Looking ahead to the second Test match in Perth, we might reflect on the myths that were busted in Adelaide.
The first, and most obvious, was Stop Virat Kohli and you stop India. Australia did stop Kohli in Adelaide, dismissing the master for 3 and 34. The effect on the match was merely to limit India’s winning margin. In both innings, a substantial contribution from Kohli would have shut Australia out of the match, but when he failed, India were resilient. Cheteshwar Pujara stepped up in both innings, and it shouldn’t be overlooked that Ajinkya Rahane’s second-innings 70 was the most fluent and dominant performance by any batsman in the match. India’s openers look unstable – Murali Vijay is nearing the end of his career, while KL Rahul seems to be struggling with his concentration – but India’s batting strength is greater than Australia’s, Kohli or no Kohli. Australia’s concern is that soon enough, there will be Kohli and plenty of him.
Not a one man team: Indian captain Virat Kohli was out cheaply twice in Adelaide… but India still won.Credit:AAP
History was on Australia’s side in Adelaide, insofar as India’s wins on Australian soil were so rare that they became hard to imagine, even for Indians themselves. Among the public, nervous apprehension, even a sense of doom, was palpable even when they were in total command in Adelaide. On day five, there was an inflated neurosis among the team itself, as typified by Ravi Shastri admitting that his gonads, as well as his heart, were in his mouth. But perhaps this team will finally bury the notion that India don’t travel. Like every Test cricket team, their performances at home are far better than away, and India’s differential is wider than most, reflecting elements of foreignness on and off the cricket field. But this Indian team has enough experience touring Australia – Kohli and R Ashwin (three Test tours), Ishant Sharma (four), nearly all the others at least two – to have overcome the fish-out-of-water diffidence that has affected their cricket. In Adelaide, their bearing was happy and confident, not at all like men a long way from home. Especially once they had won.
Correlative with this myth is that India can be intimidated. One of the more intriguing mind games in the lead-up to Adelaide was Justin Langer unleashing his fast bowlers against their own teammates in the nets. Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Patrick Cummins looked quite terrifying, and the Australians were quick to spread the news of every bruise and scare for their batsmen. It was a tactic that had worked in the past against timid visiting batsmen, not just Indians. Australia won the past two Ashes series here partly through sparking a fear campaign that went viral through the England team. In Adelaide last week, intimidation was tried, but its effect was noticeable for its absence. India did not bat well on the first day, but not because they looked scared; to the contrary, they failed through over-aggression. Australia will be looking forward to a juicy pitch at the new Perth Stadium, but if they are to capitalise, they will have to bowl smart, not rely on an aura.
Which leads to the most significant myth busted in Adelaide, which was that Australia’s trump card is its pace attack. Australia’s trump card was Nathan Lyon. Their pace attack would appear to have been over-rated by a hungry home audience. Josh Hazlewood has been Australia’s best pace bowler for four years, and Patrick Cummins can be relied on to bowl to a plan, though since he has come back from his five-year back injury he is not the tearaway he might have been. Mitchell Starc has been inconsistent throughout his career and people are now noticing. He depended greatly on prodigious old-ball swing, which has not been forthcoming since the South African tour. The Australians could do worse than study closely what Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle were able to achieve as a unit in 2013-14; they might discover that speed alone is not the answer. Reverse swing might not be the answer either.
Come in spinner: Nathan Lyon kept Australia in the Adelaide Test when the pace attack couldn’t break through.Credit:AP
That said, there were a couple of myths busted about Australia in Adelaide as well. Among these is the expectation that in batting Australia are one-out, five out. This was not the case, where one wicket did not lead to another, let alone a collapse. The kind of panic that has afflicted even the strongest Australian batting orders was not evident in the first Test match. In the first innings, only Aaron Finch batted for less than half an hour. In the second, every batsman, right down to number eleven Hazlewood, lasted for at least the 35 balls Finch faced at the top. It’s a minor victory in the scheme of things, but it is a fundamental block in the reconstruction of this team’s competitive mentality.
Which leads to the last busted myth, the tiresome to-and-fro about whether Australia need a bullying attitude to produce their best. Can we please just put it to bed by agreeing that each player is an individual and must discover his own perfect playing temperature? The Australians’ endeavour and attitude were admirable in Adelaide, and they performed up to the limits of their ability and luck. Some of them opened their mouths and took cracks at the Indians, as some of the Indians did in response. That match was no friendly social encounter, nor was any offence given or taken. Tough but respectful cricket from both sides: may we have more of it.
What we may also have more of is India winning. Their inability to secure a series in Australia is a 71-year fact that assumed the power of myth. They are now firm favourites. Unless some luck with the toss and the wildcard of a new venue intervene on Australia’s behalf to increase the home advantage, another of those cricketing myths is about to crumble.
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