By Veturi Srivatsa
Sometimes the figures tell it all, and Indias massive loss to Australia in the first of the four-Test series in Pune certainly reveal so.
The Test was over in a shade over two sessions on the third day, leaving India battered by 333 runs.
If the result had gone India’s way, it wouldn’t have come as a surprise, but there would have been a hue and cry over the pitch, dubbing it underprepared or not fit for Test cricket.
Now that the Australians have won, they want to carry it for the remaining three Tests.
Curator Pandurang Salgaonkar, considered the fastest Indian bowler in his time, had promised that the pitch would take the match into the fifth day. Someone will ask for a probe into the pitch preparation, wanting to know whoever had asked for a spinning track
The pitch started turning square from Day One and Australian captain Steve Smith was honest enough to say that winning the toss was a bonus for them.
This is not the first time an Indian team either failed to win a match on a turning track by bowling the opposition out in the fourth innings or bat resolutely to close out the match.
What must have shocked the Indians is the way they capitulated, barely getting hundred runs in both the innings. In fact, Smith got more, 109 in the second innings than their totals. Indian batsmen have never been so badly humiliated at home, getting bowled for their lowest match aggregate of 212 and in 74 overs in the match — 40.1 in the first innings and 33.5 in the second.
Left-arm spinner Steve O’Keefe returned with the second best match figures by a visiting bowler in India, 12 for 70, behind Ian Botham’s 13 for 108 in Bombay 37 years ago.
Coming into the match, O’Keefe, 32, had 14 wickets from four Test matches after making his debut against Pakistan in Dubai two years ago, not before toiling away for nine years in first-class cricket. And he has 12 from this Pune game.
O’Keefe’s mother, a night nurse, nursed him during the day to play his cricket. The left-arm spinner has someone else also to thank, the side’s bowling coach, none other than former India and Tamil Nadu left-arm spinner Sridharan Sriram who got him his confidence back after an indifferent first six overs.
The Australians have worked out their strategy pretty well for the tour. Sriram has under his charge four specialist spinners on this tour. He has been working with them fairly regularly and he also worked with the under-16 squad before the joining the seniors..
Besides O’Keefe and the experienced Nathon Lyon, they brought Ashton Agar and leg-spinner Mitchell Swepson, who was preferred to the better-known tweaker Adam Zamba. Then they also have all-rounder Glenn Maxwell with his off-spin to supplement.
Australian opener Matt Renshaw, at 20, showed more application and determination than the entire Indian team in the two innings. He may not have known the rule on leaving the field but he knew how to smother the Indian spinners.
Smith was outstanding, at least in this Test he has scored over his Indian counterpart in all aspects and his teammates stood by him more the Indian captain’s hitherto thought invincible having gone unbeaten for 19 Tests after their loss the first Test at Galle a year and half ago.
Kohli blamed his batsmen for the rout. He has a point, he termed conceding over 150 runs first-innings lead as “criminal.” The lead is good enough to win a match on good pitches and in Pune the match was as good as over there then.
Look at another interesting stat. Indians had four lbw decisions going in their favour in the Australian first innings, but none of their batsmen was adjudged leg before.
Again in the second innings, India trapped four Australians while five of their own batsmen were guilty of not reading the straighter ones to see the umpire’s finger go up.
The easy explanation is that the O’Keefe and Lyon spun or could not do so as much as Ravichandran Ashwin or Ravindra Jadeja did, thus forcing the batsmen to play more. Jadeja, in particular, looked at times unplayable but the ball either turned or jumped more to beat the bat safely.
India can take some heart from Umesh Yadav’s four wickets in the first innings and two in the second when Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazzlewood have three wickets between them bowling 20 overs in the match.
The confidence of the Indian batsmen may have been rattled after the match. They should take it as a reality check and put their heads down to get back into their known form. What must have heart them more is their captain not bending down to the task, having got used to seeing him get runs by the tons.
Like all his predecessors, he snapped when needled at the post-march inquest. He shot back saying external perception do not matter and the team intends to come back with more intent.
For the moment, Smith is happy to have won a Test in India after 13 years, he counted the days to say 4502 to be precise! He knows the first Test will always be the pointer to the things in the series.
The last thing, the Indians have to use their brains better in going for DRS. They have been guilty of going wrong both while bowling and batting. At some crucial juncture that can cause a serious problem.
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at email@example.com)