This is so unfair.
How can India do this to Australia? In a bid to stake claim for a place in the final of the World Test Championship, India had no business to do this to a visiting team. It made the contest so one-sided that Australia were never in the game. Hell, they were out of if it even before the first ball of the series was bowled. Doctored track, selective watering, grippo usage – how much could Australia take?
India should not have done this. India should not have played such bloody good cricket that the heavyweights Steve Smith, Marnus Labhuschagne, David Warner were made to look like your weekend club cricketers playing a league or two above their level.
So was it the demons in the pitch that led Australia to a humiliating loss in the series opener of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium, Jamtha?
Well, not quite – it were the beasts who played on it – Australia were merely the hapless victims crushed under the Juggernaut of this Indian team, who are near invincible at home.
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Since 2018, India have played 16 Test matches at home, including the 1st Test here and only two out of those have gone to the fifth day. Forget about putting up a fight against India, the opposition struggles to survive. Such has been India’s ruthlessness. 15 series in a row they have been unbeaten and on the evidence of what we saw in Nagpur’s eight session – Australians are in for a tough, tough sojourn and the 16th straight series win is loading up by the time teams reach Ahmedabad.
Ravichandran Ashwin displayed his immense skill to gobble up Australia in the second innings, after Ravindra Jadeja’s had trapped them with his natural variations that sometimes spun the other way. The fact that seven of the ten wickets to fall in their second innings was either bowled or LBW incriminates the Australian media rubbish talks about the devious nature of the pitch. Good bowling brings you wickets; not the pitch.
The Nagpur pitch was far better than the landmine that was the Wankhede in 2004 and there also Aussies managed more than what they managed here. It all came down to application or the lack of it; and to a certain extent lack of preparation.
Ashwin was quick to exploit the variable bounce and played with the minds of the Aussie batters. Yet there were deliveries that spun viciously, and took off from the rough with a puff of dust, it was the same pitch on which both Axar Patel and Jadeja batted with relative ease.
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You need to know how to exploit the conditions. “Ash has played so much cricket in India, not just the Test matches, but the First Class games before he made his debut. A lot of overs have gone into his skills. You need this experience to do well in such conditions. The guy has got everything in terms of variations. What makes them (Ashwin, Jadeja, Axar) special is how they extract the maximum from those conditions,” Rohit said of Ashwin during post-match media presser.
You can do all the simulation you want on pitches replicating the conditions and get bowlers who can copy Ashwin, Jadeja or Axar; but what matters is how you turn up when you actually encounter those conditions and face up to these bowlers.
In home Tests since June 2018, Ashwin, Jadeja and Axar’s combined tally is a mind boggling 186 wickets. 100 wickets for Ashwin in 17 matches at 16.12, 47 for Jadeja 12 matches at 20.31 and 39 for Axar in seven matches at 13.15. These numbers are nothing but insane and prove the sheer mastery of these three on home soil.
While Aswhin and Jadeja ransacked Australia in just one single session in the second innings, it was the Jadeja-Axar combo which provided the knockout blow to Australia. Jadeja lifted India from 229/6 to 328 and then Patel dragged that lead well past 200 with India finishing on 400.
And it is a luxury India have at their disposal – three proper allrounders who can walk in to the team as specialist bowlers, and now by the looks of it – batters as well. Gone are the days when India’s tail would be snipped in no time. Now – even if you have dealt with a Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara; at least two from Jadeja, Ashwin and Axar will be waiting down the order.
The troika has played together in three matches and have combined with the ball to a telling effect – 42 wickets between them. But in Nagpur, while their performance with the ball left the Australians gobsmacked; it was their batting that tells us the real reason of India’s domination at home.
The three, in Tests played since June 2018, have average that would put batters to shame. Jadeja for instance averages 65.90 with the bat with two hundreds and 5 fifties – the third best for India for players who have played a minimum five Tests during this time frame. Axar 31.22 with two fifties and Ashwin 25.16 with one hundred and one fifty.
And this stellar form of the lower-order for India has in some ways masked Kohli’s barren patch, Pujara’s dip and the inconsistency of the top-order. Even in the Nagpur game, when Todd Murphy and Nathan Lyon where in the middle of their best spells removing the Indian middle-order in quick succession there was every possibility of India folding for not much.
But Jadeja and Axar played sensibly, batted out the tough overs and then upped the ante as the sapping Nagpur heat took a toll on Murphy and Lyon who put in 49 and 47 overs respectively across five sessions.
Pat Cummins cut a desolate figure as he attended the post-match media presser and even as he conceded that they were no match to the Indians here, he still stuck to the pitch talks saying, “The pitch in some way played as expected. There was not lot of bounce for the pacers and for three days, spinners looked threatening, so no real surprises there on what we expected.”
It will be prudent enough for the skipper to realize that were outclassed not by the Demons in the pitch, but by the beasts who played on it. Well, Cummins and Co. have two extra days to think it through before they move to Delhi, traditionally another slow and low track.
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