In the end it was not even a fight! It was a rout by 146 runs.
The abysmal loss, when it came early on the fifth day of the second Test, it must have been one of the shortest-lived Test series leads in cricket history. Just one solitary session’s shoddy work was all it took to pour cold water on a euphoric India’s hopes on the drop-in pitch in Perth.
The poor opening day session, the key moment when India surrendered the initiative, ensured that the team would always play catch-up, but without success.
Coming to Perth riding on an unprecedented 1-0 lead registered at Adelaide, the Indian team ought to have been at the top of the world. They ought to have been finding ways and means to tighten the screws on a defeated Australian side.
But all that the opening bowlers succeeded in achieving was getting carried away by all the stuff written and said in their favour. They tripped up in the very first hour of play to surrender what should have been a matchless initiative. Since then, India never recovered, try as they did.
One of the dangers of a lively track is that bowlers get excited at the prospect of bowling on it. In the process they get carried away and trip up.
In Australia, in particular, visiting teams’ fast bowlers hopes soar at the very sight of bouncy pitches and they unimaginatively try to exploit it. Aussie batsmen, strong on cut and pull shots, and brought up on a diet of such bowling, feast on the offerings.
It was no different for India. Neither the experienced Ishant Sharma nor the aggressive Jasprit Bumrah bowled the ideal length or line. This played into the hands of hometown boy, Marcus Harris who was playing only his second Test. Aaron Finch and he blasted away in the first hour of play when short-pitched bowling and ultra-aggressive field placings let India down very badly.
After that, try as they did, India could never get back into the game. The Aussies had their nose in front and were hell bent in ensuring that it stayed that way.
Their taller and faster bowlers pitched the ball up to India’s batsmen or bowled a restrictive length while off spinner Nathan Lyon, a master in bowling on pitches with bounce and turn, tightened the screws slowly but decisively.
In fact by the time Australia reached 250 in the first essay their commentators, all former Test cricketers were predicting an easy Aussie win! A first innings total of 326 so excited former skipper Michael Clarke that he claimed that India would be shot out on this sort of pitch and Australia would begin their second innings at the closing stages of the second day itself!
Indeed that would have happened but for the steely determination and class of Virat Kohli. He took innumerable blows on his body, but in the company of the resolute Cheteshwar Pujara showed that Australia’s varied bowling could be thwarted.
The pair’s 74-run stand in 33 overs on the second day was grim cricket alright. It almost defined India’s back-to-the-wall batting before the Aussies chipped away at the resistance.
Kohli was magnificent as he battled all the way to a brilliant knock of 123. It took him 257 deliveries and at no time did he look flustered, even on this two-paced, two-bounce track. He literally ground the Aussie attack to the dust and as long as he was there India were in with a chance to draw level with Australia’s total, if not march ahead.
But a controversial catch cut short his innings and dashed India’s hopes of making a match of it.
However, India’s bowlers, particularly Mohammed Shami gave the team a chance before the home team’s tailenders fought tooth and nail to frustrate the attack.
India’s woes, especially in this Test, were as much with its batting as its opening session bowling. The opening batsmen, KL Rahul and Murali Vijay were poor and seemed far too daunted at the task of taking on the Aussie pace attack.
The experienced Ajinkya Rahane strangely lacked the courage of conviction with his defensive play. Unlike Pujara or Kohli who trusted their defence to see them through trying times, Rahane threw his bat around. It fetched him some exciting boundaries, particularly at the start of the innings. But he did not have faith in himself to settle down and grind the attack.
He might have got enough runs to make his place certain in the next Test, but his stay at the wicket or the runs he scored were never substantial to see the side coasting to a lead or victory.
India certainly erred in their choice of bowlers. Even if they wanted to field four pacers Umesh Yadav was the wrong choice. He looked flat throughout the match and hardly did justice to his ability. May be the selectors ought to have gone with Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, if they wanted an all-pace attack, or left arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja, the more logical choice.
India’s many mistakes, from choice of team, ultra aggressive field placings when bowlers looked innocuous, some poor fast bowling length, few bad choice of strokes and dropped catches, all contributed to the defeat.
The silver lining is the seven-day gap between now and the next Test at Melbourne, that should give the team enough scope to not just lick their wounds but to recoup and make more convincing plans to pull ahead. This home team can be beaten but India need to show a lot more determination and intent to get that going. Right now it only seems as a Kohli, Pujara, Shami, Bumrah and Ishant Vs Australia battle. It is time for team India to step up and join the fight.