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08.01.2019  Author: C.NAMASIVAYAM

India have achieved a  historic first Test series win against Australia in Australia.  With India poised to win the fourth Test at Sydney, rain played havoc and the entire final day’s play was washed off. The match ended in a draw as India had to be content with a victory margin of 2-1.  India retain the Border- Gavaskar trophy with a victory margin of 2-1. Chateshwar Pujara deservingly got the Player of the Series award.

India won the first Test at Adelaide and the third Test at Melbourne while Australia won the second Test at Perth. Sydney has once again been unfair to India due to weather interference as this is the third time India are denied a win at Sydney after the 1985-86 series and the 1991-92 series.

This first series win in Australia was made possible by team effort and captain Kohli’s inspiring leadership. However, there were some individual brilliance from the Indian players which stood out.

While celebrating India’s first ever Test series win in Australia on their 12th tour to Australia, let us revisit 12 best individual performances of the Indian players in the series.

12. R. Ashwin’s 3 for 57 & 3 for 92 in the first Test at Adelaide

R. Ashwin was fit enough to play only in the opening Test match of the series. But he made his presence felt with a huge contribution with the bat in the first innings when he scored a vital 25 on the first day of the series and added 62 runs for the seventh wicket with Pujara which happened to be the biggest partnership of the innings.

When the Indian bowlers started their act in the series they had only 250 runs to play with. They had to be at their best both in attacking and defending this below-par first innings score. Ishant Sharma gave India a dream start by uprooting  Aaron Finch’s middle and off-stump out of the ground. Both Ishant and Bumrah were excellent with the new ball and Australia struggled to reach 30 in 10 overs.

Ashwin was brought into the attack in the 12th over of the innings when both the left-handers, Marcus Harris, and Usman Khawaja were at the crease. Ashwin kept a tight leash on the two batsmen giving away a mere 9 runs in his first 4 overs. Ashwin struck with the first ball of his sixth over when newcomer Marcus Harris ’s inside edge was held by Vijay at silly mid-off.

In the first over after lunch on the second day, Ashwin struck when Shaun Marsh played on to wide delivery outside the off-stump. The wicket of left-hander Usman Khawaja was always on Ashwin’s radar and finally, Khawaja succumbed to Ashwin when he gloved one behind. At that stage, Ashwin had figures of 15-4-25-3. Though Ashwin gave away only 32 runs in his next 19 overs, he could not add to his wicket tally in the first innings.

Australia were set a target of 323 to win. Ishant Sharma should have got Finch for a pair but for the no-ball. Ashwin came onto bowl in the 12th over and got lucky immediately when Finch was wrongly adjudged caught behind off the last ball before tea on day 3. Finch was unsure and opted not to review. A review should have certainly saved him.

After tea, Ashwin got his customary wicket that of Usman Khawaja when he skied one to Rohit Sharma to extra-cover. Australia at one stage were 115 for 5 before the tail started to wag. As the Australians were slowly inching towards the target, Ashwin was holding one end up in his spell of 52 overs for 92 runs.

The last wicket pair of Nathan Lyon and Hazlewood added 32 runs and brought the target down to 32. The Indians were suddenly looking nervous. That was when Ashwin struck with a tempting flighted delivery which Hazlewood edged to second slip where K.L. Rahul held on to a low catch. India won a close match by 31 runs. Ashwin will always be remembered for taking the last wicket of Hazlewood when the match was about to go down to the wire.

11. Mayank Agarwal’s debut innings of 76 in the first innings at Melbourne

Mayank Agarwal made his Test debut in the third Test of the series. He came into the squad as a replacement for the injured Prithvi Shaw. It was a daring move by the Indian team management to go in with two new openers in a must-win game for the crucial third Test.

Agarwal opened his account in International cricket with a pleasing drive through the covers for 3. His first boundary came off an outside edge which flew past the vacant gully.  As the other make-shift opener, Hanuma Vihari was struggling to get off the mark after facing  24 balls, the onus was on the debutant to keep the scoreboard moving.

