The question was being asked whether India was facing the greatest bowling attack Australia has ever assembled but after two failed fourth innings efforts that claim will have to be put back in its box.
Pat Cummins was rightfully named man of the series for his 21 wickets at 20.04 while Josh Hazlewood was also immense with 17 scalps at 19.35. But the support that dynamic duo received from their comrades didn’t meet expectations and paved the way for India to seal a miracle 2-1 series victory.
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Yes, India showed incredible resilience in the face of adversity as it was ravaged by injuries and lost every toss and yes, Australia’s batting never fully fired. Only Marnus Labuschagne averaged more than 50, the opening combination chopped and changed without success and Matthew Wade failed to convert starts.
But the Aussies still had enough runs on day five in Sydney and every pundit on the planet agreed they had enough runs heading into the final day in Brisbane. The hosts had two golden opportunities to go 2-1 up but both times, they couldn’t land the killer blow in the field.
It’s why, fairly or unfairly, the blowtorch will ultimately be placed on the bowlers.
Mitchell Starc looked out of sorts for much of the series and battled through a hamstring twinge and issues with his landing spot on the crease in Brisbane, going wicketless in the final innings as India stormed its way to 7/329 and completed a historic run chase to hand Australia its first defeat at the Gabba since 1988.
The left-armer was also hot and cold as India batted bravely to hold on for a draw on the final day of the third Test in Sydney, only showing glimpses of his best when it was too late to affect the result.
He took 11 wickets for the series at an average of 40.72 and was the most expensive member of the Aussie quartet — a far cry from the stellar form he showed last summer against Pakistan and New Zealand.
Mitchell Starc tried hard but things never clicked.Source:AFP
Nathan Lyon’s underwhelming efforts were also a major reason behind India’s incredible achievement.
Playing his 100th Test in Brisbane, the stage was set for the tweaker to spin Australia to victory. But, as was the case in Sydney, he couldn’t make the crucial breakthroughs Australia needed.
Spinners are expected to do the damage on the final day of Test matches because pitches have deteriorated and generally take more turn. The surface at the SCG didn’t break up as much as everyone expected, which dented the offie’s impact, and in Brisbane it was more about the quicks targeting widening cracks and exploiting variable bounce.
But Lyon still showed he could be a threat, extracting huge turn when he found a crack and grabbing two wickets, including the vital scalp of Shubman Gill for 91.
Unfortunately for the Aussies, that magic was few and far between as India held him at bay.
Starting the summer with 390 Test wickets, everyone assumed Lyon would crack the 400 mark at some point in these four Tests. That he was only able to take nine wickets — leaving him stranded on 399 — at an alarming average of 55.11, was a damning indication of his impact.
“It’s hard to avoid the fact that he’s gone from 390 to 397 very, very slowly,” cricket broadcaster and writer Geoff Lemon said on The Final Word podcast midway through the fourth Test.
“We were anticipating that he would get to 400 in this series and now he might not across four Test matches, which is pretty mind-blowing when you think about it.”
The image below highlights Australia’s biggest problem in the bowling department.
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Not all of Australia’s bowling quartet fired this summer.Source:Supplied
Shane Warne lost his mind in commentary on the final day, unable to believe Lyon was bowling without a bat-pad on the off-side. He also accused Lyon of bowling far too straight and attacking middle-and-leg stump, when he should have been throwing the ball wide outside off stump to challenge the outside edge of the bat too, not just the inside edge.
“When you’re bowling at leg stump, you’re only challenging one edge. You need to challenge both edges of the bat,” Warne told Fox Cricket.
“When he bowls out there (outside off stump) he looks so dangerous. Why aren’t you bowling there all the time, Nathan?
“That’s why he’s been successful for 100 Test matches. Nathan Lyon is very close to taking 400 wickets. Why is he changing his tactics today?
“I’m staggered that Nathan Lyon is bowling at leg stump, around the wicket outside leg stump, and not bowling to his strength.”
The Spin King’s prophecy turned out to be true, as Lyon finally nabbed Gill when the young gun pushed at a wide delivery that caught the edge and found Steve Smith at slip.
Lyon bowled without luck.Source:Getty Images
However, it’s important to note how different things could have been as Lyon had more catches dropped off his bowling than anyone else this series.
Rishabh Pant’s match-changing 97 in Sydney could have been stopped twice had Tim Paine held onto outside edges from his off-spinner, and the Aussie captain missed a stumping chance when Pant was on just 16 on day five at the Gabba.
The Indian gloveman would remain unbeaten on 89 at the end of the match and hit the winning runs in what he described as his greatest memory on a cricket field.
There were also countless inside edges onto pads that went flying within whiskers of close-in fielders throughout the summer, so Lyon has every right to feel short-changed with his wicket tally.
But the reality is he wasn’t threatening enough, often enough, which is partly why day five in both Sydney and Brisbane went bust for the Aussies.
Warne said Lyon and Starc needed to bring their A-game on Tuesday for Australia to have any chance of winning, because the home team couldn’t rely on Hazlewood and Cummins to do all the damage — like they did in Adelaide when they bowled India out for 36 in the second innings.
Sadly, that A-game was missing for much of the series, and Australia paid the price.
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