Adelaide Test victory one to savour, but much to ponder for Virat Kohli’s India
Virat Kohli's India became the first to win the opening Test of a tour of Australia. @AFP

First, England beat Sri Lanka away from home in a Test series, and then New Zealand broke Pakistan’s stranglehold over UAE last week. And now, India, looking for their first victory in Australia since 2008, come up trumps by winning the Adelaide Test by 31 runs.

If home sides dominating Test series over the last decade was a clarion call for change, the year 2018 will go down as one that challenged that norm.

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Winning the first Test of a series hasn’t been achieved by visiting Indian sides too often, and that this was the first time an Indian team had won the first Test of a tour in Australia speaks volumes of the gumption shown by Virat Kohli’s team, especially on that first day when they were reduced to 19 for 3 after electing to bat. In both the first and the second innings, it was Cheteshwar Pujara’s patient and dogged effort that pulled India out of trouble, with the batsmen around him growing in confidence in the second innings.

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And yet, it could have all gone down so very differently had the Australian tail survived a few more overs. Take nothing away from them, as Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon and Josh Hazlewood combined to score 107 runs out of Australia’s 291 all out in the second innings, falling just 31 short of their 323-run target. Compare that to India’s lower order in the second innings, where the last four wickets fell for four runs, and the last five for 25.

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While Australia may go back to the drawing board in order to regroup ahead of Perth, India would do well in addressing their areas of concern. If one were to revisit that stat of India’s rare Test victories in the first Test of an away series, they haven’t gone on to win most of those series, except in New Zealand and West Indies over the last decade. On many of those occasions, they have frittered it away, bowlers unable to continue bowling with the same intensity as they had begun.

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Ravichandran Ashwin was expected to run through the Australian lower order on a fifth day Adelaide Oval surface, but it wasn’t until the last wicket fell that he was able to make a breakthrough. This was after Lyon had conjured up six wickets on the fourth day. That primarily has to do with the drop-in surfaces used everywhere in Australia except the Sydney Cricket Ground, which means pitches don’t deteriorate over the five days anymore. To add to that, he sent down 52.5 overs for his three wickets in the fourth innings, and more such outings for India’s lone spinner in the XI would no doubt grind him down.

R Ashwin wrapped up the Test with the wicket of Josh Hazlewood to seal a memorable win
R Ashwin wrapped up the Test with the wicket of Josh Hazlewood to seal a memorable win. @AFP

On Australia’s part, they would be immensely proud with the way the lower order hung around and kept the hosts in the game right up until two balls before the tea interval. With every edge flying over the slip cordon, every no-ball and every boundary, Kohli’s frustrations were visible, even though he claimed to be patient and told his teammates to calm down at the presentation ceremony. He admitted Australia’s lower order was perhaps one of the top three in the world, and as India have experienced in England, not something they want their bowlers to toil with.

Despite the areas of concern, the victory must be celebrated. The agony of falling 48 short at the same venue four years ago must have rankled Kohli. After all, it was perhaps his finest performance in a Test match to date, scoring hundreds in both innings and then seeing a similar lower order collapse unfold. Twice this year alone, India came close in the first Tests in South Africa as well as England, but lacked the final touch.

Kohli’s celebrations made it obvious as to how much it would have meant for a team that has faced immense criticism over the past away series, and more so because it has already started playing on Australia’s nerves. Celebrations are definitely in order, but with three days to prepare for the second Test, whether India can put the same XI on the field will remain their biggest factor. Whether or not they have a strong enough bench remains to be seen.

Perth will provide a completely new challenge to that of Adelaide, and even though India have the bowling to match the conditions, their batting must see improvement. KL Rahul, Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane showed maturity in shelving their natural instincts in favour of spending time at the crease in the second innings, and they would like the rest of the batting group to do just that.

In what has been a difficult 2018 on the road for the Indian Test team, they have finally begun a tour with victory after falling behind and chasing the opposition for much of this year. And through Pujara’s patience, Ashwin’s tirelessness and Kohli’s shear zeal, India can find their inspiration to go all the way.