When Nathan Lyon was introduced into the attack in the eighth over the innings, Agarwal felt at home as he cover drove him for a boundary. However, the introduction of Pat Cummins into the attack made life difficult for both the openers as Vihari was hit on the helmet while Agarwal got one on the back of his shoulder. But that didn’t rattle him. But he had to play out 15 dot balls before he was served up with another loose delivery by Lyon.

When on 34, Agarwal was saved by an inside edge of the bowling on Mitch Marsh. Agarwal survived his first session in Test cricket by remaining not out on 34. He started the post lunch session in grand style with a boundary off the first ball of the session bowled by  Hazlewood. By hitting two fours off Lyon’s 7th over, Mayank reached his 50 off 95 balls with 6 fours. He celebrated his maiden Test fifty with a huge six off Nathan Lyon over long-on.

Agarwal added 83 runs for the second wicket with Chateshwar Pujara before he got out to the penultimate ball before tea when he was caught down the leg-side off Cummins. But Mayank Agarwal has done his job for his team surviving almost two sessions in his first Test match and scoring 76 runs off 161 balls with the help of 8 fours and a six. More importantly, Agarwal first negated the threat of the new ball and them took on Nathan Lyon and never allowed him to settle down.

Mayank Agarwal’s debut innings of 76 at Melbourne was one of the highlights of India’s performance in the series.

10. Ishant Sharma’s 4 for 41 in the  first innings at Perth

Ishant Sharma showed a lot of character as the leader of the Indian bowling attack in the series. His best spell of the series came in the first innings of the second Test at Perth. At Perth, it was a fast bouncy wicket and the fact that India were forced to bowl first helped Ishant Sharma’s cause. However, Ishant could not make an impact with the new ball in the first session as the Australian openers put on a century partnership.

In his first two spells, Ishant had conceded only 20 runs in 10 overs. He struck with the first ball of his third spell though he had to thank his captain for a brilliant catch. Peter Hadscomb slashed at Ishant and the resultant edge was flying past Kohli when he stretched his right hand and plucked the ball out of thin air. Ishant deservingly got his first wicket through a brilliant piece of acrobatics by Kohli on the field.

Ishant Sharma’s second wicket came off the first ball with the second new ball. Travis Head slashed at a wide delivery outside the off stump and found Mohammed Shami precisely at third man. But Ishant was strangely removed from the attack after that one over with the second new ball.

When Ishant was once again brought back, he brought about a swift end to the Australian innings claiming Mitchell Starc and Hazlewood off successive deliveries, both caught by Pant. However, he could not complete the hat trick with the first ball in the second innings.

9. Rishabh Pant’s 11 catches at Adelaide

Rishabh Pant had a disappointing tour of England as a wicket-keeper where he was found wanting on seaming pitches. He conceded too many byes and missed some catches too. It seemed Pant has learned from his mistakes.

Pant playing only his first Test match in Australia at Adelaide, was a revelation as he was covering the angle of the ball and was right behind the movement of the ball after it left the batsmen. Pant’s first catch in Australia was an excellent one as he grabbed at a ball gloved by Usman Khawaja off R. Ashwin. There was some drama as the appeal was negated by the on-field umpire. Kohli took a wise review which showed a bit of glove and the on-field umpire’s decision was overturned and Pant had his first catch of the match and the series.

Pant’s rest of the catches in the innings were an easy one but to his credit, he did not drop one. Peter Handscomb and Tim Paine left after offering simple catches to Pant. Pant finished off the Australian first innings with two simple catches off Travis Head and Hazlewood.

In the second innings, Pant was guilty of dropping Nathan Lyon at a crucial stage of the match but finished with 56 catches, a total of 11 for the match. Thereby Pant has equaled England’s Jack Russell’s and South Africa’s A.B. de Villiers record of most number of catches in a Test match. Pant’s 11 catches was an Indian record. He could have created a world record but dropped a difficult catch off Nathan Lyon.

8. Pujara’s 106 in the first innings at Melbourne

Pujara was the difference between the two teams in the series.  Pujara scored 3 hundred in the series.

