throat of the Sri Lankans.
In the first innings, there was a sigh of relief as Dimuth Karunaratne and Lahiru Thirimanne had negotiated the first 50 minutes, the visitors having elected to bat first, without trouble. Starc and Jhye Richardson generated pace but didn’t produce anything that troubled the batsmen in their opening spells. Suddenly Cummins came over it’s was a different ball game. He provided the breakthrough by dismissing Thirimanne and then the likes of Richardson and Nathan Lyon made further inroads.
Cummins finished with four wickets in the first innings and added six more in the second innings to claim his career best figures. It was also the first time that he had claimed a match bag of 10 wickets.
It was Cummins who made his Test debut before his New South Wales new-ball partner Starc. Cummins, the youngest player to earn a CA central contract, was just 18 when he ran through the South African line up with a six-wicket haul in the second innings at the Bull Ring in 2011 on debut. It was an absolute treat to watch him peppering Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers with the short ball before eventually accounting for both batsmen.
Then disaster struck. Between November 2011 and March 2017 Cummins didn’t play a single Test match due to injuries, quite a few of them. In the meantime Starc had gone onto establish himself as the leader of the Australian attack. He has gone onto represent Australia in 50 Tests, compared to Cummins' 19.
When everything is right physically, Cummins is the man Australia will depend on. Starc is a rhythm bowler. The moment he is unable to swing the ball, he becomes less effective. But Cummins is more than that. Swing is not his lone weapon. His ability to get the ball constantly at the throat of the batsman brings him rich dividends. That’s what he did at the Gabba.
The Sri Lankans in the second innings felt that they had been too defensive the first time around and were told to go after Cummins. The cover drive was one shot that they were going to rely on. But Gabba is no Galle where the ball hardly rises above knee level. And Cummins is no Suranga Lakmal when it comes to pace. Their ill-advised shot, instead of fetching them boundaries, resulted in nicks to the slip cordon and the Aussies were sharp on the field.
The tourists had failed to learn a lesson from Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne. The game was evenly poised on Day 2 when Sri Lanka had the Aussies at 82 for four. The middle-order pair just played the waiting game relying on their defences without trying to put every ball away.
The heat and humidity had a quick toll on the bowlers and the batsmen cashed in once they were tired. To make things easier, Kumara was sidelined with a hamstring strain and later was ruled out for six weeks. The 166-run stand for the fifth wicket sealed the deal for the Aussies.
Brisbane for Australia is like Delhi for the Indians. India were last defeated at the Feroz Shah Kotla 32 years ago by West Indies when Viv Richards smashed an unbeaten 109 off 111 deliveries. It was Richards’ men who last won at the Gabba too 31 years ago.
Since then the Aussies have played 30 Tests here, drawn seven and won the other 23. Could Virat Kohli’s team have ended Australia’s impressive record at the Gabba make for an interesting debate.