In the end, not even 22 of the most skilled cricketers in the world could crack the Ahmedabad conundrum. From the sandpit of Indore to the ‘road’ of the Narendra Modi Stadium was a pleasant change only for batsmen looking to fill their boots. For the rest, this was another great example of how a Test pitch should not be.
Just how impossible it was to make any significant inroads is evident from the fact that bowlers from both sides combined only managed to 20 wickets in 430 overs spread across five days. As opposed to the first three Tests that only threw up a solitary century, by Rohit Sharma in the first game in Nagpur, there was a hundred on each of the first four days of the final Test, and Travis Head narrowly missed out on completing the sequence when he was bowled against the run of play on Monday’s (March 13) last day for 90.
Podcast: India vs Australia Test series review
New Zealand’s thrilling win
In the final analysis, nothing really mattered because India got what it desired – a second shot at the World Test Championship (WTC) trophy. The team came into the last Test aware that even if it didn’t pick up 12 (for a win) or even four (for a draw) points, it could still set up a title tilt at The Oval against Australia in June if Sri Lanka did not complete a 2-0 sweep in New Zealand.
In a cracker of a game in Christchurch that evidenced all the fascinating ebbs and flows that make the longest format so compellingly attractive, the Kiwis completed a memorable two-wicket win off the last delivery of the Test on the back of a masterful century from the unassuming Kane Williamson. The Kiwi conquest came just seconds before India was to take the field for the post-lunch session; once the players knew they were in the final, India stopped making even token attempts at trying to apply pressure on the Aussies because they knew it would be a futile endeavour. That Shubman Gill and Cheteshwar Pujara turned their arms over alone reiterates to what a torture the final couple of hours had been reduced.
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India will gladly take the 2-1 series result – the fourth successive time it has won against Australia, home and away, all by the same margin – as it will the vindication of its faith in Virat Kohli, the hitherto misfiring former captain who must be revitalised by his 511-minute 186 that ended a 1,205-day wait for a Test ton. Beautifully as Gill batted at the top of the tree to reiterate his credentials as one for the present and future while bringing up his second Test ton, it’s Kohli’s 28th that has greater ramifications for Indian cricket in the year of the WTC final as well as the 50-over World Cup, on home turf.
Gill, a superstar in the making
As Rohit pointed out at the end of the Test, Kohli is the kind of batsman who can get on a roll very quickly. In September last year, he made his first international century in 1,020 days with a sparkling masterpiece in the Asia Cup T20 competition. Within months, he was back slamming 50-over centuries for a lark. “We saw in the Asia Cup, he scored that hundred and never looked back,” Rohit observed. “I hope it will be the same with the red ball as well. It’s about going out there and applying yourself and doing the same things, and that’s what he did.”
Rohit also noted that there had never been a ‘monkey on his back’, but it’s impossible that Kohli would not have felt the weight of expectations or the string of low scores that didn’t do justice to his standing as the one of the premier batsmen of his generation. Post-match, Kohli spoke of his disappointment at not meeting his own expectations, which is what most champions use as a spur because often, while the expectations of the outside world might be outrageous, theirs are realistic and practicable. Now that he has matched his ambition with performance all over again, there is every likelihood that he will be freed up mentally and therefore will start to enjoy his cricket a little bit more.
Gill’s much-demanded return to Test cricket after only two matches on the sidelines has larger-picture, long-term ramifications. A superstar in the making who has, within the first 71 days of this year, slammed an international ton in all three formats, he will soon be the fulcrum around which his team’s batting will revolve. Polished and elegant and attractive and gluttonous, he is in the wonderful position of sharing a dressing room with the likes of Rohit, Kohli and Pujara, and the lessons he picks up while watching them prepare will stand him in tremendous stead when he is thrust into the leadership role not too long from now.
Another milestone for Ashwin
R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja did their reputations no harm at all, the former joining the legendary duo of Muttiah Muralitharan and Shane Warne as the only bowlers to pick up at least 25 wickets in a series a staggering six times. This effort will be particularly satisfying because seven of them came in Ahmedabad where, in the first innings, he bowled as good a spell as he has in Test cricket. To see him operate was like watching a microsurgeon at work; his precision and accuracy and consistency were robotically metronomic but there was nothing mechanical or boring about the variations he brought into play and the control he had over his immense craft that has catapulted him into the pantheon of cricketing greats.
Jadeja might not have the same studious air of the ‘scientist’, as many of Ashwin’s colleagues refer to him, but he has the street-smarts that come to only a very few. He is an extremely crafty bowler who is immensely skilled but because his skill doesn’t lend itself to poetry, it isn’t hailed as much as Ashwin’s is. His all-round development as middle-order batsman and a destroyer of batting line-ups on even the slightest of responsive surfaces means there could be a place for both him and Ashwin in the India XI even overseas, and especially at The Oval where the surface generally gradually starts to assist the spinners.
Another home series, another tick in the box. Things are going swimmingly at the moment, but that must not camouflage the reality that a first global success since 2013 is still awaited. In a year of several entries on the bucket list, that will be uppermost on Rohit’s mind.