India vs Australia: Ajinkya Rahane, KL Rahul's confident batting ensures hosts victory without much drama
For India, this win means they have got through the 13 matches of this home season with just one loss and series wins against New Zealand, England, Bangladesh and now Australia.
One of the great modern Test series has finished in Dharamsala with India emerging victorious. In the end, the difference between these two teams came down to one poor session for Australia between lunch and tea on the third day. After battling over four Tests in four different cities, covering vast distances, this epic contest between talented, but flawed sides, was decided by two hours where Australia underperformed having overachieved for much of this series.
Having taken the last Indian wicket at the end of the first session, Australia walked out to bat 32 runs behind and needing one more impressive batting effort to secure a famous series win in a country where success for non-Asian teams has been so hard to achieve.
Instead Australia crumbled. This closely-fought match was decided in 25.3 overs that saw Australia stumble to 92 for five as the top order failed. More importantly, Steve Smith failed.
Smith finished the series with the most runs, the most centuries and the highest average, but on the losing side. The Australian captain’s standing was colossal before this series, now that he has finished it with three hundreds from four Tests, he has risen even further. His homespun technique makes absolutely no sense beyond the fact that it works. He is the personification of why coaches should let kids play the game their way, not try to make them all bat the same way.
When Smith bottom-edged a pull shot on to his stumps for just 17 it was the beginning of the collapse that saw Australia’s hard-fought parity in this series disappear. From there, Australia stumbled to 137 all out as the Indian seamers gut-punched the top order with the new ball before Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, the top two bowlers in the world, did the rest.
The only Australian to make a score of note in their second innings was Glenn Maxwell, who looked in decent touch for his 45 before he was given out LBW when he seemed to get caught between playing a shot and leaving the ball and in the end he did neither. Once he was gone there was runs from Matthew Wade, who scored 25 not out from 90 balls, but the tail could not stick with him.
Australia had looked like they were going to set a dominating first-innings total when they got off to a flying start at the beginning of the match. India bowled really badly to allow Australia to reach 131 for one at the lunch break on the first day, thanks to runs from David Warner and Smith.
As has so often been the case in this crazy series, India come right back into things thanks to the bowling of debutant left-arm wrist spinner, Kuldeep Yadav. He spun the Australians into knots as they lost their last nine wickets for 166 runs. Kuldeep finished with figures of 4 for 68 as only Wade and Smith seemed capable of picking his googly.
Australia’s first innings total of 300 looked to be passable without being truly competitive. In the end, it was pretty close to par on this excellent Dharamsala pitch that has produced fascinating cricket.
In the absence of Virat Kohli, and with India picking an extra bowler rather than replacing their injured captain with a batsman, there was huge pressure on the top order to deliver. That didn’t happen as India found themselves 226 for six. There were fifties from KL Rahul and Cheteshwar Pujara but neither man went on to a big score. It seemed that Australia would end up with a first innings lead — but then Jadeja made one of the annoying lower-order scores that he has become renowned for.
The bat-twirling number eight top-scored 63, and as he counter-attacked, his team passed 300 and into that narrow lead. But for his batting, India would have been chasing the game, instead they were able to come out with the ball in Australia’s second innings with fresh bowlers raring to go.
Jadeja scored at a decent lick, but there was some criticism of the way India batted on the second day. This didn’t make a huge amount of sense at the time, and looked even more daft as India emerged victorious with more than five sessions to spare. Pujara’s half-century, and his somewhat laborious partnership with Rahul, helped to set up this win.
By the time the final day of the match got underway, India needed just 87 runs to win, and they got those without too many dramas. Rahane and Rahul knocked the runs off with aplomb.
Australia have lost this series, but they have played brilliantly. Their preparations in the UAE ahead of this tour clearly paid off as both of their spinners finished with the best returns from Australian slow bowlers in India since Ashley Mallett in 1969. Pat Cummins looked really dangerous on his return to the side, and Mitchell Starc was as penetrating as ever. Josh Hazlewood did what Hazlewood does as he kept things tight with his metronomic action.
The batting had more issues, with only Smith being truly impressive, but there were enough contributions from others for the tourists to stay in this series — right up until that collapse on the third day of the final Test ended their resistance.
For India, this win means they have got through the 13 matches of this home season with just one loss and series wins against New Zealand, England, Bangladesh and now Australia. They looked jaded throughout this series against Australia, and were far from their best, but that actually made for a better spectacle. For that we should all be grateful.
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