Australia spin-show in India pleases Steven Smith and impresses Rahul Dravid
Australia recovered from a difficult loss in Delhi to win in Indore and draw in Ahmedabad
The anguish of knowing their chances of regaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy on Indian soil were potentially scuppered by one horrific session of batting will continue to linger for Australia, but they were able to finish the series with a ringing endorsement of their spin attack which was termed the best to visit the country in a decade.
Australia knew coming to the ground in Ahmedabad for the final day of the series that their best hope was to survive and keep the margin at 2-1, something they achieved with ease through Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne on a surface that though it started to turn had not done it nearly early enough.
The second half of the series was in stark contrast to the first where Australia's limp batting in three out of the four innings cost them, most dramatically when they lost 8 for 28 on the third morning in Delhi having been well placed on a tricky pitch.
"We really hurt after that game in Delhi," Steven Smith said. "Guys were pretty upset with the way we went away from our methods in that game, it was disappointing, but obviously at that point we knew there was plenty to still play for in the series and guys responded really well and as a group we are proud of the way we bounced back and played some good cricket in the last couple of Test matches. You take the hour of madness away and things could certainly have been different."
However, even in the opening defeats, the performances of Todd Murphy (seven wickets on debut in Nagpur) and Nathan Lyon (a five-wicket haul in Delhi) stood out and they then combined with left-arm spinner Matt Kuhnemann during just his second Test in Indore to secure a famous victory.
India's coach, Rahul Dravid, revealed that the quality of Australia's spin attack had been noted by the home side with some of their batters who could recall rating it the best since they had faced Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar when they earned England a 2-1 series win in 2012-13.
"A lot of times you see with overseas teams they have one good spinner but tend to leak runs at the other end and you can control the game from the other end," Dravid told Star Sports. "But credit to the two young spinners, they maintained that pressure, [and] they took wickets. A lot of the guys... were full of praise for the quality of spin they had to play which made the series win all that much more sweeter.
"Some of the guys were saying since probably Panesar and Swann they've not played over the last decade a couple of spinners of this kind of quality or this quality of spells. They've played individual spinners who have been brilliant over the last 10 years, including someone like Nathan Lyon, but to have the quality of spin attack, probably since Panesar and Swann it's been the best quality of spin we've played over the last 10 years in these conditions."
The collective average for Australia's spinners of 26.28 places it second in that time period, behind the 2016-17 combination of Lyon and Steve O'Keefe who shared 38 wickets at 24.73. The England side of 2012-13, dominated by Swann and Panesar, claimed 39 wickets at 28.61.
Smith, who took over the captaincy for the last two Tests when Pat Cummins returned home, praised the way Murphy and Kuhnemann, neither of whom were the first-choice spinners for their states in Australia before this tour, had dealt with the pressure.
"Debuting in Test cricket in India, it can be quite daunting at times and the way they came in and performed was outstanding," he said. "The way they have developed and learnt to bowl over here on the go has been outstanding. I thought Murphy in the last game and this Test match as well, how tight he kept it, bowling in a defensive way was outstanding."
Lyon took 22 wickets in the series to finish equal second with Ravindra Jadeja behind R Ashwin, the India duo being named joint players of the series. After the third day's play, Lyon said he felt he had bowled better in Ahmedabad than in Indore, where he claimed 11 wickets in the match including eight in the second innings, and it was a view endorsed by Smith who even went a step further.
"I've stood at slip to him for a very long time and the way the ball was coming out, the revs and drop and everything he had on the ball on a surface that wasn't offering a great deal, I said to him at the end of play, that's probably the best I've seen you bowl," he said. "For someone who's played 115-odd Tests to keep getting better, I thought was outstanding."
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo