Tuesday, 17 May 2022

Australia find right formula to exploit Indian weaknesses

O’Keefe 1
PUNE: Australia’s utter dominance in Pune provided clear evidence that the touring side arrived in India armed with the tactics and personnel to beat the hosts at their own game in what promises to be a compelling four-Test series. Few would have predicted the events that unfolded in the opener, however, with top-ranked India riding a 19-Test unbeaten run against a rebuilding Australian side regarded as massive underdogs by captain Steve Smith. The odds were heavily stacked against a side that had lost their previous nine Tests in Asia and suffered a 4-0 whitewash when they last toured India in 2013, but Smith and his men were in the mood to cause an upset. “Everyone wrote us off and expected India to win 4-0,” a smiling Smith told reporters after Australia had eased to a stunning 333-run victory within three days on Saturday. “That can’t happen anymore.” Pune was hosting a Test for a first time and the bone dry pitch appeared tailor-made for India’s vaunted spin duo of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja to enhance their reputation as the top two bowlers in the Test rankings. Instead, it was Australian left-arm spinner Steve O’Keefe who shone the brightest of the slow bowlers, scything through India twice with identical figures of 6-35 to help dismiss the shell-shocked hosts for 105 and 107 in their two innings. O’Keefe alone matched Ashwin and Jadeja’s combined haul over both innings as he and off-spinner Nathan Lyon took all 10 Indian wickets to fall on Saturday. The touring side were also far more proficient with the bat than the hosts, adapting better to the tricky conditions by taking fewer risks and putting away any loose deliveries. Australia’s batsmen saw out close to 182 overs in their two innings while their Indian counterparts, who grew up playing on the country’s low and slow surfaces, lost all 20 wickets in just 74 overs. Fresh and confident after morale-boosting wins with a new-look line-up over South Africa and Pakistan at home, Australia bonded at a pre-tour training camp in Dubai and honed their skills with a three-day match against India ‘A’ in Mumbai.

The world’s second-ranked side strengthened their hand by recruiting ex-England spinner Monty Panesar and former India spinning all-rounder Sridharan Sriram to work O’Keefewith their slow bowlers. There was little sign of the carnage to follow when O’Keefe failed to get anything out of the new ball on Friday morning, so he used the lunch interval to head straight to the practice nets for a session with Sriram. Whatever they worked on paid immediate dividends in a stunning afternoon of play, which saw O’Keefe rip through India’s formidable batting line-up with six wickets in the space of just 24 deliveries. “I’d been working in the nets with some other variations, just changing the seam angle and arm angle,” O’Keefe said on Friday. “You probably don’t notice it, but for me it made all the difference.” After Australia’s spinners took 17 wickets to out-bowl their Indian counterparts in Pune, the hosts will now be less confident of having a major advantage should they decide to produce turning tracks for the remainder of the series. “It was up to them to prepare a wicket and they prepared a wicket that actually played into our hands,” Smith said. “It would be interesting to see what they come up with come Bangalore.” Meanwhile, India will be hoping that by the end of March their Pune capitulation can be viewed from the lofty heights of a seventh consecutive Test series triumph as an aberration that acted as a brutal wake up call to the world’s number one side. The shell-shocked hosts have a week to regroup before they again engage an Australian touring party which made Virat Kohli and his team of world-beaters look quite ordinary. “I would say that we needed something like this for us to get a reality check and understand what are the things we need to work on and keep persisting with it, not take anything for granted at any stage, especially at the Test match level,” Kohli told reporters after the defeat. Kohli blamed the Indian batting for the humbling after they scored 105 and 107 in their two innings and the image of the captain frozen in a crouch with his bat in the air as an O’Keefe delivery shattered the wickets behind him will not fade fast. “Even a part-timer can get four wickets if you don’t apply yourself. And I certainly would like to think that that was the case with our batting line-up in this game,” he said. “It rarely happens that four or five batsmen make errors in judgement in both the innings, especially with the way we batted in the last few months. India were also found wanting in their choice of referrals in the match, losing all four reviews while fielding and managing to overturn one decision from the umpire out of three while batting. Kohli promised his side will come back stronger next week in the second of the four Tests, as they did after their last defeat, against Sri Lanka in Galle in 2015. “The last time we had a performance like this, we had the most outstanding run after that,” Kohli said.

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