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Feature

Murphy's maturity, Khawaja's redemption, Head's promise among Australia's takeaways

Australia fought back in the series from being 2-0 down with some excellent cricket. Here's a look at what they take back home

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
13-Mar-2023
The Border-Gavaskar series came to a soporific end in Ahmedabad but involved some compelling action. It finished 2-1 to India with the home side having retained the trophy by midway. However, Australia produced some excellent cricket in the latter two Tests. Here's a look back at some of the main themes from their performances.

Mature Todd Murphy provides future assurance

Over the last few years in Australian cricket there had often been the question asked: if not Nathan Lyon, then who? Now we have the answer. Todd Murphy's first series was a remarkable performance. His Test debut in Nagpur was just his eighth first-class match and he collected seven wickets. He did not gather another such haul, but he bowled beautifully through the rest of the series. His control stood out, there was rarely a bad ball. The contest with Virat Kohli was one of most absorbing parts of the series and he claimed his scalp four times, albeit the last one was a heave into the deep.
When Murphy next plays Test cricket is uncertain. Conditions in England for the World Test Championship final and Ashes are unlikely to demand two spinners and back home in Australia it is only the SCG that may, sometimes, call for a twin spin attack. Lyon has a number of years ahead of him depending on how long he wishes to keep playing, but there can now be confidence that when the transition of eras does com, Australia will be well served.

Nathan Lyon's greatness

Speaking of Lyon, he had an outstanding series. His haul of 22 wickets made it the most successful of his three tours to India. He was let down by the batters in Delhi, but in Indore the eight wickets in the second innings wrote another notable chapter in a Test career where the next landmark is 500 wickets. Although rewards were harder to come by on the docile surface in Ahmedabad, his versatility and craft were demonstrated by the way he trapped Shubman Gill lbw from over the wicket.
At 35, he probably won't have another India tour in him, but he has certainly left a mark on Test cricket in the country. "I haven't played guys like Murali or Shane Warne. But among the current crop, he would probably be the No.1 overseas bowler to come and play in India," Rohit Sharma said.

Usman Khawaja's redemption

Usman Khawaja is certainly making up for his lost years as a Test cricketer. Having not played a single Test on his two previous tours of India, his tour-de-force since the recall early last year continued with 333 and runs at 47.57. As much as the 180 he forged in Ahmedabad was the pinnacle - and a moment, he admitted, never thought would happen - it was the innings in Delhi and Indore, particularly the latter, which really stood out. He is now a wonderfully versatile batter as shown by the runs over the last 15 months in Australia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and now India. Providing the leg injury he suffered is not serious, and the signs were encouraging, there is now a chance to return to England for another Ashes, the scene of where he was left out midway through the 2019 series.

Travis Head's rapid change of fortune

Not everything happened by design for Australia, but they have some blueprints for future series on the subcontinent. Leading the list of what they've learnt comes from Travis Head's success at the top of the order after he replaced the concussed David Warner in Delhi. His punchy 43 in the second innings of that match had put Australia on top before they crashed in a heap on the third day. In Indore, he calmly ensured there were no jitters in knocking off 76 then in Ahmedabad looked set to cash in with a final-day century before being defeated by Axar Patel. Although it was possible to make a case based on his numbers, it felt an odd decision to leave him out in Nagpur. The middle-order beckons again in the near future, but he could well find himself back at the top in Sri Lanka in early 2025.

Australia's pace bowling struggle

It was obviously a series dominated by spin, but the lack of impact made by Australia's pace bowlers was a disappointment. Between them, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Scott Boland and Cameron Green managed five wickets. In the first two matches Cummins at times appeared reluctant to bowl himself. Starc and Green had precious little to do in Indore but were expensive in Ahmedabad, albeit on a pitch that offered nothing. On the whole, Australia could not get the ball to reverse swing to major effect as they did in Pakistan last year where it became the defining factor of the series.

Cameron Green can shape the future

There was already a sense of how important Green will be to Australian cricket, but the three recent Tests he has missed due to a broken finger just reinforced the notion. There was a glimpse of the headaches it created against South Africa at the SCG and they were magnified in the first two matches of this series where the selectors had to make compromises each time. His maiden Test century in Ahmedabad was an imperious display, the highlight being his front-foot driving, after he had fought impressively on his return in Indore. Life was tougher with the ball, but perhaps a little rhythm was lacking after the layoff. The challenge now for Green is one of workload as the IPL nears followed by the WTC final and Ashes. He isn't due to go home until August.

Not losing their heads (after losing their heads)

Australia's collapse of 8 for 28 in Delhi will live in their house of horrors but from there the tour did not descend into further chaos as could easily have happened. For tragic reasons they lost their captain while David Warner (elbow) and Josh Hazlewood (Achilles) flew home injured. Ashton Agar also left the tour after confidence was lost in his bowling. However, a longer gap between the second and third Tests allowed the squad to regroup and in Indore they secured a famous victory. There was a sense of vindication within the team that their plans and tactics had been correct.
But it is worth at least pondering the preparation. Andrew McDonald and Steven Smith have been insistent that the brief Sydney camp and few days in Bengaluru was the right way, but they were off the space in Nagpur. There is rightly some cynicism about the value of warm-up matches, and the schedules make it tough to squeeze them in, but perhaps there is a way countries can agree to assist each other for the betterment of the contest by committing to conditions and quality of opposition.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo