Jadeja, Ashwin once again proved too hot to handle as India put one foot in WTC final
With some key players yet to be fully fit, and some others failing to live up to the challenge, selecting the final XI seems to be their biggest bugbear as they square off against India, the team that has been challenging their hegemony.
While winning in Indian conditions remains one of the most difficult challenges for any visiting team, the fact that Australians, despite their preparations and talent, continue to struggle to navigate the web of spin spun by Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin is telling.
After an innings and 132-run defeat in the first Test of the Border Gavaskar Trophy, it was no different in the second Test as Australia once again fell to the brilliance of Jadeja and Ashwin to suffer a six-wicket loss.
The big win also means that India has one foot in the final of the World Test Championship – against the same opponent albeit in different conditions.
Even if India lose their next two matches, the only way they can be denied a place in the final is if Sri Lanka beat New Zealand 2-0, in New Zealand.
Australia’s surrender to the spin of Jadeja and Ashwin can be gauged by the fact that they started the day at 68 for one and then collapsed to 113.
Except for the overnight not out batters, Travis Head (43) and Marnus Labuschagne (35), none of the Australian batters could manage to reach double figures.
The performance put a huge question mark on Australia’s preparations, as it was well reported how they practice the sweep shots to negate the spin of Ashwin, whom they considered the biggest threat and Jadeja.
But when it was needed, it turned out that Australia’s attempt to sweep the Indian spinners only led to their downfall.
The fact that Matthew Hayden had a fair bit of success against spin in 2001, is a template that Australians might have looked at.
But the fact that the burly former Australian opener had spent hours with Indian spin greats – Erapalli Prasanna and Bishen Singh Bedi – before he could tackle the mercurial Harbhajan Singh.
Australian opener Usman Khwaja came close to that perfection, his 81 in the first innings will vouch for that. But the confidence he gained in the first innings led to his downfall in the second innings.
As the Australians struggled with the execution and decision-making, while employing the sweep shot, there was a hint that perhaps they should trust their defence more than play a shot that does not come naturally to them.
Steve Smith, another victim of the sweep, had a fair bit of success without it. Peter Handscomb, who scored an unbeaten 71 in the first essay, attempted only one sweep shot in that innings.
Only time will tell, whether Australians will trust their natural game or further punt on the art of sweeping, but for now Jadeja will savour his career-best seven for 42 as the southpaw showed that he is up for the challenge following the injury layoff.
R Ashwin, who has a brain that acts like a computer, demonstrated why he is considered the best bowler in home conditions — in suitable conditions, any amount of preparation can fall flat.
To their credit, Australian spinners Nathan Lyon and Todd Murphy picked three wickets – with skipper Rohit Sharma (31) falling to a mix-up with Pujara.
Pujara, playing his 100th Test, ensured there was no heartbreak as he anchored the innings with an unbeaten 71-ball 34, while wicket-keeper Srikar Bharat slammed three fours and a six in his unbeaten 22-ball 23.
Former skipper Virat Kohli (31-ball 20) and Shreyas Iyer (10-ball 12) also added useful runs.
Australians will go to bed thinking, what if there are 100-120 more runs to defend?
While Australians will mull over the what-ifs, Indians celebrate their win in three days with a visit to Pradhanmantri Sangrahalaya – a museum built as a tribute to every Prime Minister of India and their contribution to the development of the nation.
Surely, they can take a day off ahead of the third Test in Indore. They deserve it. But the unchanged squad will also mull over ways to tackle the spin threat posed by the likes of Lyon and Murphy.
BRIEF SCORE: Australia 263 & 113 (Travis Head 43, Marnus Labuschagne 35; Ravindra Jadeja 7/42, R Ashwin 3/59) lost to India 262 & 118/4 (Cheteshwar Pujara 31*, Rohit Sharma 31, Srikar Bharat 23*; Nathan Lyon 2/49) by six wickets