That wasn’t just a loss. It was a flogging from the First Fleet era. As it unfurled, its Antipodean witnesses began a many-voiced wail of lamentation that continues today.
It would serve Australia’s cricketers well to ignore it.
Australians don’t lose well. Australian fans and journalists lose far worse than the players themselves. “But what are we going to do?” the onlookers cry with a tone of indignation, as though such a result were an affront against the natural order of the world itself.
At times like this, it seems that only the players understand that it isn’t.
Yes, it was a mighty hiding. Two Indian batsmen scored 371 runs between them in one innings, while 11 Australians managed 368 across a combined 22 trips to the crease.
That’s a bit embarrassing, and would make a few batsmen want to go and hang out in Nathan Lyon’s secret cubby house to hide for a while.
But honestly, did anyone expect this Australian team to go to India and win?
In the lead-up to every India tour, we’re reminded of Australia’s difficulties there, and how interim captain Adam Gilchrist in 2004-05 led the only winning tour since Bill Lawry in 1969-70.
Indian conditions are difficult for Australian players, while the home team is a fierce prospect on its own grounds. Far from yesterday’s collapse being an anomaly, it was the 18th time an Australian Test side has been bowled out or forced to declare for under 200 in India.
Australia at present has an inexperienced side lacking in top-line players. They’re trying to develop those players, and cover a few gaps where they can. If Steve Waugh’s side couldn’t win a series in India, why would we expect Michael Clarke’s to?
India has similar trouble when they visit us. While they’ve come close a couple of times, they’ve never won a series in Australia, and have won only five Tests since their first attempt in 1947/48. The summer before last, they were thoroughly pantsed by close to the same team they’re now pushing around.
Despite India’s batting arsenal in 2011/12, they rarely threatened. They were routinely confined to sub-par totals. But while supporters were disappointed, they didn’t freak out. They understood it was very hard for the away team to win in the home team’s conditions.
This is what a large chunk of the Australian fans seem to have lost track of. Australia’s match wasn’t all terrible. They did well to restrict India to 503 after the monster partnership between Cheteshwar Pujara and Murali Vijay.
Teams have conceded 500 and gone on to challenge, if they have the batting. Australia didn’t. They collapsed instead. Some days, this happens. Some tours, it happens. Just ask India a year ago.
But that doesn’t mean you have to throw out the whole set and start again. Virat Kohli’s Australian tour started with 11, 0, 23, 9, and 44 – surely enough to have Australian fans demanding a drop, were his passport a different shade.
Since he found touch with a second-innings 75 in Perth, he’s scored four centuries in nine Tests.
Following yesterday’s loss, Australian fans are demanding answers, demanding solutions. This isn’t the time. There are no quick fixes. This Australian team has to stay together, train together, play together, and inevitably sometimes lose together, in order to figure out how to win.
Dropping players is always the first idea of the armchair selector, but no domestic batsman is demanding to be signed up as a replacement. It would be nice to have Usman Khawaja strengthen that top six, but there’s a shortage of space unless the selectors give up on all-rounders.
Playing Lyon and Xavier Doherty at the same time could have seen Australia get by with four bowlers – Doherty bowled better and better as the match went on. But with Moises Henriques’ impressive debut, and a diamond duck yesterday, he probably deserves another shot.
Phil Hughes’ run has been horrid, but only a few international innings ago he was in great form, and India was never likely to suit him. Swapping him out for Khawaja might be a kindness, if it’s understood that it’s just for the remaining two Tests.
More than Hughes, who is seen as a prospect for the future, a non-bowling Shane Watson looks vulnerable. As the senior batsman behind Michael Clarke, his record is modest – two centuries and an average of 36 after eight years of Test cricket and 73 innings.
Ed Cowan, too, has had plenty of critics. But the adopted Tasmanian is important in this team, the lone pugilist in a line-up of swordsmen.
Like it or not, this is pretty much the batting line-up for the Ashes. In England the team will revert to traditional lines – the keeper at seven, Khawaja to round out the top six, and four bowlers to form the attack. Australia’s pace battery will have friendly pitches, with Lyon to offer support where required.
Those who collapsed yesterday are our most likely batting prospects, and most are still under development. That they will fail sometimes is inevitable; that they would fail in India was always a strong prospect.
Their best chance to succeed, and to eventually make Australian cricket fans happy, is to stop their ears, avert their eyes, and block out all the sounds of those same fans currently being miserable.