A lot didn’t go right for Australia in India and the Delhi debacle was the clear low point, but Steve Smith says it did prove the spark for the Aussies to drag themselves back into the series.
The series is over, India has retained the Border Gavaskar Trophy, but the return bout has been set for June at The Oval in London where the two sides will play off for the World Test Championship.
On a neutral wicket. In a neutral country. The two best sides of the past two years. It is going to be one of the most interesting matches played this century.
In Ahmedabad the series ended not with a bang but with a whimper (it started with one too, but more of that later).
The match was called off with a little over an hour to play, Australia was 2-175dec with Marnus Labuschagne 63 not out and Steve Smith 10 not out.
RELIVE ALL THE ACTION AS IT HAPPENED BELOW
The real excitement was in New Zealand where the home side snuck a win by the barest of margins over Sri Lanka to guarantee India a place in the June final.
It is a mouth-watering prospect and one that will capture the interest of the cricket world.
Steve Smith said the Indians were obviously excited after learning the news that they would continue the contest in England.
“We saw India when they came back out on the filed just after New Zealand had won … shaking their hands and what have you,” he said. “It’s going to be great coming up against India in the final.
“The Oval wicket there can take some spin at times, particularly as the game wears on, so it could be interesting in terms of what sort of wicket we get. But it’s a great place to play cricket, there’s usually reasonable bounce and pace for an English wicket, it’s probably as close as you get to Australia potentially in terms of pace and bounce, so it’s going to be a great Test match.”
In Narendra Modi Stadium the vast stands were eerily empty, fragments of crowd scattered here and there, a handful of Australian die-hards perched above the wicket at the Adani end.
Usman Khawaja dragged his left leg when getting off the bat and the day dragged on.
Those who complained about pitches where it would be no surprise to see 20 wickets fall in a day might want to ask themselves is one where little over that falling in five days is worse.
Travis Head should have got himself an Indian hundred — they’re a souvenir so rare Ricky Ponting only got one — but was bowled on 90 by Axar Patel.
Marnus Labuschagne got himself his second half century of the series, but with all due respect to the batters, the whole exercise was lacklustre.
The series was a good one, however, and should not be judged by its extremities.
Australia found themselves on the back foot with a disappointing start, arriving with great expectation they began tentatively, scoring only 177 in the first innings at Nagpur and 91 in the second.
It was a first round knock down, but not a knock out.
The team found balance, as much through injury as design, and the side found its confidence in Delhi.
Australia will long regret the horrific hour in the capital that cost them that second Test and with it the series.
They will accentuate the positives and accept the negatives, but when you cast your eyes back across all the series since 2004 this was the one that got away.
That Delhi morning when they were 96 in front with eight wickets in hand, they were in reach of something very special, but they snatched at it, losing 8-28 in scenes that are still hard to believe.
Smith admitted that awful hour in Delhi hit the team hard.
“We really hurt after that game in Delhi,” Smith said.
“Guys were pretty upset with the way we went away from our methods in that game, it was disappointing, but obviously at that point we knew there was plenty to still play for in the series and guys responded really well and as a group we are proud of the way we bounced back and play some good cricket in the last couple of Test matches.”
Credit where it’s due, coach, acting captain and side reassembled themselves in the long break and won a significant victory in Indore.
Khawaja did not take his place at the top of the order in the final innings of the series due to a leg injury and there was disappointment in that too.
His performance was a validation of the work he has done to improve after two tours and eight Test matches carrying the drinks in this country.
He scored 81 and 60 on the most difficult tracks in the first innings at Delhi and Indore, on pitches that made batting a nightmare.
The man they said could not play spin scored more than any other batter in those games.
Here in Ahmedabad, where people of his faith have suffered terrible indignities, he went big and scored 180.
His 333 runs at 47.6 may look like a middling return but it was a triumph of will and skill over the conditions.
Things did not go right for Australia. David Warner broke an elbow, Josh Hazlewood could not get right, Mitchell Starc missed the first Test and Pat Cummins the last two.
