Back to the drawing board for panicky Australia after another India failure
A confident Australia landed in India with genuine hope of winning their first Test series in the south Asian nation in nearly 20 years but they head to the third match in Indore with a 2-0 deficit and a chorus of criticism ringing in their ears.
The honeymoon for Pat Cummins’s captaincy is well and truly over after the six-wicket capitulation in New Delhi, and few of his team mates have been spared the wrath of furious former players and pundits.
“I’m disappointed, I’m shell-shocked – angry about the way we went about our work,” former Australia captain Allan Border said on broadcaster Fox Cricket after Cummins’s team lost nine wickets in a session to hasten defeat on Sunday.
“It was panicky, frenetic batting.”
After a dominant home summer, Australia had ambitions of emulating the great 2004 team that beat India 2-1 away to cement their status as global champions.
The tour has instead been little short of a disaster, with untimely injuries, bewildering selections and familiar batting failures against quality spin bowling – all after opting against playing a single tour match.
“Major, major, major mistake,” former Australia captain Michael Clarke told Australian radio.
“There should have been at least one game over there to get used to the conditions.”
After Australia were skittled for 91 in the series-opener in Nagpur, Cummins called on his batters to be more proactive against the wiles of India’s peerless spin trio of Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel.
They duly over-corrected in a bizarre morning session on Sunday when six batsmen fell to sweep-shots, including Steve Smith who rarely plays the stroke.
They have other concerns on the road to Indore.
Injury has ruled paceman Josh Hazlewood out of the series, while Cummins flew home on Monday due to a serious family illness.
Fitness queries remain over opening batsman David Warner, all-rounder Cameron Green and paceman Mitchell Starc.
For all that, should Australia find a comfortable medium between the extremes of timidity and manic attack in their batting, they may be able to salvage something from the last two Tests.
Their spinners have proved a handful for Rohit Sharma’s side, with Nathan Lyon leading the way with seven wickets in New Delhi following Todd Murphy’s excellent seven-wicket debut in Nagpur.
Staff and players have ample time to pore over the loss and regroup, with a nine-day break until Indore starts on March 1.
But with the Border-Gavaskar Trophy locked away in India once again, Australia’s dreams of global domination are irreparably broken, even if nominally they remain the world’s top-ranked Test nation.
“We’re not shying away from the fact that we felt like we were a good chance in this series,” head coach Andrew McDonald told reporters.
“We felt like we were well-equipped for it and we failed in those first two Test matches.”