India in Australia: Twists and Turns of a Battle of Attrition
India's Test tour of Australia came to an end with an engaging final day at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Saturday. After a few twists and turns, Australia settled for a draw at Sydney and clinched the series 2-0.
India's gruelling month-long Test series in Australia came to an exciting end on Saturday as the hosts in Sydney clinched the series 2-0. From Kohli's form to Ryan Harris' resilience, here are the talking points of the keenly-contested Test series.
The Kohli Era is Here, So is Steve Smith's
Even before Mahendra Singh Dhoni announced his retirement after the Brisbane Test, Virat Kohli had given Indian fans a glimpse of what was in store for them for a long time to come. His monumental effort with the bat in Adelaide (twin tons) took India agonisingly close to a win and made the Aussies sit up and take note of a stubborn young man with a lot of runs up his sleeve. On Saturday, Kohli finished as the second highest run getter in the series (692 runs) and has spoken in the media with the efficiency of an experienced campaigner. Some may argue that Dhoni has prematurely ended his Test career, but Kohli seems like he was always destined to lead.(Match report | Day 5 Highlights | Scorecard)
In the Australian camp, a young 25-year-old skipper has had an unbelievable series. For someone who started off as a leg spinner at the age of 21 and wasn't sure of fitting in, in the longest format of the game, Steve Smith has come a long way. Smith's take over of captaincy from the injured Michael Clarke has been seamless, with the youngster, much like Kohli, reveling under his own leadership. He managed to surpass Don Bradman, whose batting numbers are still considered the cornerstone for statistics, by scoring 769 runs at an average of 128.16 with four tons and two fifties and clinching the man of the match (at Sydney) and the man of the series awards. One of Smith's biggest positives was that he showed great temperament under pressure. At Melbourne, when the series was still open and India had a chance to draw it, Smith took the foot off the pedal a bit to ensure their lead in the series was good enough for them to win it in an outright manner. He coped some criticism for that but was firm in stating that series win was on top of priority. With the series Â in his bag, he showed far more aggression with declaration in Sydney, where the series was out of India's reach. Clarke may still make his international return and take back his leadership role, but Australia can be rest assured they have a long-term replacement waiting in the wings.
Intent or Lack of Plan B?
India's 'going-for-broke' attitude in Adelaide divided opinion among Indian fans and experts alike. With 364 to chase on the final day, 'stand-in' skipper Kohli ordered his troops to take the fight to Australia. It was all or nothing for the feisty Kohli, who scored a total of 193 runs in his two innings here. While Team director Ravi Shastri, also known for his aggressive ways during his playing days, backed his skipper, another former skipper in Sunil Gavaskar felt the team's failing was due to lack of a clear plan B to try and salvage draw.They were in similar situation in both Melbourne and Sydney but better sense prevailed, showcasing that the madness doesn't come without method. (Also read: Kohli scores runs by the dozen as Aussies fail to tame his batting)
Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli's calming alter ego
Kohli has been the central figure of India's efforts, sledging, taunting and amassing runs. Middle-order batsman Ajinkya Rahane though has come been a calm figure. In their record stand of 262 runs in the Melbourne Test, Rahane kept talking to Kohli at different junctures of the innings, trying to calm him down when he seemed like losing his cool. Coming in with a good showing in England, Rahane became one of India's key components of the series with 399 runs. Rahane too has the confidence and runs up his sleeve, but the added serenity of mind makes him the perfect antidote to the Kohli drug.
The ever colourful David Warner
What's a Test match without a bit of David Warner antics? The chirpy Australian did it all in the four Tests. He smashed centuries, taunted Indian bowlers, blew kisses to them, sledged India's best batsman and ironically even called for a ban on 'send-offs.' Warner, who has had a phenomenal 2014, was met with some mediocre fast bowling from the Indians. One from the Sehwag school of thought, Warner didn't hold back when he was offered width and room, winning multiple sessions for Australia on his own. He hit three tons and finished with 427 runs in the series.
Murali Vijay's Patience Pays Off
From an impatient Test rookie to a reliable opener, Murali Vijay has come a long way. In the post Gambhir-Sehwag era, India found a new pair in Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay. The tricky part however, was going to be thier ability to apply themselves in foreign conditions. While Dhawan has blown hot and cold in the last few overseas Tests, Vijay has emerged as a genuine Test player, finishing Australia series with 482 runs - third in the list of run-getters. Vijay has displayed patience of the highest order to negate the fiery Aussie pacers in their own backyard to prove his credentials.
Ryan Harris, the Fulcrum of Australian bowling
Despite his constant fitness issues, the 35-year-old Aussie bowler - Ryan Harris - was the fulcrum around which the Australian bowlers weived their magic on the Indian batsmen. Harris picked up 10 wickets but two of those include game-turning scalps of Kohli. With his inch-perfect line and length, Harris managed to stiffle Kohli and forced him into playing a rare poor shot that led to his wicket. Harris bowled 126 overs, most by a pacer across both teams in the series. His ability to amp up the pressure even on the docile drop-in wickets helped him play the perfect 'assist man' to the other bowlers. Batsmen who failed to get anything off Harris attempted to free their arms against the rest and perished in the process.
First Moeen Ali, Now Nathan Lyon
After England, this tour of Australia has gone a long way in busting an age-old myth that Indians are good players of spin. After conceding 19 wickets to 'part-timer' Moeen Ali in England, India gave away 23 wickets to Nathan Lyon in the four Tests.(Lyon a Hero for Australia)
Lyon, to his credit, is a frontline spinner and one who executed orthodox off-spin bowling to great effect. Lyon repaid his captain's faith - both Clarke and Smith's - to orchestrate his side's thrilling win at Adelaide and has played the role of chief-tormentor for the opposition to perfection.
Men Who Defy Age
Kohli may have told Brad Haddin that 'this was his last series,' but the 37-year-old veteran wicketkeeper showed no signs of slowing down. What he did display is some fine catching, taking a few acrobatic takes behind the wicket. His teammate Chris Rogers, the 37-year-old opener, played in his final home series and finished in style. He managed as many as six successive fifties to the delight of the home fans.
In the opposition camp, a young 22-year-old Karnataka boy entered the arena of the big boys. In the iconic Boxing Day Test, Lokesh Rahul came in as India's no. 6 batsman. It was nervous debut, one that would have crushed his morale to a great extent.
At SCG however, the world witnessed a different Rahul. With a technique that would have made Rahul Dravid proud, Rahul soaked in the Sydney sun and played some of the most handsome strokes enroute his maiden Test ton. Taking Dhawan's place in the side, he got an opportunity to play at his preferred position, as an opener. He showcased fine temperament and ability to handle the Aussies to great effect and will be one of those who will be earmarked as a future star.