At the start of the India-Australia Test series, if you wanted to put money on each of the four games going the full distance, and being comprehensively decided on the final day you would have got pretty good odds.
For, it was clear from early on that Australia had an international standard bowling attack, but their batting was thin on the ground. It was thought then that the batting was mostly made up of their two senior players, Usman Khawaja and Shaun Marsh, but, with only one innings left to go, neither player has given the team what was expected of them.
As for India, their batting line-up stood up, Cheteshwar Pujara having the series of his life, Rishabh Pant kicking on and Virat Kohli making vital runs. But, on a rain-hit penultimate day, what came to the fore once more was the superiority of India’s bowlers.
Mohammad Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav all did a job, as soon as drizzle allowed play, bowling out Australia for only 300, and the lead of 322 with the rest provided by the breaks was enough for Kohli to enforce the follow-on.
Even with nearly 65 overs lost, India have given themselves more than enough time to realistically bowl out Australia again. Kohli became the only the second Indian captain — Kapil Dev was the first at the same ground back in 1986 — to enforce the follow on. So dominant have Australia been at home that the last time they were asked to follow on was in 1988, and since then have gone 172 Tests without putting themselves in such a situation.
But, India had been thinking about the follow-on even before the fourth day began, with Australia having four wickets still in hand.
“Yesterday, actually when the Aussies were 150-odd for five, and also taking into account the weather forecast we said that we would definitely enforce the follow-on if we get them out pretty quickly,” revealed Bharat Arun, India’s bowling coach.
“This is probably one of the best wickets we have played on from the batsmen’s point of view. So, we were aware that to win this game we need that many overs to bowl. And also the fact that weather was a lot kinder than what it was in the first three days and also the fact it’s a great opportunity for us to make it 3-1 scoreline, that was a huge motivation for us to go and give all that we have to make it 3-1.”
The fact that India were willing to push themselves, asking their bowlers to shoulder the extra burden of rocking up twice in a row, showed just how keen they were to end the series on 3-1 rather than coast to 2-1. After all, the declaration in the first innings was not especially needed, given that the Border-Gavaskar Trophy was already in the bag and India had put on such a mountain of runs that Australia weren’t really in with a shout to win the game.
That the call to enforce the follow-on was taken so early on, and that too with India missing Ishant Sharma and R Ashwin, two of its first-choice bowlers. The fact that Kohli and Ravi Shastri trusted the current pick of bowlers to do the job showed the esteem in which they held their own and the confidence they had. “We do have a lot of respect for their fast-bowling attack and I think they are probably one of the best in the world. But we were more focused on what we could do, and we have also come to Australia previously and we knew how the wickets would be in Australia and things like that – very similar to the ones we got in South Africa,” said Arun.
“We drew upon all those experiences and said that to be successful in Australia, we need to make sure that we took the cut and pull out of the Australian batsmen and then focus on our strengths. That’s exactly what we did.”
India have had an odd sort of year in that the wins they were desperate for in South Africa and England did not materialise. But, even those failures have helped the team pick up vital information that would help them seal the deal in Australia.
“When we started off, it was a great opportunity for us in South Africa, and then in England. Though the scoreline in England suggest a totally different view point, I thought we were very very close to winning in England,” said Arun.
“We did make mistakes there, and we thought hard as to where we went wrong and we said that those are the very areas, we would focus as we go forward. You can’t be making the same mistakes again and again. I thought those two tours (SA and England) were great experience for us and that has helped us immensely to come and well in Australia.”