Australia v India – First Test Review: Wickets, valuable runs and the impact of a pink ball

 

When the idea of the pink ball first came to the fore of test cricket, talk surfaced around its impact. What different would it make, other than for remaining more visible under artificial lighting? Discourse surrounding its propensity to swing under lights and change the course of test matches in one short evening soon made the day-night test an exciting proposition. In a batter-dominated industry, the ball was evening up proceedings. But this first test between heavyweights Australia and India proved that the power behind these dramatic changes in momentum lies with the skill of the bowler, and the frailty of a batting order’s will.

 

India falter and rue selection calls

Batting first, the Indian side backed their strong line-up. With Rohit Sharma sidelined, selectors went with the exciting attacking package that an out-of-form Prithvi Shaw can still bring to the game. Two balls into the first afternoon and this wager looked atrocious, Shaw’s middle peg bent back under the will of an under-fire Mitchell Starc. The left-armer needed a shot of confidence after a poor lead-up to the series, and received the perfect tonic.

 

From there, India kept looking to blunt Australia’s bowlers, only to lapse into trouble every time they looked comfortable. Mayank Agarwal handled pace in the same composed style as he did when debuting halfway through last tour, only to fall dumbfounded to another Pat Cummins off-cutter. Cheteshwar Pujara commenced the hours-long construction of his wall, playing defensive shots deftly and under his eyes. It took the random spin and bounce of Lyon to bring about his undoing, as Kohli’s defiant knock threatened to give India a massive first innings total. But when Virat was run out badly by Rahane, India’s fortunes took a dip. Without their king at the crease, India’s middle order looked fragile. Hanuma Vihari didn’t have a productive test match with the bat, nor did Wriddhiman Saha, who couldn’t provide the steadiness with the bat that gave him first opportunity ahead of Rishabh Pant.

 

It may not have made a difference, but India’s first innings collapse to 244 all out may have been better held together if KL Rahul is chosen to steady the middle order. Batting at six, Rahul may have pushed India to 300 on the second morning. Hindsight is a powerful thing, and it could be influential in some selection swings for the Boxing Day test.

 

The difference isn’t with Smith, but with Marnus and Tim

Despite India capturing the Border-Gavaskar Trophy on Australian shores for the first time in 2018-19, discussions littered around the impact Dave Warner and Steve Smith would’ve made. In a series where Australia’s makeshift batting line up struggled to score quickly or largely, two class batsmen would have made a different if they weren’t serving ball tampering bans. With Warner sidelined with his injured groin, Smith and his new partner Marnus Labuschagne didn’t exactly show how valuable they are.

 

What Australia’s batting did highlight was how frail they still can be to class fast bowling. With Jasprit Bumrah ambling in, they faced arguably the world’s most dynamic fast bowler, and struggled. Joe Burns and Matt Wade may have turned their form around in the second innings, but they couldn’t even push singles against Bumrah, Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami. Marnus’ innings was incredibly shaky, getting dropped multiple times. Yet he still had the presence of mind to keep attacking, taking his quirky game to the Indians and flying to 43 by doing so.

 

The main issue surrounded Smith and his tactics. Instead of learning from his defensive mindset last summer, where New Zealand attacked him with short bowling until he coughed up his wicket, Smith reverted to an innings of blocks and leaves. Smith has all the shots in the book, yet Bumrah and co spooked him into putting it away. It made Smith a sitting duck to Ashwin, who swooped in to fool him with an arm ball.

 

Instead of Smith being the saviour, Tim Paine showed him how to do it with an innings full of punch and counter-attacking cleverness. Paine’s cut shot came to the fore, and his drives soon changed the game. He may not have reached the triple figure mark that the innings deserved, but Paine’s knock gave Australia the impetus for a crazy third day in the field.

 

It’s not just night time that changes day-night tests

All of the talk around the pink ball and its movement under artificial lights clouded each night of the test, but ultimately the most damage was done in the first session by the Australian bowlers. On day two they took four wickets in quick succession to slaughter India’s lower order. On day three they took it one step further by running through the entire side for just 36 runs.

 

No wicket was coughed up, no shot was utterly rash. Instead, Cummins and Josh Hazlewood found the right channel at the right length to extract plenty of edges. From there, Paine and his slippers just had to stay alert to have a field day. Hazlewood proved he is the best new ball bowler in the world, while Cummins’ all-round ability to break through continued to soar. It was a crazy passage of test cricket – the type that transcends time and demands entire focus. Eyes couldn’t leave the screen; jaws couldn’t close. In an even test, the contest wrapped up quickly by the end of the third evening when Joe Burns hooked a six to win the test and raise a half-century. Just a day ago you wouldn’t have believed it. But test cricket moves fast, and now both teams must ensure they stay with it as we move on to Boxing Day. A week is a long time in football, but for cricket a day can either stagnate or fly by.

 

 

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Comments

  1. John Butler says

    Sean, a pretty fair summation of an unexpectedly brief test match.

    For me, the remaining question about day-night test cricket is the extent to which everything is compromised to try and accommodate the pink ball. Because there is a fear the ball will lose visibility and go soft, the pitch has to have extra grass cover. This has challenged curators, as the wickets have usually been variable.. In this time when far too many flat tracks are prepared, this isn’t a bad thing in itself, but it has turned these games into something of a lottery.

    With Australia’s dominant pace attack, it has certainly suited them – as 8 wins from 8 night tests attests. There’s no doubt the hosts outplayed India here. You are right to suggest the Indians’ selection was an issue for them. With Kohli and Sami now needing to be replaced, it will be interesting to see the team they choose for Melbourne.

    Cheers

  2. An intriguing thing I found about this test was that instead of Night batting being the big bug bare, most damage to the batsmen was done in broad daylight.It will be most interesting to see how India fares in the Boxing Dat test -can hardly wait.

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