AUSTRALIA TOUR OF INDIA, 2017
Australia series review: Warner’s spin struggles, Renshaw’s rise and more
Tristan Lavalette • Last updated on Tue, 28 Mar, 2017, 08:10 PM
While Cummins impressed on his Test return, Warner’s struggles against spin continued. © AFP
A gallant Australia overcame dire prognostications to produce a gritty and commendable performance in India. However, despite being so close to causing a major boil over, Australia ran out of puff towards the backend to lose the series 2-1 and relinquish the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
It means Australia’s drought in India extends to 13 years but, encouragingly, they were able to finally win a Test match in those arduous conditions and serve it right up to their vaunted hosts almost to the bitter end.
From an Australian perspective, here is some of the wash up of an absorbing series, which rates in the shortlist of the most memorable Australia has been part of this millennium.
Best Batsman: Steve Smith (499 runs; average – 71)
Australia’s inspirational captain was almost a one-man batting band much like how predecessors Allan Border and Michael Clarke often were in yesteryear. With his deputy David Warner mired in a form rut, the burden was heavily placed on Smith who handled the pressure with aplomb.
Smith became the first Australian to score three centuries in a series in India and ended, at least momentarily in the Test format, the debate over who is the best batsman in the world. Many had Indian captain Virat Kohli at the head of the list but his struggles meant he was completely overshadowed by his opposite number.
Smith was almost impregnable and, unlike some of his teammates, was decisive against spin with precise footwork marked by a penchant to dance down the wicket. In challenging conditions, Australian batsmen had to shelve the shots in a bid to bat for the long haul but most struggled attempting to recalibrate their game.
Conversely, Smith found the right tempo between stout defence and counterattack to produce some of the best batting by a foreigner on Indian shores. Many legendary Australian batsmen have felt the pinch in India, which further fuels Smith’s candidacy as an all-timer.
Astoundingly, the 27-year-old is only just entering what should be his peak batting years but has already notched 20 Test centuries.
Smith’s overwhelming success in India ensures he stacks up favourably against Ricky Ponting, who is generally acknowledged as Australia’s best modern batsman but had difficulty in India.
If Smith continues to pile on the runs he could very well finish as the second greatest Australian batsman ever behind the incomparable Sir Donald Bradman.
Smith was inspirational in a major tick of his captaincy but the only blight was several contentious moments, most notably the infamous ‘brain-fade’ of the second Test and then being caught by cameras calling Murali Vijay a ‘f***ing cheat’ for claiming a bump ball.
Despite his youthful exterior and composed batting, Smith is innately a firebrand and he occasionally finds it difficult to contain his petulance. In recent times, he has spoken about a desire to amend his demeanour and exude more positivity in the field.
Smith’s leadership and example set in the field had been almost faultless since the ruins of Hobart helping fuel a swift Australian resurgence through sheer force of will. However, as he acknowledged in the aftermath of the series, Smith let the suffocating pressure get to him in India during those aforementioned forgettable incidents.
It speaks highly of Smith that he was willing to put his hand up and acknowledge his mistakes. Undoubtedly, it is a good learning experience for Smith, who is still relatively early in his captaincy reign.
Best Bowler: Pat Cummins (8 wickets; average – 30)
Australia’s bowling attack was unwavering and gritty continually keeping the vaunted Indian batsmen on their toes. Every bowler had their moment in the sun, particularly spinners Nathan Lyon and Stephen O’Keefe who each claimed a commendable 19 scalps for the series although their fortunes suffered notable extremes.
Josh Hazlewood, who was Australia’s best bowler during the home stand, was typically consistent and held up an end but gradually lacked penetration as the series wore on perhaps testament to succumbing to fatigue.
With spearhead Mitchell Starc returning home due to injury after the second Test, Australia was robbed of their talisman and match-winning bowler. Predictably, Australia was largely written off for the remainder of the series.
Instead, the visitors received a tonic from injury-prone talented youngster Pat Cummins, who dazzled in his long-awaited Test comeback. In the final two Tests, Cummins produced consistently withering spells to ensure he always looked like being able to make a breakthrough. He has a rarefied ability to produce zip off sedate pitches and make things happen during quiet stretches.
Due to his worrying history with injury, Cummins was a selection gamble but the punt turned out to be inspired as the 23-year-old reminded everyone of his magical talents. Cummins’s blistering bowling was an intoxicating glimpse of Australia’s future.
Australia is already salivating a combination consisting of Cummins, Starc, Hazlewood and James Pattinson, who coincidentally was simultaneously making an eye-catching comeback in the Sheffield Shield.
Far away, England undoubtedly would have been quaking in their boots with a looming Ashes to be played on bouncier Australian pitches.
Biggest disappointment: David Warner (193 runs; average – 24)
The tour of India loomed as a pivotal juncture for Warner, who was coming off a white hot Australian summer complete with breaking numerous records. However, Warner has had a lingering question mark next to his name due to struggles in conditions either favouring spin or swing.
Muddying further his reputation, Warner had a disastrous series managing just one half-century for the series. The 30-year-old had no answer for his arch-nemesis Ravichandran Ashwin, who strangled Warner’s belligerent batting and frustrated him into numerous mistakes.
He tried to back his aggressive game but seemed to be caught in two minds knowing Australia’s mantra for the series was to bat for the long haul and shelve the outlandish shots. He was unable to properly adjust in a highly disappointing series for Australia’s gunslinger.
With much at stake, personally and for the team, Warner failed to come to the party fuelling an unwanted reputation of being merely a bully in his own comfortable terrain. Australia’s next Test assignment is a proposed tour of Bangladesh in August – Warner will be hoping the series eventuates in a bid to prove the doubters wrong and restore his plummeting standing.
Emerging Star: Matthew Renshaw (232 runs; average – 29)
Matthew Renshaw was the breakout star during the Australian summer, which hit a crescendo during his maiden century against Pakistan at the SCG. Despite all of that, Renshaw was not seen as an automatic selection for the series against India because of his inexperience, particularly against the spinning ball.
Dispelling those concerns, Renshaw scored an invaluable half-century on the opening day of the series and his grittiness set the tone for Australia’s resoluteness. Since coming into the team after the Hobart debacle, Renshaw has instilled Australia’s previously temperamental batting order with necessary gravitas.
Perhaps predictably, Renshaw tapered off scoring just 24 runs in his final three innings yet he was the only Australian batsman other than Smith to score more than 200 runs for the series. Inevitably, Renshaw has some kinks to work out, particularly playing away from his body, but, amazingly, he seemed more assured and reliable than his superstar opening partner.
Having just turned 21 on the last day of the series, Renshaw could very well prove to be a mainstay in Australia’s team for the next 15 years.