It was in Perth during an ODI against South Africa earlier this year that Cricket Australia posted banners inside the Australian dressing room highlighting the words "Elite Honesty". The pictures were posted on social media and it became the laughing stock of the nation. Justin Langer had used the phrase 'elite honesty' in a press conference in a reference to how Australia wanted to play their cricket. Former players such as Michael Clarke and Shane Warne made a mockery of it and even suggested that Australia should ditch all the 'word motivation' and revert to playing tough cricket.
Further criticism was hurled at Tim Paine and coach Langer before the series. But amidst all the frustration, Paine promised the Australian public that his team could win by playing hard and fair. On Tuesday, in the very same dressing room that had the words 'elite honesty' displayed on walls and cupboards, Paine and Langer tasted their first Test win as captain and coach. This was officially the start of the winning ways and that too against a world No 1 team.
Australia’s 146-run victory was the first since the ball-tampering saga that rocked the nation. More importantly, the victory has been built around all the values that Langer wanted to instill as the coach. There was bravery, competitiveness and above all Australia had played the game in the right spirit. Twice Virat Kohli went looking for a tussle and testing the Australians to cross the infamous ‘line', but it was Paine that repelled the Indian skipper with a few wise words of his own.
Paine chose his words perfectly. When Kohli told him the pressure was on him to ensure the team doesn't go two-nil down, he told his opposing skipper it would be Kohli that will be batting last on an uneven pitch. There was nothing ugly about the conversation as Paine was telling Kohli the truth.
The Australian skipper had copped a bit of criticism for his hook shot in the second innings in Adelaide, but here he led from the front in both innings. In the first innings, he battled, took blows to the mid-rif and on his finger to score an important 39 from 89 balls. In the second dig, he frustrated India and especially Kohli with another resilient knock of 37 off 116 balls to firmly tilt the game in Australia's favour.
Paine deserves a lot of credit for turning around Australia's fortunes after the loss in Adelaide. A softer captain could have easily decided to bowl first on a pitch that in the lead up to the Test was termed as the ‘green monster'. But Paine and Langer had decided that they will trust their raw batting against an inform Indian bowling unit. It might have seemed like a gamble at the time, but it was also going back to the tough Australian way – put runs on the board and then unleash the bowlers.
The way Marcus Harris batted on an opening morning was a sign that he is here for the long run. The way Travis Head counterattacked later on Day 1 was an indication that he had a terrific game sense. These are the small contributions that Langer wanted to build his team around and his players put all that into fruition in Perth.
Once Australia posted a score in excess of 300, they were always going to be in a contest. The grittiness displayed by the batsmen seemed to inspire the bowling unit. Mitchell Starc copped a lot of flack about his body language. Here, he destroyed the stumps in his opening spell in both innings. Rather than the wicket, the sight of stumps splattered in the first over would have given the team the belief and confidence.
And then, of course, there was Nathan Lyon. India would have traveled Down Under confident that if they can negotiate the Australian pace battery then it will put them in a good stead. In the 20 wickets taken in the match by hosts, 8 were taken by the ever-reliable Nathan Lyon. He has taken 16 in 2 Tests thus far. The wiry off-spinner is already an irreplaceable commodity and is proving to be the difference between the two teams.
Once Australians were ahead in the game, it was always going to be tough for India to crawl back into the contest. The door might have been left open slightly, but there was no way this new Australian team was letting go the advantage. Harris took a blow to the head, Finch went to the hospital for X-ray after a ball struck him on the fingers, Paine continued to receive blows and Cummins took a blow on his shoulder. This was the new Australia.
Langer and Paine knew that if they did all the small things right then this team was capable of toppling the best in the world regardless of the brand of cricket they play. Paine had stamped in authority in the match as a leader and a batsman. He has shown that he is just not a 'fill-in' skipper, but a man that is capable of producing the right results for Australian cricket.