Australia v India Tests - Men
Aussies battle hard but India take 1-0 lead
India win the opening Domain Test by 31 runs after bowling Australia out on day five
cricket.com.au at the Adelaide Oval
10 December 2018, 07:56 PM AEST
Upon taking the helm of a recast Australia Test team earlier this year, skipper Tim Paine pledged to restore pride in the national men's team through their preparedness to battle-out even the most forlorn of causes.
In pushing India to the brink before falling 31 runs shy of an unlikely last-day chase of 323, he might just have achieved that ambition even though his team now faces an uphill slog to avoid an historic series defeat.
In contrast, India's ambition to overturn seven decades of disappointment by winning a Test series could hardly have started in better shape despite the frayed nerves that began to appear as Australia's tailenders raised hopes of an improbable win.
It was on the very cusp of tea, the interval having been pushed back half an hour due to the likelihood Australia's last wicket would fall, that last man Josh Hazlewood squirted a low catch to slip from the bowling of spinner Ravi Ashwin.
Having writhed through an array of near-misses and frustrations over the preceding hour or so, India captain Virat Kohli exploded into joy, fists clenched as he ran to his teammates, the enormity of what they had grasped already clearly apparent.
India now heads to Perth where the second match of the four-game Domain Test Series begins on Friday in a buoyantly superior frame of mind.
Never before has an India touring team won the first Test of a campaign on Australia soil, and having outplayed their hosts for all but the opening session in Adelaide they stand as firm favourites to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
It's 50 years since the team that lost the opening match of a Test battle in Australia has fought back to win the series.
And with all due respect to Paine's re-cast outfit, they do not yet boast the batting firepower of the most recent group to achieve that feat – led, as they were, by their skipper Bill Lawry, Keith Stackpole, Ian Chappell, Doug Walters and Ian Redpath.
Instead, the current Australia line-up is the first since the seismic second Test against South Africa in Hobart two years ago – a result that brought sweeping changes to the starting XI – to complete a Test on home turf in which no batter reached 75.
While conditions in Adelaide surely favoured bowlers to the extent that Cheteshwar Pujara (123 in India's first innings) was the sole player in the visitors' ranks to surpass that benchmark, India drew first blood because they were marginally better for marginally longer.
Pujara was deservedly named player of the match for his double (he also top-scored in India's second innings with 71), but in the absence of star-turns from others in their star-laden top-order it was the diligence of the seam attack that shone brightest for the visitors.
Ishant Sharma set the tone today when he threw everything into his inaugural spell that brought the crucial early breakthrough, which was duly followed by Jasprit Bumrah (who finished with 3-68) and Mohammad Shami (3-65).
As the quicks wheeled away from the northern end, spinner Ravi Ashwin toiled virtually unchanged from the south and finished with 3-92 from an unstinting 52.5 overs which meant the Australia batters could find neither rhythm nor respite.
If the home team is to claw its way back and avoid a second home-series Test loss in three seasons – a result seen only three times in the 23 summers that preceded – they will need to find authority and assertiveness in the batting, in a mighty hurry.
The compacted nature of this series means it's less than a month before the fourth and final Test is scheduled to end at the SCG on January 7.
Amid the dramatic rebuild triggered by last March's sandpaper scandal in South Africa, Paine promised that while immediate results could not be guaranteed the new-look team under his leadership would restore pride by fighting to the finish.
That was the case today, as Australia's final six wickets contributed 187 runs over the course of almost around five hours in brave pursuit of an unlikely win.
Nobody exemplified that pluck better than Paine, who counter-punched gamely, ran aggressively and worked the ball assiduously during his 73-ball knock of 41 that ended immediately after lunch with a mis-hit pull shot.
And for a few overs mid-afternoon, romantics dared to re-imagine Australia coach Justin Langer's debut Test at Adelaide 26 years earlier that saw the home team's tailenders scratch to within two runs of victory before the then mighty West Indies prevailed.
But ultimately it was the endemic fragility of his specialist batters – only Travis Head (72 in the first innings) and Shaun Marsh (60 in the second) bettered the skipper's knock – that cost Australia.
Thereby extending their winless streak to six matches, the longest such drought since the nightmare series in India and England in 2013 that also brought upheaval at the top levels of Australia cricket.
