NEW DELHI: Fortress India has been sacked. Or should that be SOKed? Not since 2012 had India lost a Test at home, and rarely in that stretch of 20 matches had they even been held to a draw. Last time Australia toured India for Tests they were crushed 4-0. They entered this match having lost their past nine Tests in Asia. Not since 2004 and the days of Gilchrist, McGrath and Warne had Australia won a Test in India. Not even Nostradamus could have seen this result coming. Australia not only beat India, they thrashed them. Humiliated them. On a dry, turning pitch that should have suited India’s spinners, Steven Smith scored the only hundred of the match and Steve O’Keefe took as many wickets as R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja combined. So many, in fact, that his 12 for 69 were the best figures ever by a visiting spinner in a Test on Indian soil. India were humbled for 105 and 107; never had they scored so few in a home Test loss. The match was over inside three days, Australia the victors by 333 runs. The series is still alive, of course, but India have much to ponder over the next week, ahead of the Bangalore Test. It would be easy to look at pitch and suggest the toss played a significant role, but that would be unfair to Australia, who outplayed India in all facets of the game, and more than doubled their totals in both innings. In any case, Australia had won all four tosses back in 2013. No, this a was a victory based on outstanding left-arm spin from O’Keefe, whose accuracy and ability to turn some deliveries but not others made him a constant threat; on a remarkable 109 from Smith in the second innings, which some observers said was the best hundred they had seen; on fielding that was not quite flawless but not far off it. And, yes, on what looked from the outside like a mental capitulation from India’s batsmen in both innings.
This was the 10th home Test of India’s summer. It would be natural that they might show signs of fatigue, but there are three more Tests in this series. They must find a way to perk up quickly. If they are searching for positives, at least they have two extra days of recuperation ahead of the second Test. They can take little else from this result, their first loss in a home Test since England prevailed in Kolkata in December 2012. That too was a win that featured a defining hundred from the visiting captain, on that occasion Alastair Cook. In Pune, Smith’s 109 – more than the entire India team scored in either of their innings – helped to ensure Australia’s victory. It was his 18th Test hundred, his fifth in consecutive Tests against India, and his first on Indian soil. And, given the pitch and the quality of India’s bowlers, surely his best. He made the most of his luck – dropped three times on the second day – and resumed on the third morning on 59, with Australia’s lead already standing at 298. Already enough, the way India batted. But Smith made sure of it, scored freely on both sides of the wicket, using his feet to India’s spinners, and forging partnerships of consequence with several men in the middle and lower order. When he was finally lbw trying to pull Jadeja, his job was done. Some late slogging from Mitchell Starc, who hit three sixes in his 30 off 31 balls, helped lift Australia to 285 and set India 441 for victory. They would have to break the all-time record for the highest successful chase in test history in order to keep their unbeaten home streak alive. They never looked like getting close.