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Match Analysis

Adaptable Australia get their act together despite things around them falling apart

Over the last 12 months, Australia have secured victories in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India in a commendable show of depth

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
03-Mar-2023
India don't do losing at home. When Marnus Labuschagne lofted R Ashwin over midwicket a little more than an hour into the third day in Indore and lifted his arms in triumph, it was just India's third defeat on their own soil in ten years.
They particularly don't do losing when they have a team seemingly down and out as Australia were after shipping 8 for 28 in the second innings in Delhi. Their previous two defeats had come at the start of a series - against England in Chennai in 2021, and Australia in Pune in 2017 - when the visiting side stole an early march only to be cut back down to size.
This series had gone from Australia after their implosion in the last game, but that does not take anything away from this victory. In fact, it makes it even more remarkable. In the ten days since, they had seen their captain fly home for tragic personal circumstances and David Warner leave the tour injured. Josh Hazlewood was also ruled out and Ashton Agar allowed to head home after basically becoming unselectable.
As is so often the case when things go wrong, everything was being called into question from the team's preparation to whether they are playing hard enough - whatever that means. When everything around them appeared to be falling apart, Australia took a step back and caught their breath. Then they didn't let their heads drop when India won the toss, instead skittling the home side out in less than 34 overs.
"The break came at a good time for us," stand-in captain Steven Smith said. "We were obviously disappointed with the way things ended… and knowing after that second Test we can't actually win the series, which has always been on the bucket list for a few of us.
"For the guys to be able to regroup, trust themselves with what they are trying to do and just try to do it for longer, it's something we've spoken about, and the way we did it this week was really pleasing. It's about taking the result out of play, having faith in our methods for long enough. We are good enough players to get the results we are after more often than not."
In a game dominated by the ball on a spiteful surface - which takes nothing away from the performance of Australia's spinners - that mindset was perhaps best shown by the superbly-constructed stand of 96 between Labuschagne and Usman Khawaja in the first innings which, with a little helping hand from Ravindra Jadeja's no-ball, ensured that India could not immediately bowl themselves back into the match.
The way Labuschagne and Travis Head then flicked the switch from caution to balanced attack on the third morning to kill the game also showed a clarity of thought that had been missing earlier in the series.
A few key aspects fell into place more by accident than by design, but it's a credit to those players that they have had success. Matthew Kuhnemann wasn't originally on the tour but took five wickets in the first innings, and claimed Virat Kohli in the second. Had Agar's form and confidence not deserted him, Todd Murphy may not have started the series - but he has bowled like a veteran, claiming Kohli three times - and Kuhnemann would not have been called up.
Head (somehow) wasn't in the team in Nagpur but halfway through Delhi was promoted to open after Warner's concussion, and has responded with a brace of confident 40s. And while the enforced change in captaincy has come about through awful circumstances, Smith had an outstanding match on the field. Since 1969, Australia have won only six Tests in India, and Smith has led them in two of those.
"India is a part of the world I love captaining [in]," he said, while reaffirming this was Cummins' team. "It's a game of chess, every ball means something. It's good to just move people and try to make the batter do something different and just play games with them. It's probably my favourite place in the world to captain [in].
"You think back home in Australia and generally you're playing with a third slip, or putting a third slip to cover, or [move] your square leg up or back, or something like that. There's not too much that sort of goes on with it. Sort of just stick to the same game plan and try to trust what you're trying to do there.
"But [in] this part of the world you have to be really proactive. Every ball is an event and therefore can dictate what happens after, which is something that I really love; and you've got to be ahead of the game. So I thought I did it well this week and it was good fun."
Over the last 12 months, Australia have secured victories in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India. Though they have had some bad days along the way, for a team that had not toured the subcontinent for Test cricket between 2017 and 2022, that is a commendable show of depth and adaptability. Winning away from home is a massively tough ask.
It also means they have locked in their spot in the World Test Championship final, and now it is India who have to sweat on joining them at The Oval. Quite what that means for the pitch that will be prepared in Ahmedabad remains to be seen - you would think it unlikely that the green seamer will now transpire - but Australia have shown that they can beat India at their own game.
While levelling the series would not be mission accomplished, it would go down as one of Australia's finest achievements.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo