India vs Australia 2013: Five talking points from the Border-Gavaskar series

The 2013 Border-Gavaskar series, like any other India-Australia contest, was riddled with the right and, at times, inflated amount of action, drama, performances and controversies © PTI

By JaideepVaidya

MS Dhoni-led India reversed their 4-0 drubbing in the Australian summer of 2011-12 to vanquish Michael Clarke’s team by a similar margin a year later at home to reclaim the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Like the series in Australia, this was another totally one-sided affair, with the home team requiring less than 15 days of cricket to win four Test matches. Both teams were equally young and inexperienced, but it was India who made ample use of home conditions and played proficiently to their strengths to silence their critics after a tough 22-month stretch.

The 2013 Border-Gavaskar series, like any other India-Australia contest, was riddled with the right and, at times, inflated amount of action, drama, performances and controversies.

Here are the five major talking points from the recently concluded series:

  1. Homeworkgate controversy

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Every India-Australia series has to have a standout controversy that overshadows the cricket and provides for much discussion at the water coolers. While it was Monkeygate in 2007-08 and Fingergate in 2011-12, this series’ controversy was a little different in that it took place off the field and involved only one of the teams.

Australia lost the first two Tests comprehensively in Chennai and Hyderabad as the Indians took an unassailable 2-0 lead. Much was at stake going into the 10-day mid-tour break prior to the third Test at Mohali, especially for Australia. They were facing the prospect of relinquishing the Border-Gavaskar Trophy with another defeat, or even a draw, and the powers that be of the Australian team decided to go back to the basics.

Coach Mickey Arthur asked each member of the squad, regardless of whether they had got a game or not, to prepare a three-point presentation on how the team and the individual could improve. While 18 players made the five-day deadline, four naughty schoolboys did not turn in their homework on time. The class teacher (read coach Mickey Arthur) and monitor (read captain Michael Clarke) decided that the four needed a rap on the bum and decided to suspend the quartet from the Mohali Test. Note that this included the vice-captain of team, Shane Watson; the most experienced bowler, Mitchell Johnson; the most effective bowler in the first two Tests, James Pattinson; and a promising young batsman, Usman Khawaja, who in all probability would have got a chance to play in the third Test.

It was a harsh lesson taught to the team in times of adversity — one that polarised opinion. While one extreme commended Arthur for his no-individual-is-bigger-than-the-team approach, the other side lambasted his shoot-self-in-foot actions and called for his head. The drama intensified as Watson flew back to Australia to witness the birth of his first child and even contemplated taking a call on his future as a Test player. However, Arthur and Clarke were undeterred and stuck by their actions, showing a unified front to the outside world. Needless to say, Australia lost the match and the series in Mohali.

  1. Shane Watson’s form

While we’re still on Watson, the 31-year-old did return to India in time for the fourth Test. And in a reversal of fortunes scenario that would flatter even Shakespeare’s Macbeth, he was made captain for the last match in Delhi — a week after he was axed — due to Clarke’s fitness (or lack of). It was a remarkable turnaround and a remarkable seven days for Watson. He had scored just 77 runs in the two Tests he had played after deciding to come into this tour purely as a batsman. The optimists within the Australian fans hoped that the responsibility of leading the team would reflect in his batting; unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. Watson scored 17 and five at Delhi as Australia went on to get ‘brownwashed’.

Watson has a lot of things to ponder over before Australia embark on the Ashes trip in June. He has said, depending on his fitness, he will take a call soon enough on whether he would bowl or not in England. Australia could surely use a charged-up Watson within their bowling ranks in England’s seaming, swinging conditions. With the batting-only experiment failing disastrously, Watson would be wise to perhaps consider switching his primary trade if he wants to stick to just one, what with rumblings already starting back home on his selection. Some of the shots he played in India that claimed his wicket did not reflect well for a No 4 ‘batsman’ of the perfectionist Australian cricket team. Watson was touted as one of the strong shoulders that the young Australian side would be standing on in India, the other being captain Clarke. But with Watson collapsing like a rotten tree, it didn’t take long for Australia to lose their balance and dismantle.

