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Saturday, January 16, 2021

Cricket's historic whitewash

Reading Time: 5 minutesThe Indian cricket team savour the jubilation of a historic victory over arch-rival Australia reports RITAM MITRA
cricket - low res website
 
Revenge! MS Dhoni refuses to admit it, but behind his greying beard and his still-steely exterior, the man has to have had some semblance of a devilish grin as he heard that word follow the Indian cricket team over the middle of March. For who would have thought, three months ago when England beat India at home for the first time in 28 years, that the same India would be able to return the 4-0 scoreline of 2011-12 to their much-fancied Australian opponents. That the same India, embarrassed, broken and destroyed in Australia, would be able to inflict on the Aussies the same lack of public confidence as they suffered themselves just two years ago.
India do not do whitewashes. This is the first time India has won four tests in a series in its 81-year Test history. They traditionally take the foot off the pedal, rest on their laurels, let things slip. But this time was different. From the very start of the series, there was a sense that nothing less than 4-0 would suffice to heal the still-raw wounds from their disastrous 2011-12 Australian tour.
It was as atypical an India-Australia series as one could have imagined. For while India have been known to succumb, as they did in 2011-12 on Australian soil, it is rare – almost unique – to see an Australian team crumble as willingly as they did on this tour. Indeed, while India won four tests in a series for the first time, Australia lost all tests in a series with four or more matches for only the second time, the last time being Bill Lawry’s ill-fated tour to South Africa in 1970.
Here’s a quick wrap-up of the four matches.
 
Chennai – India won by 8 wickets
“Dho-niiii, Dho-niii!” rang around the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai as the adopted hometown hero ravaged the Australian attack in a stunning display of power hitting, tail-shepherding and the utmost disdain for a lacklustre Australian attack. Honours between the two sides were even after two and a half days – India were 4-200 to Australia’s 380 when Dhoni came in, and 9-572 when he got out. Dhoni’s knock was partially matched only by Ashwin’s remarkable 12-wicket haul, coming off the back of a difficult campaign against England, as well as Virat Kohli’s second consecutive century against Australia. Tendulkar’s 81 was also his only half-century for the series.
 
Hyderabad – India won by an innings and 135 runs
Australia were rescued by Michael Clarke yet again as the rest of the side succumbed to not only India’s trio of spinners – but 2-match old seamer Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who prised out both openers along with Shane Watson with a fantastic display of new-ball bowling. Clarke’s 91 could have been much more if he did not get himself out as he ran out of partners. In reply, Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara scored the only half-centuries in India’s innings of 503 – luckily, they were big ones, as the duo hit 167 and 204 respectively in a mammoth partnership of 370 runs – the fourth-highest for India ever. Australia, who had controversially dropped Nathan Lyon after the battering he took from MS Dhoni in Chennai, were listless in the field. Debutant Glenn Maxwell took four wickets – but the horse had already bolted. Ashwin’s third 5-for in four innings, as well as Jadeja’s twin figures of 3/33 in both innings (including bowling Michael Clarke twice) wrapped the Australians up within just over 3 days, for India’s second-largest ever victory against the Australians. Australia also became the first team in history to lose by an innings after declaring in their first innings (albeit with only one wicket left in hand).
 
Mohali – India won by 6 wickets
The Homework-gate scandal took the spotlight in the lead up to this Test, as Australia stunningly dropped four players, three of whom were certainties to play in this match, for failing to complete a team homework task on time. Shane Watson, Usman Khawaja, James Pattinson and Mitchell Johnson all sat out of the match. India too, made a couple of changes – Virender Sehwag was dropped from the side for left-handed debutant, Shikhar Dhawan, while Harbhajan Singh made way for Pragyan Ojha. The first day was, however, anti-climactic – the match seemed headed for a certain draw as Mohali rain made play impossible. Meanwhile, Australia’s 408 in 140 overs (thanks mainly to a rejuvenated Steve Smith at 92 and an unlucky Mitchell Starc at 99) pulled the draw in to as little as $1.11 favourite with the bookkeepers.
Dhawan was having none of it. In 250 scintillating minutes, he blasted 187 runs at a strike rate of 107 – the fastest century by a debutant in Test history. It was scarcely believable how well Dhawan struck the ball. He hit 33 boundaries and two sixes, and looked every bit the complete package. The significance of the achievement was magnified by the fact that Vijay too racked up consecutive scores of 150+ against Australia – India lost their first wicket at 289, scoring at a rate of almost 6 an over. Even though India once again collapsed after a big partnership, another superb spell of swing bowling by Bhuvneshwar set up an easy chase.
 
Delhi – India won by 6 wickets
Michael Clarke, Shikhar Dhawan and Mitchell Starc were out injured. The ugliest pitch of the series, it was still hardly a rank turner – batsmen from both sides struggled, but Peter Siddle scored two determined half centuries from No.9, a unique feat in Test history, showing that application was the key. Yet another 5-wicket haul for Ashwin limited the Australian innings to just 272. Even with Shikhar Dhawan out injured, India seemed on track for another huge win with Pujara and Vijay, India’s third opening combination for the series, reaching 108 without loss. However, the pair remained the only half-centurions, as India reached a meagre lead of only 10 runs thanks to Nathan Lyon’s remarkable 7-94.
A one-innings shootout followed, and this time it was Jadeja who delivered the big haul. Hugely impressive at containing batsmen and chipping in with occasional wickets throughout the series, Jadeja was Dhoni’s best bowler as he claimed a sensational maiden five-wicket haul, with only Siddle (50) scoring 25 or more for the Australians. A tense chase was promised, yet it all seemed rather elementary with Pujara and Kohli attacking the Australian bowlers to reach 1-123. A few quick wickets did nothing to hamper Pujara, who stroked an unbeaten 82 to lead India to its first ever 4-0 triumph.
 
It’s easy to get carried away given how well India’s youngsters performed on this tour. And they deserve all the plaudits they receive, for Test cricket is never easy – and Australia don’t just give you victory, as much as it seemed that way on this tour.
But it remains to be seen whether the likes of Vijay, Pujara, Dhawan and Jadeja are able to perform with anywhere near the same impact as they can at home. India have a long wait until their next Test series, which takes place in December against none other than undisputed world number one side, South Africa. Steyn, Philander and Morkel make for a far more threatening combination on juiced-up pitches, and this will be the real gauge of how much India have improved since their recent rough patch.
For now though, India can be relieved, if not ecstatic at beating a weakened Australian outfit – they are back on track.

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