Even on the final day, The Oval pitch had no devil in it. The opposition bowling, even if not as erratic as it was in the last two days, wasn’t lethal either.
Yet, with two set batsmen at the crease beginning the proceedings and their wealth of experience, India folded in the very first session of Day 5 as Australia sealed the contest by 209 runs to clinch their maiden World Test Championship crown.
In pursuit of a stiff 444-run target, the resilience put up by Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane during their fourth-wicket partnership on Saturday had certainly raised India’s hopes of taking the game deep. The Australian quicks, led by the consistent Scott Boland, did show some discipline in the first half-an-hour on Sunday, but what made matters easier for them was the Indian batters’ abysmal shot selection.
In spite of the Australians bowling the right line and length, Kohli and Rahane initially ensured they remained steady and got right behind the line of the ball, just as they had done in Saturday’s final session. Boland was the bowler they had to be careful about. And Boland it was who turned the game on its head, striking twice in three balls.
Just like captain Rohit Sharma and No.3 Cheteshwar Pujara had done on the penultimate day, Kohli, on 49, played an equally poor shot to be taken at second slip by Steve Smith, who did well to take the catch off-balance. It was an innocuous, wide delivery from Boland which Kohli could easily have left, but it seems the former India skipper is yet to get over his poking-outside-off-stump syndrome.
Boland struck again soon after, making a clueless Ravindra Jadeja edge to keeper Alex Carey. That double strike practically shut the door on India.
Rahane and keeper-batter KS Bharat hung around for a while, but the former, after putting in so much of hard work across both innings, played a loose stroke to gift his wicket away to the fortunate Mitchell Starc. Australia knew their mission was as good as accomplished.
With India pushed on to the backfoot following Rahane’s departure, it was time for Nathan Lyon to exploit the rough area and have fun as the Australians wrappedup the remaining wickets to win the Test in an extended first session.
Captain Cummins doffed his hat to the difference-making 285-run partnership between centurions Steve Smith and Travis Head in the first innings, after Australia were precariously placed at 76/3.
“We made the most of the toss. We were certainly going to have a bowl. But the way Travis and Smith played, it gave us all a little bit of comfort after a pretty nervy morning (last Wednesday),” Cummins said at the post-match presentation.
Going back to Kohli and Rahane, the shots from both the overnight batters were most baffling to see, especially after their resolve on a difficult fourth-day evening. In a nutshell, such lack of application by the duo and the other established batsmen in the line-up, that too, on a pitch that hardly misbehaved on Days IV and V was extremely unfortunate for Indian cricket as well as its fans.
This Test Championship final wasn’t the first instance of India’s reputed batters’ flop show. In fact, in most of the Tests which the team won en route to both their WTC finals, either the bowlers or a couple of lower-order batters performed to bail the side out of trouble.
This may work in a few bilateral series. But in a mega-event final, the repeated failure of the top and middle-order batsmen can’t just be swept under the carpet. It goes on to hurt badly. It’s high time people who matter in Indian cricket take note of this aspect. Lack of proper planning and even poorer execution are also to be blamed.