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Dread it, run from it, prepare for it — Ashwin and India will still arrive

Last updated on 11 Feb 2023 | 12:12 PM
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Dread it, run from it, prepare for it — Ashwin and India will still arrive

When the conditions are in their favour, as it was in Nagpur, India are invincible

If you’re a part of the minority that was bullish about India’s chances and foresaw a dominant win for Rohit Sharma’s side, give yourself a pat on the back. You were spot on.

If you’re someone who, prior to the start of the Test, thought India were only marginal favorites, well, start having more faith in your side, hey? Particularly at home.

This is truly one of those results that makes you laugh, isn’t it? 

All the talk heading into the series was about how India are about to face their toughest challenge at home in 11 years. 

Few had faith in their batting and a large majority was skeptical about the prospect of the curators dishing out rank turners, for they believed the contest would ‘turn into a lottery’ and give the Aussies a chance. Like it did in Pune six years ago.

But India, as they’ve just shown, are no longer the team they were six years ago. They are stronger (on all fronts), much more well-rounded, much more adaptable and versatile and so much harder to beat. 

When the conditions are in their favour, as it was in Nagpur, they are invincible.

READ: Australia's harsh lesson — life ain’t fair when you play India in India

At home, India kill opponents using a different method while batting, and a different method while bowling.

With the bat, they feed the enemy with slow poison. In cricketing terms, they bat once and bat big. They also bat long.

It’s one thing taking a seemingly unassailable first-innings lead but the manner in which India tend to stretch the lead leaves opponents deflated, demoralized, dejected and dead. 

One moment they’ll be trailing by 80 runs with only six wickets in hand, giving the opposition side a ray of hope, but a day later, they’ll be 175 runs clear with still three wickets in the kitty.

Across five sessions — from Tea Day 1 to Lunch Day 3 — the Aussies were force-fed the slow poison.

In total, India batted 139.3 overs — 837 balls, which is 454 more than what the visitors did in their first dig. And as is the ritual, the kiss of death came from their lower-order batters, the last five wickets adding a total of 232 runs.

By the time Cummins castled Axar Patel with a clever cutter, the Aussies had already mentally checked out. The will to compete had been squeezed out of them.

READ: Despite Kohli's slump, India’s batting potential at home is stronger than ever

With the ball, India employ a different tactic: the speed kill. 

It is fast, and while it’s not nearly as excruciating as the slow-poison, it tends to leave a long-lasting scar on the enemy, affecting them even when they respawn and brace themselves for the following encounter. 

In recent years, South Africa (2019), England (2021) and Sri Lanka (2022) have all experienced this. On Saturday in Nagpur, Australia became the latest victim of the speed-kill.

32.3 overs and the game was done — done for good. The match ended in a flash, right in front of Australia’s eyes. 

It was so quick that by the 19th over of the innings, Steve Smith figured he’d be better off simply treating the rest of the contest as a net session and focusing on improving his average by getting that precious red-inker. To his credit, he managed it (with a bit of help from Jadeja).

Usually for the speed-kill, India’s designated assassins are Ashwin ( LHB specialist) and Jadeja (RHB specialist). And against a batting unit that leans left, Ashwin seamlessly completed five kills.

In the first innings, the Aussie batters somehow tricked themselves into thinking that the pitch was doing tricks and that led to their downfall. As it turned out, the supposed doctoring  outside the left-hander’s off-stump ended up not even mattering. 

Warner and Khawaja falling to seamers, Head being axed and Renshaw perishing on the first ball to Jadeja (from round the wicket) meant that the much hyped Ashwin vs LHB contest did not even happen in the first place.

Come the second innings, there were actual demons on the surface. The ball was starting to turn square and batting was infinitely more difficult than what it was on Day 1. Certainly as a batter, you needed as much luck as skill to survive. 

Unsurprisingly, Australia’s left-handers did not stand a chance against Ashwin. The real one, that is.

The Aussie Top seven consisted of four left-handers and Ashwin, in the second innings, ended up taking out every single one of them.

Usman Khawaja was the first to go. Having spent the good part of the previous 12 months convincing the world that he was a much-improved player against spin, Khawaja, on Day 3, almost undid an entire year’s hard-work with a drive that was so loose that it made you cringe. Ashwin didn’t even try to get Khawaja out but he got him anyway, caught at first slip.

Warner should have been caught at first slip too, but Kohli’s presence gave him a reprieve. But as we all guessed it when the catch went down, the drop didn’t matter. Warner missed one that came in with the angle and, as a result, saw his average in India drop to 22.16.

Renshaw, like Khawaja, did not make Ashwin work hard and the off-spinner was too smart to be put off by Carey’s sweep and hope  tactic. 

4 left-handers scalped inside 55 balls. Australia’s back-broken. Speed-kill complete.

In the aftermath of the encounter, skipper Rohit Sharma spoke wise words.

“The last few years, the kind of pitches we are playing in India, you need to have application and some sort of plan to score runs,” Rohit said.

It is what was lacking when it came to the Australian batters. Barring Carey, no batter had a definitive plan to score runs against spin. 

And though both Smith and Labuschagne showed application, neither player had a clear game-plan that made the Indian spinners re-think their tactics.

In Delhi, Australia will be boosted by the return of Cameron Green — admittedly a quick learner who in Sri Lanka showed he can play spin well — but if they are to pose any threat, at all, to this Indian side at home, they’ll have to learn from their mistakes in Nagpur, which were plenty.

Easier said than done, for, as attested earlier, speed-kills like the one in the second innings tends to scar sides.

In the lead-up to the series, 2-1 India was the most popular prediction amongst fans and experts alike. Three days in, 4-0 looks like a genuine possibility. 

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