Well, what a rollicking game of cricket that was!
This was another absolute belter of a Test match that had everyone talking even before the first ball was bowled at the new Optus Stadium.
Photos of the green-top drop-in pitch that surfaced a day before, Ravichandran Ashwin’s side strain that forced him to miss the contest and the debate about the Australian batting line-up were all topics of conversation. But when all was said and done, the Australians won their first Test since March.
Along with winning the toss for the first time, it was Tim Paine’s first win as captain, leading the team to a convincing 146-run victory.
These are my five takeaways from Australia’s series-tying win.
1. Captain consistent
Tim Paine’s consistency in this series and in this Test in particular has been exactly what you want from your captain. He isn’t an Adam Gilchrist or Brad Haddin with the bat, but his glovework is top notch and his cool and calm demeanour in the field allows him to think through every situation and captain beautifully.
But above all, his batting has been invaluable to the Aussies, with consistency among the top six a slight issue. While he is averaging just 30, he is behind only Travis Head and Marcus Harris of the top-six batsmen.
Excluding the first innings in Adelaide, he has scored 41, 38 and 37 in some tough situations, especially the second innings in Perth, when the pitch and Indian quicks were wreaking havoc.
The price he puts on his wicket and his ability to bat in tough periods has greatly helped the Australians, especially in this Test.
2. Shami’s spell
The after-lunch spell that Mohammed Shami produced on Day 4 was outstanding. Bouncing out Tim Paine, Aaron Finch and Usman Khawaja in quick succession was a beautiful piece of aggressive fast bowling.
Claiming 6-56 in the second innings, his ability to get both the old ball and the new ball to play up off the fiery Perth pitch breathed a bit of life into the Indians, who had gone a little quiet after a hard first session.
For a bowler who usually pitches the ball up, giving it every chance to move and seam off the deck, this fiery spell of short-pitched deliveries was ferocious and, in Tim Paine’s case, unplayable.
3. Petey’s got a problem
As much as I don’t want to be saying this, the proof is in the pudding with Peter Handscomb and his technique at the moment. His high back lift, how deep he stands in the crease and his attempts to cut too close to the body have given the Indian quicks plenty of options in trying to dismiss the Victorian captain.
Handscomb has the worst average of all the batsmen at 17 and has made a total of 68 runs across four innings, which is only five runs more than Mitchell Starc. While he has made runs at Test level before, his first four knocks this summer have been less than convincing.
He may struggle to keep his spot for Boxing Day if Australia decide to play an all-rounder, but his catching has been superb, having taken six catches – the most in the series – with a couple of class ones in Perth.
4. Exciting Indians
Besides the obvious in Virat Kohli, the Indians have some genuinely exciting players in their team. Ajinkya Rahane’s stroke-making is second only to Kohli’s, but the two I want to touch on are Rishabh Pant and Jasprit Bumrah, who are massively entertaining to watch.
Pant’s constant chatter behind the stumps and carefree attitude to batting, resembling a T20 innings rather than that required for Test cricket, are great viewing, as is Bumrah’s ten-step run-up and 140-kilometre-per-hour thunderbolts that sling out from his windmill-like action.
Both are young and exciting prospects for India, and I’m sure they will produce more entertainment on Boxing Day and in the Sydney Test to come.
5. Pitch perfect
Mark Waugh summed it up the best when he said he would be happy for this pitch to be placed on a flatbed and driven around the country to be played on at every ground. The pitch played such a huge part in how entertaining this Test match was.
There was plenty in it for the bowlers, with both Nathan Lyon and Mohammed Shami taking five-wicket hauls, but batsmen still had the chance to make runs on the pitch, with Kohli making a top-notch ton and six others making half-centuries.
That’s what will ensure the survival of Test cricket – level playing fields that guarantee a contest between bat and ball. After last year’s subdued pitch and how well the first two wickets have played in Adelaide and Perth, the pressure is on the MCG to produce one that holds similar qualities as the ones we have already witnessed this summer.