The biggest blow, however, was the absence of all rounder Cameron Green from the first half of the series.
Without him the team lost its centre and tough decisions had to be made. His 114 in the final match was a fine knock, his first Test century confirmation that he is worth more to the Australian side than the millions that will be poured on him by IPL franchises.
He is the future and it is uncertain what shape that future takes.
Todd Murphy and Matthew Kuhnemann are the future too.
Murphy’s bowling has been extraordinary. He has arrived in the game fully formed, he can bowl like Lyon, he can bowl like Ashwin, he reads the game, he holds his nerve, he is the heir apparent.
His has been the shortest apprenticeship in cricket.
And what of Kuhnemann? Almost as impressive, it is his lot to be the third spinner in a country that relies on one. When Lyon goes he may move back up the pecking order, but it is hard to see him playing another Test. The five Test Border Gavaskar Trophy here in 2027 cannot come soon enough.
8:51PM – AUS 2-175. AUSTRALIA, INDIA SHAKE HANDS ON FOURTH TEST DRAW
Marnus Labuschagne has made an excellent 63 not out to finish the series, as Australia and India shook hands on a draw in the fourth and final Test.
Labuschagne and Travis Head (90) helped Australia ride out a potentially anxious day with minimal stress as they took the prospect of an Indian victory out of the euqtion.
Australia got themselves to 2-175, killing the game, before the captain’s shook hands.
India has retained the Border Gavaskar Trophy with their 2-1 series win, but Australia can take something from the brave way they fought back after being embarrassed in the first two Tests.
Both teams will face each other agam in London in June when they face off in the World Test Championship Final at The Oval.
Australia will be after revenge.
7:30PM – AUS 2-153. BRILLIANT HEAD ONCE AGAIN FALLS SHORT OF A DESERVED TON
Brilliant Travis Head has suffered more nervous 90s heartbreak, but his brave innings may still have done enough to secure Australia a hard-fought draw in the fourth Test.
Australia is now 67 runs ahead and only two wickets down at tea on the final day, and should be able to bat out a draw in the final session.
Marnus Labuschagne has also been superb and is 56 not out.
Head was bowled by Axar Patel for 90 – the third time the superstar batsman has been out in the 90s in just over three months.
The left-hander is one of the hottest batsmen in world cricket at the moment, and he is desperately unlucky that his hundreds tally doesn’t read eight instead of five.
Against the West Indies at the start of the home summer, Head fell for 99, then against South Africa at the Gabba, Head was out for 92 – although that was a treacherous batting wicket where his 92 was remarkable and worth a double century.
Head still has a long way to go to reach the levels of Michael Slater (nine) and Steve Waugh (ten) who had a lot of 90s hard luck stories through their respective careers.
Former Australian great Mitchell Johnson hailed Head as the success story of the tour for Australia and touted him as a potential future Test captain.
Matthew Hayden also said on the Fox Cricket commentary that Head’s brilliant success since being recalled for the second Test of this series, only further highlighted the howling selection decision to dump him from the opening Test.
Head made a match-clinching 49 not out on a difficult wicket in the third Test, and his 90 in Ahmedabad saved Australia from a potentially gut-wrenching final day trying to save the Test.
5:55PM – AUS 1-88. ABSURD SCENES IN NZ LOCKS IN AUS v INDIA FOR REMATCH IN TEST FINAL
Just a week or so after their ridiculous victory over England on the second last ball in Wellington… New Zealand have done it again – this time a crazy, last ball thriller against Sri Lanka.
In absurd scenes, kiwi captain Kane Williamson had an air swing but still managed to scramble to the other end to complete a single which gave them victory off the very last ball of the epic Test match.
The result locks India in for an epic rematch against Australia in the World Test Championship Final at The Oval in London on June 7 this year.
In Ahmedabad, Travis Head has made a brilliant unbeaten 50, with Australia on the verge of wiping its deficit and strengthening its chances of saving the Test.
But the real action was happening many miles away in NZ.
Williamson made a brilliant unbeaten hundred and just when the game seemed destined for a draw, the champion batsman upped the ante and pushed for the win.
