India vs Australia, 1st Test: Steve O'Keefe's bowling, hosts' batting collapse and other turning points
O'Keefe was one you would not have expected to destroy the power-packed Indian batting line-up, but with match figures of 12/70 he showed what he was made of.
For all those who had seen the pitch at the MCA stadium in Pune before the start of the first Test, and predicted doomsday for the Australians, and those who were even bolder and thought the visitors were goners from the first day of the tour itself, there was a whole lot of humble pie to eat.
India were not only beaten, but downright humiliated, barely crossing 100, in both innings. You have to strain your mind really hard to remember the last time that India were outplayed so comprehensively in a home Test. Maybe the Ahmedabad Test against South Africa in 2008, in which they were bundled out for 76 in the first innings? But India did score 328 in the second innings, didn't they? Maybe the series against England in 2012, in which Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann impaled India with their own sword?
It was the last time India lost a home Test series, but none of the matches were as one-sided than the one that just got over at Pune. Maybe when Dale Steyn unleashed a carnage at Nagpur in 2010? Still, none of those defeats were as scarring as the one Australia just inflicted.
The loss at Pune put a jarring end to India's 19-Test unbeaten streak and rudely brought the Kohli's high-flying team down to earth. However, the Indians would probably realise that the Australians were a far, far better team in this match, and outplayed them in every department — batting, bowling, fielding, captaincy and even the use of the DRS.
And so in the last series of India's long home season, Kohli and Co are in a spot of considerable bother. New Zealand hardly put up a fight going down 0-3, England were tied in knots by Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja and battered by the batters led by Kohli, Bangladesh fought gamely, but lacked finishing. Australia, however, are a different kettle of fish and showed why they are so. What then were the turning points of the Pune Test — that moment or a train of events that snuffed out India's chances in the match? Let us take a look:
1. Shoddy batting by the hosts and Kohli's failure: "It was our worst batting display in the last two years... It was the case of us not applying ourselves too well," Kohli said at the post match presentation. When a team goes from 94/3 to a pathetic 105 all out in the first innings, and lose wickets in torrents in the second, that's what the captain would be left to say. Losing their last seven wickets for 11 runs in the first innings made it India's worst ever seven-wicket collapse in Tests. India could not match, even in two attempts, what Australian captain Steve Smith scored.
A big dent to India's chances was created by captain Kohli's failure. He was out without troubling the scorers in the first innings and left a delivery that went on to crash into his stumps in the second. His two-ball duck in the first essay was the first in international cricket in 105 innings. The last time he faced such ignominy was against England in an ODI in Cardiff, back in 2014. Thus, the gladiator, the prime batsman of his side, who had not put a foot wrong in the past couple of years, was made to look utterly ordinary, and when that happens you know there is trouble.
But what was the most galling was that it was a collective failure on the part of the Indian batsmen. None of them stepped up to the plate to play the innings that Smith played for Australia, and the way KL Rahul threw his wicket away in the first innings was beyond pardon. His wicket triggered the dramatic collapse. The opening pair, as is becoming the norm now, contributed precious little. There were one too many Indian batsman playing for the turn and getting foxed.
"The batting let us down in both the innings. Our application was not good. There were no partnerships worth mentioning," Kohli said and he couldn't have been more correct. A team that had scored 600-plus in their last three innings, squeaking to 105 and 107 in two innings is a bit difficult to digest. "The batting was not up to standards, it showed how we shouldn't bat. The batsmen need to pull their socks up," warned Kohli.
2. India's wastefulness with catches and DRS: Fielding, traditionally, has not what Indian teams have been known by. However, Kohli had managed to inculcate a new philosophy, in which fitness and fielding took centre stage, and had led by example. But in Pune, India's weaker side was fully on show, as they dropped catch-after-catch. Smith was given multiple 'lives' – thrice on Day 2 and one on Day 3 — and he rode his luck to a century that decidedly threw India out of the contest.
