Friend­ships soured, but In­dia and Aus­tralia served up a treat.

In­di­vid­u­als rose to the chal­lenge for both teams, and while Aus­tralia raised their level a young In­dia side stepped up bet­ter, writes Dileep Premachan­dran

The National - News - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - [email protected]­

With only one front­line bats­man, Mu­rali Vi­jay, over 30, this is a team with a lot to look for­ward to. The same can be said of Aus­tralia

Like the se­ries it is most go­ing to be com­pared with in the years to come, In­dia v Aus­tralia 2017 was an un­ex­pected clas­sic.

Back in 2001, Steve Waugh’s Aus­tralians were ram­pant, hav­ing ar­rived in In­dia on the back of a 15-match win­ning streak. In­dian cricket, af­ter a match-fix­ing scan­dal, was in dis­ar­ray.

Af­ter Aus­tralia made it 16 on the bounce with a three-day vic­tory in Mum­bai, most In­dia sup­port­ers ex­pected the worst.

In­stead, they got great per­for­mances from VVS Lax­man, Rahul Dravid, Harb­ha­jan Singh and a fa­mous win in Eden Gar­dens. If that was not enough, the de­cider in Chen­nai – In­dia sneaked home by two wick­ets – was ev­ery bit as com­pelling.

This time, it was In­dia that were red-hot favourites, hav­ing not lost a home Test since De­cem­ber 2012. Aus­tralian cricket had plumbed the depths just months ear­lier, with an in­nings de­feat to South Africa in Ho­bart.

But the kan­ga­roo and the emu on the baggy green cap sel­dom take a back­ward step, and Steve Smith and his side threw them­selves into the In­dian ad­ven­ture with an in­ten­sity that shocked the hosts.

First, they bat­ted with rare dis­ci­pline on a square turner in Pune, be­fore Steve O’Keefe up­staged In­dia’s spin duo with match fig­ures of 12 for 70. When In­dia were then bowled out for 189 on the open­ing day in Ban­ga­lore, with Nathan Lyon tak­ing eight for 50, it seemed that the Bor­der-Gavaskar Tro­phy would stay in Aus­tralia’s pos­ses­sion. But while he may have had his worst se­ries with the bat – 46 runs in five in­nings be­fore hurt­ing his shoul­der in Ranchi – Vi­rat Kohli would not al­low his team to coun­te­nance de­feat. On the sec­ond day in Ban­ga­lore, In­dia con­ceded just 197 runs while tak­ing six wick­ets. More im­por­tantly, there was snarl and chat­ter, led by the cap­tain.

It may have been un­pleas­ant to watch, but it roused a team that had ap­peared list­less in Pune af­ter a marathon stretch of matches dat­ing back to the Caribbean in July. Kohli’s bat was muted, and Ravichan­dran Ash­win, strug­gling with a her­nia, was nowhere near as ef­fec­tive as he had been ear­lier in the sea­son.

De­spite that, In­dia kept find­ing new he­roes. In Ban­ga­lore, it was Chetesh­war Pu­jara and Ajinkya Ra­hane adding 118 on a pitch with vari­able bounce.

In Ranchi, af­ter Ravin­dra Jadeja wheeled away nearly 50 overs for his five wick­ets, Pu­jara and Wrid­dhi­man Saha added 199 to wrest the ini­tia­tive.

With the Hi­malayas pro­vid­ing the back­drop, Kuldeep Ya­dav then pro­duced a de­but per­for­mance to savour as Aus­tralia slumped from 144 for one to 300 in Dharamshala on the open­ing day of the fourth Test.

In the sec­ond in­nings, it was Umesh Ya­dav that bowled with the fe­roc­ity Aus­tralians as­so­ci­ate with their own quicks. Bhu­vnesh­war Ku­mar, who struck David Warner just above his heart with a de­liv­ery, then sent Steve Smith’s off stump fly­ing, via the in­side edge. Key mo­ments had dif­fer­ent In­dian play­ers take up the chal­lenge, and that is why they came out on top. If Umesh and Mo­hammed Shami can be kept fit, with Bhu­vnesh­war and Ishant Sharma as back-up, In­dia have a pace at­tack ca­pa­ble of test­ing the best over­seas.

The emer­gence of Kuldeep has also shown that wor­ries about the state of In­dian spin, be­yond Ash­win and Jadeja, are over­stated. With only one front­line bats­man, Mu­rali Vi­jay, over 30, this is a team with a lot to look for­ward to.

The same can be said of Aus­tralia. Smith is the world’s best Test bats­man, while Matt Ren­shaw and Peter Hand­scomb are two young tal­ents with the tem­per­a­ment to suc­ceed in the five­day arena.

If they can keep Mitchell Starc, Josh Ha­zle­wood and Pat Cum­mins fit, with the resur­gent James Pat­tin­son in re­serve, they will have a pace at­tack that is the envy of ev­ery­one. Glenn Maxwell, who made a fine hun­dred in Ranchi, could pro­vide the X-fac­tor in the mid­dle-or­der, es­pe­cially once Warner re­dis­cov­ers his bat­ting mojo on the hard and bouncy pitches back home.

If you are an Eng­land cricket fan, it is time to start get­ting ner­vous about this win­ter’s Ashes se­ries.

Ad­nan Abidi / Reuters

While cap­tain Vi­rat Kohli had a poor se­ries with the bat, Lokesh Rahul, above, stepped up for In­dia with six half-cen­turies in the four-Test se­ries.

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