New Zealand needed 8 to win off the last over with only three wickets in hand, and the Christchurch ground in dark conditions where visibility was tricky in the fading light.
A run-out caused further chaos, with New Zealand electing to send Neil Wagner out for the last three balls, even though he had a torn hamstring from earlier in the match.
Williamson then smashed a four off the third last ball to bring the equation to one run to win off the last two balls.
With the second last ball, Sri Lanka bowled a bouncer which was so high it should have been called a wide and Williamson didn’t attempt a shot as he stayed underneath.
Inexplicably no call came from the umpires … and then … suddenly the lights came on. With one ball to go the lights magically came on.
It didn’t help Williamson, who had another air swing at the final delivery.
Wagner sprinted through with his dodgy hammy and the throw from the wicketkeeper – which would have secured a draw for Sri Lanka – missed the stumps by the barest of margins
But it wasn’t over yet.
The bowler fielded superbly and threw down the stumps at the bowler’s end.
Sri Lanka thought Williamson was short. Williamson thought he was short, and the mild-mannered kiwi even started politely remonstrating with the umpire about how the previous ball wasn’t called wide.
But then the replay came up on the big screen and in agonising slow-mo, Williamson’s bat snuck into its ground about three inches before the stumps were broken.
New Zealand win by two wickets off the last ball.
Word quickly spread to Ahmedabad, where India was relying on Sri Lanka not beating New Zealand 2-0 to secure their passage to face Australia in the World Test Championship Final later this year.
The Indians in the dressing room celebrated, then the message came down to the field and players on the field started discussing the fact their place had been booked.
India has won this series, and this fourth Test looks like being drawn… but an epic rematch has been set-up in London where winner takes all.
5:04PM – AUS 1-73. HEAD, LABUSCHAGNE FIGHT HARD TO SAVE GAME FOR AUSTRALIA
Australia is just 18 runs from getting a lead in the fourth Test, and are possibly just one session of solid batting away from saving the match.
Head has been the great success story for Australia this summer, and is 45 not out at lunch.
He has well and truly proven selectors wrong for dropping him for the first Test, and he has given the panel food for thought about whether he could make it as an opener long-term, away from the sub-continent.
Head has been superb under pressure in the third and fourth Test and has taken a big leap in his already blossoming career.
In big news from across the Tasman, New Zealand are set to hold on for a draw against Sri Lanka which would lock in an India v Australia rematch for the World Test Championship later this year in June.
Australia will take on India at The Oval in London on June 3 in a pre-Ashes blockbuster.
But first things first – there is a Test to be saved in Ahmedabad.
Australia is comfortably placed at 1-73 at lunch on the final day, thanks to an unbeaten 59-run partnership between find of the tour Head and Marnus Labuschagne (22 not out).
But it wasn’t without its nervous moments.
Australia averted a disastrous blow two overs before lunch, when India challenged a not out umpire’s call to a big lbw shout.
Replays showed the ball hitting leg-stump, but only narrowly, meaning Head survived at the crease on umpire’s call.
There is suddenly plenty in the day five wicket for the spinners and on that level it was a great session for Australia, with the two batsmen digging in superbly.
India created four or five half chances, but Head has once again been superb. Labuschagne has looked perhaps even more solid, under enormous pressure.
Australia’s only lost wicket was nightwatchman Matthew Kuhnemann, and the nightwatchman shouldn’t have been given out in the first place, with replays showing the ball from Ashwin was missing leg stump.
If Kuhnemann was a top order batsman, Australia would have taken the review, but Head decided to play the percentages that reviews might be needed for the recognised batsmen, and the No.11 – promoted to open for Usman Khawaja (injured leg) – was made the sacrificial lamb.
Australia isn’t out of the woods yet and need to bat out the middle session to kill the match.
If India find themselves batting early in the last session with around 100 to chase, it could still be game on.
3:30PM – AUS 1-17. UMPIRE SHOCKER COSTS KUHNEMANN
Australia has lost its first wicket on a desperate day of survival in India, with Matthew Kuhnemann copping a poor umpiring decision which he decided against reviewing.