If you compare India's fielding with that of Australia, the difference in quality clearly stands out. A couple of catches that Peter Handscomb took in India's first innings were quite extraordinary. The tourists, thus, were able to convert the half chances. India, on the other hand, let the chances slip through their fingers.
Indians' use of the DRS also left a lot to be desired. The Indians panicked and showed a lot of desperation in the face of a sustained Australian onslaught and took their reviews mindlessly. India blew their reviews in the nascent stages of their second innings, and Rahul and Vijay calling to go upstairs when they were caught plumb in front of the stumps begs the question if the Indians had any plan on the use of the review. India's choice for reviews throughout the Test was generally impulsive and unwise. That is where the captain must come in and put his foot down, but Kohli relied too much on the counsel of his teammates. India were hurt by such wastefulness, when Umesh Yadav and Jadeja were denied genuine wickets, with the team having blown its review quota.
3. Steve O'Keefe's star turn: The left-arm orthodox bowler was one you would not have expected to destroy the power-packed Indian batting line-up the way he did in Pune. Shane Warne didn't pick him in his first eleven for the Pune Test, opting to go for Mitchell Swepson instead.
My Australian team for the 1st test against India in Pune
— Shane Warne (@ShaneWarne) February 22, 2017
But with 6/35 in the first innings and an identical haul in the second innings, O'Keefe showed what he was made of.
And when you think of the fact that till lunch on Day 2, there was absolutely nothing to suggest the menace that he would become, his performance was surely one of the biggest turning points. He took six wickets post lunch on Friday, for 12 runs off 37 balls, and India's capitulation was complete. O'Keefe was all over the Indians in the second innings too. He got exactly the amount of turn that was required for success on this wicket.
A foreign spinner did to India what the Indian spinners have been doing to visiting teams. It reminded you of how Panesar and Swann turned the tables on India in 2012. "So to say that I was going to take 6/35, no I didn't think but I had belief I could keep hitting the same area, and that was just the result of it today," O'Keefe said. Nathan Lyon supported O'Keefe to the hilt, taking five wickets in the match himself.
4. Steve Smith on a roll: The Australian captain played a gem of an innings in the second essay, scoring a century, and proving it beyond doubt that if you apply yourself, you can score runs even on this wicket. And that's where the arguments against the Pune pitch falls off. He played only those balls he had too, leaving those that could have landed him in trouble and attacked only those that warranted the treatment. This was his fifth century against India in as many matches. He clearly loves this opposition, having scored over 1,000 runs against them in just seven matches. It was also his 10th century as captain in 22 Tests.
When Australia started their second innings 155 runs ahead, India still had a chance to make a feast of the contest, if they could have bowled the visitors out for 100 or so, which would have given them a 250-275 run target. But Smith's innings put paid to any hopes India might have harboured. It typified the ruthlessness that the Australians showed in the match.
5. The runs Mitchell Starc got: It's normally the wickets that he gets that is the talking point, but there is only way that you can describe the runs he got at the end of Australia's first innings: priceless. He hammered 61 off 63 balls and added 55 runs for the last wicket with Josh Hazlewood, propelling his team's score from 205 to 260.
Starc is no mug with the bat, having scored eight Test fifties before this, with the highest of 99. His knock studded with six fours and three sixes put the Indian bowlers under the pump.
Going past the 250-mark gave the Australians an unmistakable boost and they went into the break on a high. On the other the Indians were left frustrated. If you take Starc's runs out, India would have been less than 100 runs behind after the first innings, and would have still felt a bit more confident.
The loss to Australia was then a "reality check", as Kohli pointed out. It left India trapped in their own net. Kohli and Co will badly need to improve their approach in the coming matches of the series. This was probably the first time they were tested in any real measure during the home season, except perhaps on the last day of the Rajkot Test against England. It will be interesting to see how India bounces back from this adversity. The series is set up wonderfully. Can India turn the tide in their favour?
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