India came into the third Test at Melbourne with the series leveled at one all. Kohli won an important toss for India on Boxing day and elected to bat first at Melbourne. The new openers for India Mayank Agarwal and Hanuma Vihari gave India a decent start adding 40 runs for the first wicket and seeing off the new ball for 19 overs.

Pujara started his innings slowly scoring 10 runs off his first 49 balls. The scoring was taken care of by the debutant Mayank Agarwal.  Pujara got into his groove hitting his 50th ball for a four. The return of Nathan Lyon to the bowling crease got  Pujara going with a late cut for four.

Pujara was lucky on 33 when an inside edge fell short of Khawaja at gully. Pujara reached his 50 off 152 balls. It was one of his slowest fifties even by his standards but his unhurried innings served the team’s cause.  In the company of captain Kohli, Pujara added 170 runs for the third wicket which took India to a position of domination. Pujara reached his 16th Test hundred off 280 balls with 10 fours.

Rohit Sharma and Rishabh Pant complemented Pujara and Kohli’s effort which lifted India’s total to 443 for 7 declared in the first innings. In the end, India won the crucial Boxing day Test by 137 runs.

7. Mohammed Shami’s 6 for 56 in the second innings at Perth 

Mohammed Shami has been a silent performer for India right through the series. In the whole series, Shami has been the partnership-breaker and he has given crucial breakthroughs for his team. Shami has been excellent against left-handers. His best performance came in the second innings of the second Test at Perth. Shami has proved in the past that he has been more effective in the second innings than in the first innings.

At Perth, despite Kohli’s century, India conceded a first innings lead of 43. The overall lead swelled past 100 as the Australian openers added 59 runs for the first wicket. It looked like Australia might run away with the game when Shami was introduced into the attack in the 11th over of the innings.

First, Finch had to retire hurt after he was hit on the bottom hand by a short ball from Shami. That opened up the floodgates as Shami removed Shaun Marsh and Travis Head in quick succession. Suddenly Australia were reduced to 120 for 4 with Finch uncertain to resume his innings. But Usman Khawaja and Tim Paine added 72 runs for the 5th wicket which took the lead past 200.

As the partnership was assuming dangerous proposition, Kohli once again went back to his trusted bowler, Mohamed Shami. On his return spell, Shami removed Tim Paine and Aaron Finch off successive deliveries. He followed that up with by taking out the well-set Usman Khawaja.  Shami’s sudden burst has brought India back into the game.  Shami ended up with figures of 6 for 56. 

Though the Indian batsmen did not show the fight to chase down the target, the match will be remembered for Virat Kohli’s 25th Test hundred and Mohammed Shami’s 5 for 56.

6. Virat Kohli’s 123 in the first innings at Perth

In the second Test at Perth, Australia won the toss and elected to bat first. Helped by contributions from Marcus Harris(70), Aaron Finch(50), Shaun Marsh(45), Travis Head(58) and Tim Paine(38), Australia posted a healthy 326 in the first innings. For India, Ishant Sharma took 4 wickets.

In reply, India started disastrously losing both the openers with the score on 8. Virat Kohli walked in at the fall of K.L. Rahul’s wicket. There was a huge amount of pressure on Kohli when he walked into bat since his earlier decision to go into the match with Umesh Yadav instead of a spinner has back-fired.

Kohli started his innings with an on-driven four off the second ball he faced. That shot from Kohli so early in the innings has displayed that his he has been in good form and determined to play big innings. While Pujara was struggling at the other end, Kohli launched his innings with 3 fours off Hazlewood’s fifth over. Suddenly Kohli reached 18 off 10 balls.

Though Cummins beat Kohli on a number of occasions, he could not produce the edge as it was Kohli’s day. Kohli reached his 50 off 109 balls with 6 fours. Kohli added 74 with Pujara(24) and 91  with Ajinkya Rahane(51).  Kohli remained not out on 82 at the end of second day’s play.

India lost Rahane so early on the third morning. But in the company of Hanuma Vihari, Kohli brought about his 25th Test century with a gorgeous straight drive off Mitchell Starc. Kohli celebrated his century with another four off Starc and a slashed six over third man off Hazlewood. Koli finally got out for a fabulous 123 off 257 balls with 13 fours. Though there was some doubt whether the catch was taken cleanly, since the on-field umpire’s soft signal was out, Kohli had to leave.

