abc– Christmas came early for Australia’s cricketers on a barely believable third and decisive day of the Adelaide Test.Greeted by perfect batting conditions and cushioned by a handy first innings lead, India’s batsmen suffered a record-breaking brain fade to be rolled for 36 — the tourists’ lowest score in Tests.
Set 90 to win, Australian openers Matthew Wade (33) and Joe Burns (51 not out) knocked off most of the target before Wade departed from an unlucky run-out and Marnus Labuschagne to a rash slog, meaning Australia went from probable losers to eight-wicket winners in the space of 24 hours. The ease of the chase reinforced the calamity of India’s display.
Having played Burns back into something resembling form — and parrying a catching chance for six to hand him a half-century and finish the match — India had to concede it was not their day.
From the beginning it was a contest dominated by bowlers. The destroyers here were Josh Hazlewood, who took 5-8 from five unimprovable overs and secured his 200th Test wicket, and Pat Cummins, whose 4-21 included his 150th in Tests and a possible broken forearm for Mohammed Shami, who retired hurt to add injury to India’s insult.
Like Australia’s capitulation at the hands of Stuart Broad at Trent Bridge in 2015, there was something surreal and unexplainable about it — pacemen hitting the right areas, sure, but batsmen completely losing their cool. The Indian top six are no mugs. They have 61 Test centuries between them. Here they appeared to be sharing a brain.
The bowling was flawless, make no mistake. Hazlewood and Cummins produced barely a dud ball between them in three days. But as in the case of Broad’s demolition job, too many batsmen were simply indiscriminate when faced with subtle movement outside off stump.
None sized up the situation and decided that abstinence was the only option. At one point, India lost 5-4 in the space of five chaotic overs. It was harder to keep up with than one of Shane Warne’s monologues.
Tim Paine was given catching practice by Cheteshwar Pujara, Mayank Agarwal, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari and Ravi Ashwin.
Wriddhiman Saha responded to the deepening crisis by clipping a simple catch to a short mid-wicket who had just been moved into place. The frenetic journeys of batsmen to and from the pavilion gave the impression of an exploding clown car.
Most culpable was Kohli. When he arrived at the crease, he had that mischievous glint in his eye — the one that says he’s up for the challenge. He wasn’t.
Not content with slashing a risky boundary through gully when his side was mired at 6-15, he tried again from the next delivery and feigned shock when 198-centimetre Cameron Green dived like a full-forward taking a low chest mark to successfully juggle the catch. It consigned India to certain defeat.
Cummins will never affect the macho swagger of Dennis Lillee or attempt the mental disintegration of Glenn McGrath. He’d sooner offer friendly encouragement to an opponent than a sledge. Indeed, there is something satisfying and convention-breaking about the best two quicks in the world, Cummins and Jasprit Bumrah, spending more time smiling than snarling.
But the 27-year-old Australian is now a bowler to rank with the greats. His Test wickets have come at the startling average of 21.
Hazlewood has often bowled better but without luck, so would happily accept the sort of figures more often seen in Under-12s games. Poor Mitchell Starc had to watch on with envy from the field after an uneventful six-over spell preceding the carnage.
Cummins explains his world-beating approach in the simplest terms. The vital ingredient is a 24-metre run-up in which he advances at 25kmph, a sense of balance his sole focus as he chugs past the umpire.
He makes it sound like carrying a tray of drinks across a bar. The reality for batsmen is less pleasant, especially when his stock ball, an awkward, slanting off-cutter, is thumped into the pitch on a testing length. They’re never quite certain: stride forward or shuffle back? Play or leave?
The abbreviated nature of this contest made a mockery of the pre-series focus on batting sub-plots like Kohli’s departure, Prithvi Shaw’s selection at the expense of Shubman Gill and the game of musical chairs that settled Australia’s top six, replete with a glut of first-class centuries that now seem as obscure as the grounds they were made on.
The reality is that it’s a battle between the two best bowling attacks in the world, and for the batsmen a game of survival.
As in the first innings, Burns was struck a wince-inducing blow — this time to the right forearm thanks to Jasprit Bumrah — having maneuvered himself into an awkward position and failed to take evasive action. In his recent state of depleted confidence, it looked another hammer blow.
But after the tea break he spun into authoritative pull shots to the fence off the bowling of both Bumrah and Umesh Yadav.
The Queenslander was obviously in pain but refusing to desert his post, and as the danger passed his shots became more expansive, until he’d easily outscored India’s entire 11. Perhaps he’ll feature in Melbourne, perhaps not. But on a day when so few batsmen applied themselves, it was a reminder that form and reputation often count for less in Test cricket than courage and application.