  1. India winning all their matches after losing the toss

MS Dhoni joked after the Delhi win that he was a bad captain and did not make it any easier for his side by losing all four tosses. On crumbling Indian pitches, winning the toss is like a lottery and the team that wins it and, more often than not, bats first, thereby holding a five-six wicket advantage even before a single ball is bowled. That India still went on to win all four matches — and comprehensively at that — underlines their domination in the series.  Australia were outplayed in all departments: In batting, India got a first-innings lead in all four Tests despite batting second on deteriorating pitches. In bowling, India got 20 wickets in all bar one Test (where they got 19), whereas the most Australia got were 14 even after forcing India to bat last. Even India’s fielding unit seemed much more dogged and sprightly, which is quite rare. The Indians hunted in a pack; their spinners, who bowled a major chunk of the overs, were backed up by chirpy, yet alert, fielders who were snapping at the Australian batsmen’s ankles all the while. The only match where Australia brought out their trademark aggression onto the field was the Delhi Test, but by then it was too late to affect the result of the series.

  1. Partnerships won India matches and the series

MS Dhoni was in one of his jovial moods at the post-match press conference at Delhi, taking a dig at journalists who had criticised him left, right and centre in the last one-and-a-half years. But one of the striking things that he said during the interaction was regarding a facet of the game which had a substantial role in winning the series for India — partnerships. Dhoni stressed that the key factor for India were partnerships and that the team focussed on this aspect more than they did on individual contributions. “We were able to build partnerships; that was the key factor for us. When we were batting, we said what we want [are] partnerships. We don’t [just] want individuals to score hundreds…we laid a lot of emphasis on partnerships. Ultimately if you earn the kind of partnerships we’re talking about, you’ll get individuals who will score centuries. I thought it was crucial that we break [the innings] down, have a strategy, and I thought all the individuals executed their plans really well.”

The Hyderabad and Mohali Tests were half won by India after their two mammoth top-order partnerships — 370 between Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara, and 289 between Vijay and Dhawan, respectively. At Chennai, double centurion Dhoni and Bhuvneshwar Kumar combined for a 140-run ninth-wicket stand that gave India a gigantic 192-run first-innings lead. At Delhi, there were two century partnerships up the order that negated a charged up onslaught from the Australian bowlers. India could have made the margin of their victories even more embarrassing for the Aussies had their tail wagged the way Australia’s did. One of the few positives for the tourists was the fight and pluck shown by their lower order after the specialist batsmen, save Clarke, surrendered all too timidly. It was, thus, inevitable when a joke did the rounds that Australia should have reversed their batting order in order to be successful in the series.

  1. The arrival of Ravindra Jadeja

Ravindra Jadeja had been the butt of all cricketing jokes in India ever since he botched up their chase of 350 against Australia in a One-Day International (ODI) at Hyderabad in 2011. It was a match in which Sachin Tendulkar had scored a magnificent 175 to take India to within 18 runs of their target with almost three overs to spare, only for Jadeja to run himself out and spark an incredulous collapse. From there onwards, whatever Jadeja did was never good enough for the Indian fans. After becoming a regular member of the limited overs setup, even his good performances were met with sardonic applause. He was, of course, made the scapegoat of all losses in which he featured and his eventual selection into the Test team at Nagpur versus England was mocked all over the social media.

Perhaps he turned a blind eye towards all the scorn, perhaps he doesn’t subscribe to social media, perhaps he doesn’t have a messaging service on his cell phone, but whatever Jadeja did, worked. He came into the Australian series as an all-rounder and part-time spinner, or so we thought. The Jadeja jokes went into overdrive when he was picked ahead of Pragyan Ojha in the first Test. However, the 24-year-old responded by taking five wickets in the match and overshadowed the 100-Test veteran, Harbhajan Singh.

“I’m not done yet,” he said, as he went on to improve his wicket tally in the ensuing three Tests, taking six each at Hyderabad and Mohali, and seven at Delhi, including a career-best analysis of five for 58. Even though he did not set the stage alight with the bat, his two boundaries in India’s fourth-innings chase at Mohali probably won his team the match. Coming in to bat after Tendulkar’s dismissal, with India needing 17 off 23 balls, Jadeja eased the pressure off Dhoni, who was untypically struggling to connect. The two fours almost oiled Dhoni’s creaking machine as he went on to smack three consecutive boundaries to win India the match, unfortunately dwarfing Jadeja’s efforts. However, the 2013 Border-Gavaskar Trophy proved that Jadeja is here to stay, whether his detractors on Facebook and Twitter like it or not.