India v Australia 2016-17: The birth of a rivalry

India v Australia 2016-17: The birth of a rivalry

“No, it has changed. I thought that was the case, but it has changed for sure. As I said, in the heat of the battle you want to be competitive but I’ve been proven wrong. The thing I said before the first Test, that has certainly changed and you won’t hear me say that ever again.”

After an empathic and hard fought series win against an equally competitive Australian cricket team, Indian skipper Virat Kohli looked visibly miffed at the press conference when asked if his views about the opposition players had changed from what they were before the series.

Before the series had begun, former players from both sides had predicted another cakewalk for the Indian team, considering that their opposition was coming on the back of a terrible loss at the hands of a relatively young Sri Lankan side. On the other hand, India had just completed a 4-0 drubbing of England and had comprehensively won their one-off test against Bangladesh.

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In what would be a humiliating 333-run loss for India in the first test at Pune, a spin conducive pitch would see the sturdy Indian batting crumbling twice for a cumulative 212 runs, owing to the brilliance of Mitchell Starc in the first and the young O’Keefe in the second innings.

From being overwhelming favorites to mortal competitors, it only took 3 days for the unlikely transition to occur. The second test was looked upon as the match of resurgence for the hosts and Bengaluru having been a happy hunting ground for captain Kohli in particular as the captain of Royal Challengers in the IPL, critics brushed the previous loss aside as a momentary lapse of concentration.

A couple of days into the match and some would certainly have been eating their words. India had been bowled out for a mere 189 in the first innings and with the Australian scorecard reading 200 for the loss of 5, India were staring at a second humiliation in as many matches.

But the story took a dramatic turn at the start of day three when India bowled Australia out before lunch having conceded a lead of 87 runs. India started cautiously but were soon in a spot of bother having lost 4 wickets including that of their skipper who had his fourth consecutive failure, a rare feat for a man who had a dream home season before the series.

Then Pujara and Rahane did what traditionalists had been calling for a long time, they put their head down and defended everything that came their way. Ajinkya Rahane, who had been struggling for a while up until then, was resolute in his approach and with the man of steel giving him company at the other end, the task would have gotten slightly easier.

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It was a scene that the Australians would have dreaded, probably even remembering how another such duo had taken them by the neck, back when the Australian team had the invincible tag tucked into their demeanor. For cricket lovers from the subcontinent who had seen the marathon partnership between Dravid and Laxman, it was nostalgia written all over, as their team was now surprisingly in the driver’s seat, after having been pushed to the brink. Though this one yielded only a 118 runs, its significance on the eventual result was far greater than the numbers suggest.

As Ravichandran Ashwin added 6 more to his ever growing tally, a historic win for India had closed the floodgates that the opposition had stealthily managed to open after the first match. The beginning of day three was the defining moment that went on to change the course of a series that could otherwise have been notched up by the Kangaroos. It wasn’t without its share of controversies, however, as Steven Smith was caught looking at the dressing room after being adjudged out. As the Australian skipper later admitted to the same calling it brainfade in the heat of the moment and something that had never occurred earlier, this sparked a row between the two teams as the series progressed.

The Indian skipper came out vehemently in protest, even calling for an inquiry and accusing the opposition of resorting to such practices on previous occasions. While nothing came out of it, words were exchanged and rivalries got new life as off field antics became a talking point, reminding many of the series in 2008 where Monkey Gate took centerstage.

After a humdinger at Ranchi that saw scores in excess of 400 being scored in both the first innings with India riding on the monk-like brilliance of Cheteshwar Pujara and Wriddhiman Saha, where the former scored the third double hundred of his career playing over 500 balls in the process, it was Dharamsala’s turn to host the decider.

Glenn Maxwell was coming on the back of a century that nobody including himself would have expected and the duo of Peter Handscomb and Shaun Marsh was riding high on having saved the last match on the final day. Ravindra Jadeja had quietly done his job on a pitch that offered little spin, taking 9 of the 16 wickets that fell, not to forget his celebratory sword dance after scoring a half century.

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If Bengaluru was the awakening, Dharamsala turned out to be the perfect culmination of a series that had managed to bring the best out of this Indian team. Playing without their charismatic skipper who had an injury scare, they outplayed Australia in every department as they clinched the series on a high. It was an end that many had predicted but watching this Indian team grow as they did, it looked like the beginning of a legacy that is likely to go on a long way. And that it did without skipper Kohli performing well further elaborates the picture that India painted with the series win.

Ravindra Jadeja, erstwhile busy playing second fiddle to Ravichandran Ashwin, came into his own as the season progressed and ended up with over 500 runs and 71 wickets. He picked wickets when Ashwin could, and he picked wickets when Ashwin couldn’t. On flatter pitches, he proved to be far more potent than his more illustrious contemporary.

It was also a series that saw Umesh Yadav bowling some of the best that we have seen of him in his little career and if this is only a peek into his potential, a lot is left to be desired of his bowling. He could be India’s go-to bowler when they head out into foreign territories that require pace and swing to compete.

While the other opposition teams bowed down to the supremacy of India at home, this series could also be a future reminder for Australia for being the starting point of another glorious era, as they looked to get past the age of transition and change.

A team that was brushed off as easy prey long before the home season even began, Australia showed immense character and skill to come back the way they did. India may have eventually won the series, but Australia showed glimpses of what they could do, with more experience. Barring David Warner who had a forgettable tour, the Australian players performed far better than what was expected of them.

As the tenth edition Indian Premier League comes calling and injury woes to some of the stalwarts, the penchant for test matches would probably fade away into the blue, as fans would flock to the stadia to see the balls sailing past them in the stands.

But this test series would be remembered long after the books have been closed and the numbers lost to the neigh of time.

It would be remembered for the birth of a rivalry that is here to stay.

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