India vs Australia: Tougher challenges await, but India a team on the up

India held its nerve in the first India vs Australia Test but the next three weeks present an opportunity for Virat Kohli's team to show mettle.

The fine start in Adelaide, hopefully, will form the building blocks of an enduring legacy for Kohli and his men.   -  afp

Sweaty, happy men attired in whites, relishing a triumph, and huddling together with their captain. Virat Kohli tweets this image from the climax of the first Test that concluded at the Adelaide Oval on Monday. He writes: “Good win. Onto the next one.” Celebrate but move on, is his credo.

Kohli is aware that a hard-fought victory's delirium can trigger complacency. India held its nerve in the first Test and leads 1-0 but the next set of five-day scorchers at Perth (from Friday), Melbourne and Sydney, need to be countered.

The series is alive and it would be prudent to remember the England tour in 2014. India drew in Nottingham and won the second Test at Lord's, riding on Ajinkya Rahane's hundred and Ishant Sharma’s bouncers.

 

Ravindra Jadeja after scoring a swashbuckling fifty, twirled his bat like a Rajput’s sword. There was defiance and the empire had struck back. But England won the next three and that surreal evening at London now evokes a wistful sigh.

Cut to the present, the fine start in Adelaide, hopefully, will form the building blocks of an enduring legacy for Kohli and his men. India has been dominant at home. It is a trait that travelled across the seas, both into Sri Lanka and the West Indies.

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But this year, when the Indians breezed out of the immigration counters in South Africa and England, optimistic talk floundered around weak performances. The first Test at Cape Town’s Newlands was lost by 72 runs. There was a repeat-act in the first Test in Birmingham, the margin of defeat being 31. Those series were lost.

The next three weeks present an opportunity for India to show mettle. Introspecting over the limits of aggressive behaviour, and deeply missing Steve Smith and David Warner, Australia is in a pickle. Yet, the Aussies are always up for a tough scrap and it was reiterated in Adelaide.

India can applaud its traditional batsmen like Cheteshwar Pujara and Rahane. Pujara’s ton was one for the ages and soaked in the rugged spirit of Steve Waugh and Rahul Dravid. Patience was his ally, a smile his riposte when Mitchell Starc and company made not-so-polite enquiries about a few misses.

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Rahane came into his own in the second innings. It is heartening that the duo, benched in the past by a management obsessed with kinetic energy and rapid runs, has revealed steel. 

The openers Murali Vijay and K.L. Rahul too played their parts in the second innings, a fact that Kohli acknowledged but the two should do better. Vijay has to reclaim his extra-sensory-perception around the off-stump. Rahul just cannot waver between the dry toast and the full-course meal. He has to be consistent.

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The bowlers were the unsung heroes. Ishant, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and a tireless R. Ashwin, did all that their captain asked them to do - choke and reap.

But Ishant has to watch his no-balls. He missed two wickets due to his over-stepping tendency. The speedster, who first represented India in 2007, has to show the rigour befitting a senior. Kapil Dev used to say, ‘watch your step at the nets and avoid no-balls’.

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India has some minor headaches. Rohit Sharma has to deliver at the No. 6 slot, Rishabh Pant has to go beyond his cameos and the tail needs to wag. Sanjay Bangar, India’s batting coach, said that even 25 runs from the last few, can make a difference. It is time to correct these flaws while Perth’s Optus Stadium awaits another stirring battle.