The fine thread upon which Australia's hopes of repeating the recent miracle in Dubai – where their batters defied Pakistan for a day to secure an heroic draw – snapped within half an hour of play beginning, on a day that had brought flawlessly sunny conditions.
Local boy Head, his country's last recognised batter before a tail that had repeatedly refused to wag for the best part of a year, added only three to his overnight score before embarking on a rueful walk back to the dressing room, dragging Australia's last realistic chance of avoiding defeat with him.
While India spinner Ashwin had been perceived by so many as the most potent threat on a day five pitch and given Australia's surfeit of left-handers, Head was undone by a fast bowler banging the ball into the largely unscarred pitch.
Operating around the wicket, Ishant coupled uncomfortable bounce with canny angle that caught Head unawares, with the instinctive fend he offered as the ball reared towards his right shoulder floating gently to gully.
It was therefore left to Shaun Marsh, so beloved by his teammates for his unquestioned talent and quiet indifference to the opprobrium many seem to enjoy piling upon him, to dictate when Australia's resistance formally ended.
That moment arrived just under an hour from the scheduled lunch break, when Marsh's innings ended innocuously after a hard-hewn 60 from 166 deliveries faced.
While the Adelaide pitch betrayed few of the characteristics traditionally found on day-five tracks – no yawning cracks, deep divots or wild fluctuations in bounce – there was no escape from the admirable discipline shown throughout this Test by India's pace attack.
After Ishant had lopped Head, his new-ball partner Bumrah took care of Marsh with a clinical delivery that also angled towards the left-hander from around the wicket but straightened sufficiently to kiss the outside edge.
So slight was the feather that Marsh briefly entertained the notion of challenging the decision, but after a fleeting meeting with his skipper he accepted that the gig was up and joined his subdued teammates in a resigned dressing room.
Australia had inched to the half-way point of their run chase, but had forfeited a significantly higher share of their batting expertise in getting there.
From the time that Ashwin dismantled Australia's top-order on day two, it was suggested the off-spinner would pose a greater menace to opposition right-handers as the Test progressed given the footmarks worn on the pitch's western flank.
Once the left-handed pair of Head and Marsh were removed, that theory was immediately proved as Pat Cummins twice found himself under scrutiny from the third umpire within a solitary over form Ashwin, before the Australian had scored.
The first stemmed from a ball that had fizzed between Cummins' bat and pad so comprehensively that India were convinced it must have caught some willow on the way through, a premise that was ruled out by the various forms of technology.
Shortly after, it was the batting team who turned to DRS when Cummins adjudged by umpire Nigel Llong to have squeezed a catch to bat-pad, a verdict that was challenged and ultimately overruled upon suggestions the ball had clipped Cummins' forearm rather than his glove.
It proved a crucial, if not quite decisive moment as Cummins fashioned stubborn partnerships with Paine (31 from 12 overs) and Mitchell Starc (41 from 16 overs) that slowed India's inevitable roll to a 1-0 series lead.
When final pair Nathan Lyon and Josh Hazlewood then combined for a further 32-run stand, there was whispered suggestions of a famous final session playing out.
However, the substantial union of 50-plus that Australia was unable to find throughout the match eluded them until the end, which saw Lyon sink to his haunches in disappointment as Hazlewood walked small circles, trying to figure how he'd succumbed.
In the minutes prior, many among the 10,000-strong final day crowd rising to each scoring shot and applauding every defensive push believing their brave men might salvage something from a barren few months.
In the end, they might just have done that even though they lost the Test.
Australia XI: Marcus Harris, Aaron Finch, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Travis Head, Tim Paine (c,wk), Pat Cummins, Mitch Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood
India XI: KL Rahul, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma
Domain Test Series v India
Dec 6-10: First Test, Adelaide Oval
Dec 14-18: Second Test, Perth Stadium
Dec 26-30: Third Test, MCG
Jan 3-7: Fourth Test, SCG
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c, wk), Josh Hazlewood (vc), Mitch Marsh (vc), Pat Cummins, Aaron Finch, Peter Handscomb, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, Chris Tremain
India squad: Virat Kohli (c), Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Prithvi Shaw, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant (wk), Parthiv Patel (wk), Ravi Ashwin, Ravi Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar