This Border-Gavaskar Trophy did not have the fanfare and trumpet-playing that India v England did; thankfully, Mrs Bhosle, Mewa Ram, Professor Biswas, and the Shukla parivaar had to retire their pungis and bansuris and brass bands. The lesson was learned, rather harshly. It was understood that this series did not carry the weight and promise of past India v Australia contests, because both teams are crocked to an extent. Hence, there was much less anticipation from the first Test in Chennai, even though India were seen as favorites.
In the end, victory was rightfully India's. It took a while longer than was expected when they had Australia nine wickets down with more than an hour before stumps on day four, but a commanding eight-wicket followed at 10:51am on Tuesday. It was a very good victory, thanks largely to MS Dhoni's counter-attacking 224 that gave India a lead of 192, and should be appreciated not just because it equaled Sourav Ganguly's record of most wins (21) but because of the manner in which India's spinners dominated Australia's batsmen.
But let's stop just there. Not so long ago, India beat England by nine wickets in the first Test of a series, and we all know what happened next. Of course, this Australian team does not possess two quality spinners or a fast bowler of James Anderson's class, but it would be misguiding to say that India will move to Hyderabad as outright series favorites.
Simply put, a transitioning India beat a transitioning Australia comprehensively, but problems still exist. This win means little for Indian cricket in the long run. In the immediate, it is a win to appreciate because it will boost a struggling team after the 2-1 defeat to England. It has proved that Sachin Tendulkar still has something to offer; that behind the attitude and tattoos, there is a cricketer-and-a-half in Virat Kohli; that Ashwin is capable of learning from his mistakes; and that Dhoni can hold his place in the team as a batsman.
Tendulkar's 81 was a superb effort, and harked back to happier times. His shot selection on day two was brilliant, and the rhythm he found was his best in over a year. Australia should be worried, very worried. Kohli, with his second consecutive Test century, has reminded his critics that he belongs. His 107 was highlighted for his concentration and determination; now Kohli needs to learn how to convert 100s into 150s and 175s. One big innings should be the impetus for that, such is the batsman's class. Ashwin improved in leaps and bounds from the England series, largely because he did not experiment too much and flighted the ball. His 12-wicket haul was an excellent, smartly achieved landmark.
But the man who has emerged with his reputation truly - as a batsman - enhanced is Dhoni. His 224 was a stirring innings that almost single-handedly took the match away from Australia following Tendulkar's wicket for 81 on day three. It was dripping with confidence and the way Dhoni preyed on Australia's bowlers was magnificent. Australia were drained, physically and mentally, after Dhoni's mammoth innings and that led to their struggles on a wearing surface. Dhoni's knock bore the stamp of a Virender Sehwag from a different time; how they must wish Sehwag could rediscover his touch.
Sehwag, with his dropped catches, first-innings brain fade and second-innings failure does not look capable of holding his place. Like with Gautam Gambhir, a tough call needs to be taken with the out-of-form opener. Murali Vijay failed on return to the side, leaving India with a headache for the second Test - persist with the pair or drop one, and if so, who?
With the bowling too there are concerns. Dropping Pragyan Ojha for an extra seamer and then not calling on him for Australia's entire second innings was an odd decision. Ishant Sharma, leading the bowling, did nothing. Bhuvneshar Kumar, on debut, played a supporting role with the bat and his temperament was laudable. Not much faith was shown in him as a bowler. So what happens in Hyderabad - drop a pacer for Ojha or swap Harbhajan Singh for the left-arm spinner?
Now that Harbhajan's 100th Test is over, all sentiment can be removed from discussions with his name in it. He took three wickets for 142 runs in 52 overs; one top-order batsman, one middle-order batsman, and one bowler. Not spectacular at all, and Harbhajan still drifted too much onto middle and leg. Dhoni's comment that Harbhajan bowled well in the second innings indicates that the offspinner will add to his 100 Test caps. Ojha should certainly play in Hyderabad, so who will go out? Yes, Ravindra Jadeja improved significantly in Australia's second innings, but he was aided by deteriorating pitch and some silly batting. Jadeja was all over the place with the bat and was bowled not offering a shot. Dropping the designated No. 7 for another bowler seems illogical, despite Jadeja's ineffectiveness as a batsman, so the axe is likely to fall on one of the pace bowlers.
For the fanfare to really play out and actually mean something, India must target a series win. It must show that it is capable of winning two matches and more in a row. Australia will come out harder in Hyderabad, of that you can be sure.
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