Though India lost the Perth Test,  the match will be remembered for Virat Kohli’s effort.

5.  Kuldeep Yadav’s 5 for 99 in the first innings at Sydney

Kuldeep Yadav got his chance to play only in the last Test match of the series at Sydney. Perhaps Kuldeep’s presence at Perth might have made a big difference to the outcome of that match.

At Sydney, Kuldeep Yadav came into bowl in the eighth over of the innings with 622 runs in the bank to back him up. Kuldeep gave India the first breakthrough when he allured the ever-steady Usman Khawaja to try an uncharacteristic slog on the leg side which resulted in his downfall. Kuldeep had his testing moments when he was hit for 3 fours in an over by the Australian opener Marcus Harris. But he survived that onslaught with minimum damage.

Kuldeep went wicketless in his next 10 overs before Travis Head chipped one back to the bowler.  Kuldeep didn’t have to wait for a long to take his 3rd wicket as Tim Paine decided to take him on before settling down and paid the price for that. Paine was done in by a fast flighted delivery which knocked off his stumps.

Kuldeep got his fourth wicket when he hit Nathan Lyon’s pad on the full. The appeal was upheld by the umpire and Lyon helped Kuldeep’s cause by not reviewing the decision when Australia had two reviews left.

Kuldeep should have got his five-wicket haul in the next over itself. But Vihari failed to latch on to a skier to dismiss Hazlewood. However, he was not denied of his fifth wicket when Hazlewood was trapped in front of the wicket by a wrong’un. Even a review could not deny Kuldeep his fifth wicket this time around. Kuldeep Yadav, playing his first Test match in Australia finished with figures of 5 for 99.

4. Rishabh Pant’s 159 not out in the first innings at Sydney

Apart from being brilliant behind the stumps, Rishabh Pant has been consistent with the bat too in the series with scores of 25,28,36,30,39 & 33 before the final Test at Sydney. The only complaint about Rishabh Pant before the Sydney Test was his choice of shots and his inability to convert starts. His big moment came in Sydney.

When Pant walked to the wicket at Sydney, India were comfortably placed at 329 at 5. Pujara was batting beautifully at the other end. All Pant had to do was to curtail his attacking instincts and play the waiting game. He did exactly that.

Pant showed a lot of maturity in his batting on that day at Sydney as he was keen on taking the singles and giving the strike back to Pujara as long as he was at the wicket. But the moment Pujara got out, Pant took over and started smacking the Australian bowlers to all parts of the ground.

Pant’s first 50 came off 85 balls while his next 109 runs came off just 104 balls at more than run a ball. Pant was lucky to have Ravindra Jadeja at the other end who showed a lot of patience in his innings of 81. Pant remained not on 159 off  189 balls with 15 fours and 1 six when India declared.

Pant and Jadeja were involved in a record 204 run partnership for the 7th wicket. In the process, Pant, playing only in his fourth Test in Australia,  became the first Indian wicket-keeper to score a century in Australia.

At the Oval Test last year, Pant became the first Indian wicket-keeper to score a century in the fourth innings of a Test match.  Besides, with the glove, Pant was involved in the dismissal of 20 Australian batsmen which again was a record by an Indian wicket-keeper. Surprisingly, Pant did not get a single catch in Australia’s first innings at Sydney.

With this innings at Sydney, Pant has proved that he can contribute immensely with the bat for his team.

3. Chateshwar Pujara’s 193 in the first innings at Sydney

Pujara came into the Sydney Test with 2 hundred and one fifty in the series. After the familiar dismissal of K.L. Rahul in the second over of the innings, Pujara started his innings cautiously. But soon he realized that the wicket was a good one for batting and started playing his shots.

Pat Cummins, the wrecker-in-chief in the second innings at Melbourne was taken care by Pujara’s patience and dour defense.  When on 12 Pujara survived an Australian review for caught behind which was turned down by the third umpire. At his same score, Pujara almost played into the hands of Lyon at cover point. Luckily for Pujara, the ball fell short of the fielder.