Nightwatchman Kuhnemann, who opened the innings in place of the injured Usman Khawaja, has been thrown under the bus for the sake of saving reviews for the batsmen to come.
But it turned out Australia should have reviewed the lbw to Ravi Ashwin, with DRS replays showing the ball was comfortably going down leg.
It leaves Australia 1-17 and still trailing by 74 runs to make India bat again.
Marnus Labuschagne has come to the crease with still no sign when or if Khawaja will bat after suffering a lower leg injury.
VIRAT V SACHIN: WHERE KOHLI TOPPLES INDIA’S GOAT
Virat Kohli is not a better batsman than Sachin Tendulkar … but he is more feared.
That’s the assessment of one of cricket’s sharpest judges, Mark Waugh, after Kohli broke a 1207-day Test century drought to post his 28th career hundred for India.
The innings was a reminder of Kohli’s single-minded determination .. but he is not the player he once was.
Given it was in Adelaide in 2012 that Kohli first announced himself as a cricketing megastar, Australia has experienced the three stages of the run-master’s career.
From fearless youngster, to combative general, and now the smiling sage.
Last time Australia toured India in 2017, Kohli virtually went to war with Steve Smith, accusing him of cheating in a volcanic press conference in Bangalore.
Four years on, and Kohli has spent much of his 242-ball hundred chatting with Smith, including a pow wow on day three where they both stood at a drinks’ break forensically examining the blade of Kohli’s bat.
Kohli’s three-year wait for his 28th Test hundred has weighed on him heavily.
He gave up the Test captaincy last year after the burden became too great, and even in this Test he has resisted his normal urge to move the scoreboard on in pursuit of victory to knuckle down and make a bird of breaking his hundred drought.
Kohli hit just five boundaries in his 100, and none in the two and a half hours he batted on day four before passing triple figures.
In the three years and three months it’s taken to finally add to his ton tally, Kohli’s average has dipped below 50 and no-longer plays the game with that assassins mentality.
Although a couple of the death stars he gave batting partners KS Bharat and Ravi Jadeja on day four showed he still has the eye of the tiger.
So how do you compare Kohli to the other demi-God of Indian cricket, Sachin Tendulkar?
According to Waugh, who played against Tendulkar and has commentated on Kohli, it’s clear that Sachin is the GOAT with 51 Test centuries and an average of 53.78 compared to Kohli’s 48.
But there is a key trait, not necessarily measured in statistics that sets Kohli apart from even the great one.
“There’s a bit more fear involved in Kohli,” Waugh said on Fox Cricket.
“Because just the way he plays the game. There’s a different aura about Kohli.”
Ex-great Brad Haddin – who played against both Tendulkar and Kohli – said there is no doubt Indian players still “walk on eggshells” around the cricketer who has modelled his training, diet and approach to tennis killer, Novak Djokovic.
On day three of this Test, the crowd at Ahmedabad were chanting “Kohli, Kohli”, even before previous batsman Cheteshwar Pujara had been given out on DRS to bring the great man to the crease.
Like Tendulkar, Indians come to watch Kohli and often leave the ground when he is out.
He cannot go out in public in India, so all-encompassing is his superstardom.
“He’s a global icon,” Matthew Hayden said on Fox.
“One of the greatest athletes of all time. Shane Warne, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods. He’s right up there in that category.”
Kohli’s legacy is he is the man who reinvigorated Indian cricket.
He single-handedly changed the attitude of Indian cricket, and in doing so unlocked the potential the subcontinental giants always had to conquer the world as a cricketing super power.
With Kohli, in the driver’s seat, India became a force overseas.
Kohli was one of the rare cricketers to look Australia in the eye, and beat them at their own game of mental and physical intimidation.
Even in his decline, Kohli’s stamp is all over modern India.
A cricketer for the ages who has transcended the sport.
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Originally published as Australia v India: How the Aussies picked themselves up from the Delhi horror to show genuine fight