The pink ball conundrum: The big picture of India’s staggering Test performance against Australia

Scoring an abysmal 36/9, the Indian team marked some important milestones in Cricket history that should be closely examined for the future
The pink ball conundrum: The big picture of India’s staggering Test performance against Australia
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The pink ball fired from Pat Cummin’s right hand hit Mohammed Shami’s bowling arm. What was already a low total, hit historic bottom when Shami had to retire hurt, leaving India with 36 runs for nine wickets. The Indian Test team had made a remarkable mark last time they toured, and for that reason, this performance might be unacceptable for most fans. However, at the end of the day, one has to understand that this is test cricket — the finest of all formats — and one good session can turn the match upside down.

A few things make this series different for India than the last time they toured Australia. This is only the second day-night pink ball game they have played. The only previous occasion was at Eden Gardens against a weaker Bangladesh. Besides, the last time they played in Australia, the home team was weaker due to the absence of David Warner and Steve Smith — following the infamous sandpaper incident. Smith’s addition and further strengthening of the Australian team made them an entirely different opposition than last time.

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Prithvi Shaw’s form is concerning for India and his dismissals in both innings, in almost the same fashion, is especially concerning. Just before his wicket in the first innings, Ricky Ponting — Shaw’s coach at his IPL franchise Delhi Capitals — who was in the commentary box spoke Shaw’s flaw and the way to pick his wicket. Ponting explained how Shaw leaves a gap between his bat and pad while playing the incoming deliveries. This same gap was the gateway to his wicket in both innings. Though there is always a scope for getting back to form anytime, it is highly unlikely that Shaw would play the next match, considering his current form. Shubman Gill who had a good practice game would probably replace him.

Though Cheteshwar Pujara went for a duck in the second innings, he would remain India’s most important batsman in upcoming games. Pujara’s first innings play was remarkable for the 160 balls he played. A person looking at the scorecard without watching the game may not be able to appreciate the innings since Pujara has scored only 43 runs. He helped soften the ball, making the play easier for other batsmen. In the absence of Virat Kohli in the coming matches, Pujara would play a big role.

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Indian bowlers in the first innings were astounding, bowling out the hosts for 191, helping to a decent lead. The bowling has to be given more credit, considering a very defensive looking Australian batting side. Even Shami, who was wicket-less, contributed to putting pressure on the batsmen. “Ashwin’s four-wicket haul has put all theories about pink ball assisting pacers in peril”, says Ayaz Memon on Twitter. Aussie batsmen, other than Marnus Labuschagne and Tim Paine, were not able to make any marks.

India lost Shaw very early in the last session of the second day, pushing Bumrah up the order as the night watchman. At stumps, Indians would have hoped to bat the entire third day, but it had ghouls on the pitch that the Indian team was not ready for. Immediately after the dismissal of the night watchman, a series of unfortunate events followed. From 15-1, Indian team shattered to 15-5, and then 19-6, followed by the rest. Meanwhile, Josh Hazelwood picked up his 200th Test wicket. Hazelwood’s five-wicket haul for eight runs is the most economical five-wicket haul by an Australian in 73 years. The score of 36/9 is India’s lowest total in test cricket and the lowest by any team in 65 years. The total is also the seventh-lowest in Test cricket history. The second innings bowling of Australians is one of the finest in terms of line and length, forcing the batsman to play, making them vulnerable to mistake. The total being small to chase, was a matter of few overs for the Australian batsman.

Indian fielding was mediocre. Batting was decent in first innings, but poor in the second. One player India would be missing is Ravindra Jadeja. He could have been India’s fifth bowler and not to mention his fielding skills. For India, what seems like a possibility is, replacing Shaw with Gill and replacing Kohli (who will travel back to India after the first test) with KL Rahul. Shami’s injury is concerning and the picture might become clear in a few days. Even after the defeat, the Indian team could be happy about their bowling.

For a person sitting back home, watching the game on television, pink ball is a joy to watch. The movement of the ball, its visibility and colour are beautiful. However, today, apart from these aesthetics, Indian fans may not have much to cherish about. Like Virat Kohli said in the post-match presentation, “It’s very hard to put those feelings into words.” This is cricket, and nothing is predictable. One can only anxiously wait for the next game.

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