Cheteshwar Pujara’s finest hour of glory in overseas conditions was complemented by Jasprit Bumrah’s superb skill-set, the duo standing taller than the rest in India’s maiden Test series win on Australian soil.
What made their performance more special was that they were able to overshadow even Virat Kohli, who has always stood head and shoulders above his peers in adverse conditions.
Pujara, who didn’t have a lot of noteworthy performances outside the sub-continent, finished with 521 runs in four Tests, which included three hundreds with a top score of 193 and an average of 74.42.
No one deserved the ‘Man of the Series’ award more than the dependable No. 3 from Saurashtra, whose dogged hundreds at Adelaide and Melbourne made it easy for the likes of Bumrah (21 wickets) and Mohammed Shami (16 wickets) to press home the advantage against a below-par Australian batting line-up.
Such has been Pujara’s dominance, that skipper Kohli’s aggregate of 282 runs paled in comparison.
However, if a threadbare analysis is done on the quality of the five hundreds that Indian batsmen struck during the series, Kohli’s century on a virgin Optus Stadium track, rated “average” by the International Cricket Council, was the best.
Rishabh Pant, with his 159 not out did his case no harm, emerging as the second highest run-getter with 350 runs to his credit.
One of the biggest takeaways from the series was rookie opener Mayank Agarwal (195 runs) holding his own at the biggest stage with half-centuries at the MCG and SCG.
Bumrah led from the front
On the bowling front, Bumrah’s emergence as a force to reckon with in red-ball cricket has been one of the reasons that India starts on even keel in any Test series across SENA (South Africa, England, New Zealand, Australia) countries.
Bowling from a eight-step run-up with a slinging action, Bumrah was lethal as he rocked the Aussies in their own den with raw pace and incisive movement off the pitch, creating all sorts of confusion in the minds of the batsmen.
With a workhorse like Ishant Sharma (11) and Mohammed Shami, who can every now and then produce a wicket-taking delivery, the Indian pacers accounted for 50 out of the 70 Australian wickets during the series.
Jadeja, Kuldeep shine
Ravindra Jadeja came back for the last two Test matches of the series, picking seven wickets and scoring a half-century, again giving proof of his all-round utility.
Wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav shrugged off the disappointment of his inauspicious performance at the Lord’s during the England series, with a maiden five-for outside India, prompting coach Ravi Shastri to call him a serious option for Test matches in all conditions.
Mayank and Kuldeep’s emergence as potent Test weapons could certainly be ominous signs for the Tamil Nadu duo of Murali Vijay and Ravichandran Ashwin.
While skipper Kohli made it clear that Ashwin’s regular fitness breakdowns in foreign conditions is a cause for concern but the burly off-spinner will still be a handful when India start playing in familiar terrains at the end of this year.
End of road for Vijay?
But it could well be the end of the road for Vijay, a veteran of 61 Tests and nearing 35 years of age.
After a nightmarish series in England, Australia was no better for the right-hander, who till 2017 was India’s most technically accomplished opener.
With only 49 runs in four innings, Mayank playing a stellar hand and Prithvi Shaw waiting in the wings, it is bad news for Vijay.
KL Rahul, with 57 runs from five innings, has also had an extended run of bad patch but age is on his side and the talent is unquestionable.
One of the batsmen who has had modest returns is vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane, who scored 217 runs in four games at an average of 31, with two half-centuries.
While his place may not be under imminent threat, Hanuma Vihari’s gritty show and ability to bowl occasional off-breaks would force the Mumbaikar to keep his guard up.