Pujara went into his shell after those two escapes as Mayank Agarwal kept hitting boundaries at the other end. Pujara was also hit on the helmet by a short delivery from Hazlewood. At lunch on the first day, Pujara was battling it out in the middle on 16 off 59 balls.

The introduction of Labuschagne into the attack got Pujara going. He relished on some of the poor stuff dished out by Labuschagne and hit him for 3 fours in his very first over. Pujara reached his 50 off 134 balls with 5 fours. Pujara moved into the 80s with two fours off Lyon.  From there, Pujara stormed into the 90s with a couple of fours off Starc. Finally, Pujara reached his 19th Test hundred glancing Starc to fine-leg for a boundary. Pujara’s hundred came off 199 balls with13 fours.

Pujara’s third 50 came at a better strike rate off 83 balls. Finally, when Pujara got out for 199 runs off 373 balls with 22 fours, India were comfortably placed in the match and to win a Test series for the first time in Australia. Pujara finished the series on a high with a total aggregate of 521 runs in 7 innings at an average of 74.

2. Jaspirt Bumrah’s 6 for 33 in the first innings at Melbourne

Jasprit Bumrah was the real threat for the Australian batsmen right through the series. At Melbourne, India batted first and made 443. Due to the imminent rain threat on the fourth and fifth day of the Test, India were in a compelling situation to wind up the Australian first innings as quick as possible. That was when Bumrah came into the picture.

After Aaron Finch was once again consumed by Ishant Sharma,  Bumrah first tested Marcus Harris with a short delivery which he promptly hooked into the hands of Ishant Sharma at long leg.

Bumrah’s best ball of the series came in the form of a surprise slower ball to Shaun Marsh which caught him in plumb in front. Bumrah was on a role thereafter as Travis Head got an unplayable yorker which crashed on to his stumps.

Bumrah came back for another spell after tea on day 3 and knocked off Tim Paine in the first over. In the next over, Nathan Lyon was done in by a deadly Yorker which caught him dead in front of the stumps. Bumrah didn’t waste much time in terminating the Australian innings with the wicket of Hazlewood.

He finished with figures of 6 for 33 from 15 overs. Because of Bumrah’s effort, the Australians were bundled out for 151 in the first innings and conceded a massive first-innings lead of 292. Bumrah made a light work of the Australian batting.

1. Chateshwar Pujara’s 123 in the first innings at Adelaide

India’s best performance in the series came on the very first day of the series when Pujara scored a brilliant 123 to save India off the first Test losing syndrome.

Kohli won the toss in the first Test at Adelaide and decided to bat first. Pujara came into bat in the third over of the match when Rahul once again gifted his wicket to a loose shot. Pujara saw Vijay, Kohli and Rahane depart at the other end even before the Indian score reached 50.

Pujara in the initial stages of his innings was very tentative against both Mitchell Starc and Hazlewood. The loss of wickets at the other end didn’t help either. He was struck on his individual score of 11 for 30 deliveries before he slashed Mitchell Starc for a dangerous boundary after lunch. When on 19, he had a narrow escape when the ball fell just short of the short leg fielder.

While Rohit Sharma and Rishabh Pant were living dangerously at the other end, Pujara was more assured at the crease in the second session of play on the first day. Even their dismissal didn’t deter Pujara’s concentration as he reached his 50 off 153 balls in the company of Ashwin. He added 62 priceless with Ashwin. However, after the dismissal of Ashwin, Pujara demonstrated a new facet of his batting skill while batting in the company of tailenders.

When Ashwin got out, Pujara was on 72. He shifted gears hooking Hazlewood for a six and pulling him for a four to reach 99. Pujara reached his 16th hundred off 231 balls before he was run out for 123 with the help of 7 fours and 2 sixes. 

From 4 for 1, Pujara nearly batted through the whole of the first day to drag India out to a competitive score of 250.  It was Pujara’s brilliant hundred which saved India from humiliation on the first day.

A reverse on the first day of the series could have led to India’s nosedive in the series. But it was Pujara who batted through the whole day and paved the way for India’s win at Adelaide.

In the end, Pujara was the real difference between two teams.