As many had predicted, Australia did indeed lose their series in India. In the final analysis, they were twice thrashed and shaded one of the two draws: it was a humbling series, leading many to question whether they are the best side in the world any longer. India were disappointing in their recent series with Sri Lanka and South Africa – so, if the latter can gain a draw and a win from their two up-and-coming series, they could justifiably call themselves the world’s best.
Amidst all the gloom, there were three significant positives to emerge for Australia. Off-spinner Jason Krezja made a spectacular debut in the final game, claiming twelve scalps – although his economy rate of almost five illustrates that he received plenty of stick. But a wicket-taking spinner, even one who needs to improve his control, is something Australia needed and may just have found.
Shane Watson, batting at number six, mirrored Andrew Flintoff’s role in the England side. And there were signs the enigma can replicate his limited-overs form in Tests. He found batting hard, but hinted that he is capable of Test hundreds. And his reverse-swing and control evoked Flintoff: he was Australia’s best seamer. That was not saying too much, however, as Brett Lee had a torrid time, Stuart Clark proved toothless and Mitchell Johnson struggled after a fine start. From this vantage point, England will hope to have the better pace attack come next summer.
Finally, the unobtrusive Simon Katich had a fine series, averaging nearly 50. Unlike England with Mark Ramprakash, Australia have ignored age and past Test failings to reward first-class brilliance: Katich, with three hundreds in seven Tests since his recall, is fully vindicating them. His minimalist technique and eschewing of risk, save for the very occasional injudicious shot, made him invaluable at the top, while he even displayed the ability to dominate the bowling. Just as Justin Langer transformed himself from tenacious scrapper to top-order dominator, so could Katich.
But, save for Michael Hussey, the other batting was disappointing. Matthew Hayden fought hard but appears in decline: Australia’s selectors must be tempted to select Shaun Marsh soon. Ricky Ponting faded badly after beginning with a century, ensuring his record in India remains grim.
In the absence of Andrew Symonds and a spinner in whom they could trust, Australia’s team selection and on-field tactics were more confused than for years. Cameron White, a spinner who barely bowled, batted at eight, leaving Australia with only three bona fida bowlers. And Ponting resorted to a part-timer, in Michael Clarke, too much – he bowled only eight overs fewer than White – even though Katich looked the far more threatening spinner. His over-reliance on spin on the fourth afternoon of the final Test led Allan Border to criticise him for putting pocket before country. Had he bowled his seamers instead of part-timers, the over-rate would have suffered more, as would Ponting’s pocket – but Harbhajan and Dhoni may not have been able to share a crucial hundred partnership.
Amidst all the talk of empires ending, it is worth recalling that Australia were beaten in India in 2001 too. But that series was won by Herculean, career-defining efforts from Harbhajan Singh and VVS Laxman; man-for-man, no one thought Australia the inferior side. On this occasion, they have simply been worn down by a side superior in top- and middle-order batting, wicket-keeping, spinners and even, almost incredibly, pace. That is something altogether more worrying.