Did that really happen?
A surreal, breathtaking final afternoon at The Gabba capped one of the greatest Test wins and most memorable series as India hailed a new generation of cricket heroes.
As Australia surveys the wreckage and starts to pick up the pieces, we take a deep breath and identify five things we learned from the thrilling Border-Gavaskar series, which underscored Test cricket’s unique and unrivalled qualities.
India’s classy gesture for Lyon
1. India’s scary depth is the envy of the cricket world
This used to be an Aussie asset, where Australia A were better than England and played Australia in the 1994-95 ‘World Series’ final.
Ricky Ponting, Matthew Hayden, Michael Bevan, Justin Langer… it was a ridiculously stacked ‘A’ team and a classic case of iron sharpening iron.
But try this XI on for size.
KL Rahul, Prithvi Shaw, Virat Kohli, Hanuma Vihari, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah – with Umesh and Kuldeep Yadav to take turns carrying the drinks.
India’s incredible win over Australia
Incredibly, none of that star-studded line-up were members of the motley crew that stormed the ‘Gabbatoir’ fortress.
A wretched run of injuries should have decimated the tourists but all of the replacements stood up manfully.
Turns out having a cricket-mad population of 1.3 billion is pretty handy.
But it also raised the question of what an Australia XI would have looked like under the same circumstances.
The verdict is dubious.
Apart from troubles with opening batsmen David Warner and Will Pucovski, the hosts were at full strength for the series, and still had their pants pulled down in an embarrassing and seismic defeat.
India wins Fourth Test against Australia
2. ‘Best bowling attack in the world’ boasts fall flat
First things first – Australia still has an outstanding bowling attack and it probably still deserves to be rated the best on the planet.
But the India series also revealed some chinks in the armour and Nathan Lyon’s pre-series boasts might have given Ravi Shastri some classic bulletin board material.
It was an incredibly weird series.
After routing India for a record 36 all out in Adelaide, Mark Taylor compared the Starc-Cummins-Hazlewood-Lyon quartet to some of the best Test attacks ever.
And who could blame him?
Cummins traps India wall LBW
But that outlier performance papered over significant cracks elsewhere, as Australia became too reliant on the outstanding Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood.
Cameron Green didn’t take a wicket all series, Tim Paine appeared to lose faith in Mitchell Starc and Taylor is now floating Chadd Sayers and Dan Worrall as possible replacements for the wayward, mercurial left-armer.
But surely James Pattinson must come in for Starc, despite that taking away some variety and left-arm footmarks for Lyon.
While on the GOAT, he was surprisingly and comprehensively out-bowled by his Indian counterparts over the course of the series.
Lyon didn’t bowl badly but India played him superbly – mostly ditching the sweep shot – and it was a massive factor in the final outcome.
The off-spinner was unlucky at times with missed chances and questionable umpiring decisions but also came under fire from Shane Warne and Mark Waugh for his field placements.
Wade strangled for a duck
3. Time to move on from Matthew Wade
The little Tasmanian is tough, no doubt about that.
He’s happy to wear Neil Wagner and Jasprit Bumrah bumpers on his body and stand in the firing line at short leg.
Putting his hand up to open in a crisis was also admirable.
He remains a fine T20 exponent but hasn’t been able to find the right balance between attack and defence in his Test game.
Wade is 33 and hasn’t made a 50 in his last 14 Test innings.
His average has now dipped under 30 after 36 Tests, which is clearly not good enough for a specialist batsman.
Admittedly there aren’t any compelling alternatives but Travis Head, 27, has shown enough to warrant another go and Ben McDermott also has his admirers.
Paine misses crucial stumping chance
4. World Test Championship hopes out of Aussies’ hands
Does anyone care about the World Test Championship?
It’s not a topic that dominates pub conversation but amidst all the Gabba madness, Australia dropped to third on the WTC standings.
Justin Langer’s side remain a chance of qualifying for the June final at Lord’s but those hopes are now somewhat out of their hands.
COVID-19 has cast doubt on whether the tour of South Africa will go ahead.
If it doesn’t, then India and New Zealand will square off in the final instead.
That would be a tough pill for Aussie fans to swallow, given how comprehensively the Black Caps were beaten on home soil last summer.
5. Australian cricket has an identity crisis
There are many strange things going on in the world.
But in a cricket sense Tim Paine’s meltdown is right up there on the confounding scale.
Australia thought it had found its Mr Perfect in Paine, as he went about restoring credibility and respect after Sandpaper-gate.
Tidy wicketkeeper, tidy batsman, likes a bit of stump mic banter but doesn’t overstep that mythical ‘line’.
But were we all hoodwinked?
All that hard work turned to custard at the SCG as Paine took his frustrations out on umpire Paul Wilson then Ravichandran Ashwin – who has well and truly had the last laugh.
Was this the real Paine all along?
The identity crisis suddenly leaves the Australian team in a very strange place.
Many thought a reformed Steve Smith would eventually regain the reins from Paine but the genius batsman had his own controversies this summer.
Huge decisions at another critical juncture in Australian cricket history looms.
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