Australia’s last win in India came back in 2004. In 2008, they lost two and drew two. In 2010, they were blanked 2-0. In 2013, it exacerbated to 4-0. When they returned in 2017, few expected them to do better. When they saw the dry pitch in Pune, even those few disappeared.
But Australia stood firm and delivered a win that will be remembered for ages. On a pitch where they were given no chance, the two Steves in the team, Smith and O’Keefe, turned in performances of the highest quality to dump India to their first defeat since August 2015, and first at home since December 2012, inside three days.
O’Keefe was the wrecker-in-chief in the first innings, having taken six wickets during an incredible seven-wicket collapse by the Indians. The left-armer was at it again on Day 3. He added to his six wickets by taking another six wickets for 35 runs (same as in the first innings) as India collapsed to another embarrassing total of 107-all out and lost the game by 333 runs – their second heaviest defeat at home in terms of runs.
The Indians were under immense pressure, facing a record chase of 441. It was ‘Mission Impossible’ on a landmine of a pitch. Australia had spin on from both ends predictably early and it didn’t take long for the cookie to crumble.
Murali Vijay looked tentative at the crease, failing to move his legs much and paid the price. O’Keefe, who had started bowling from the Hill End, where he had had all the success in the first innings, caught Vijay LBW to inflict the first damage. KL Rahul followed in the very next over, trapped on the backfoot to one spinning back in sharply. Along with these two dismissals, India lost both their reviews for the innings as well.
Virat Kohli, on whom most of the hopes rested, got off a pair with a confident flick to the leg side. He got himself to 13 off 36 balls before he missed a ball that went straight on from O’Keefe and shouldered arms. The off stump went to ground, and so did the Indians’ hopes. Ajinkya Rahane adopted an aggressive approach and got himself to 18 off 21 before tamely chipping O’Keefe to Lyon at cover. When Ashwin became the fifth wicket to fall, again LBW to O’Keefe, the question turned from ‘Can India pull it off?’ to ‘Can India at least take the game into the fourth day?’
As it turned out, they couldn’t. O’Keefe wouldn’t let them. He picked up the wickets of Wriddhiman Saha and top-scorer Cheteshwar Pujara (both LBW) to leave India crawling on all fours at 100 for 7.
Nathan Lyon helped himself to a couple of wickets as Ravindra Jadeja and Ishant Sharma lost their wickets cheaply. Every ounce of a fight had disappeared from the Indian team, and when they manage to crawl past 105, their first innings score, it even evoked a sarcastic cheer from the media contingent.
Earlier, India found themselves chasing a record total of 441 thanks to a breathtaking innings from Steve Smith. The Australia captain was dropped as many as four times, but played a truly spectacular knock in between those gusts of luck to slam a sensational hundred.On a tough track, Smith batted with assurance, lightning quick feet and an awareness for gaps that was almost too good to be true. He was able to counter even the most threatening spinners on the most threatening pitches.
Resuming the innings at 143 for 4, Australia lost Mitchell Marsh early. Smith, however, controlled the proceedings with some expert batting to snuff out any hopes of a fightback from India. With Matthew Wade and Mitchell Starc giving him decent company, he was able to push Australia into a position from where they could not lose. As it turned out, they had plenty in the tank, and India none in theirs for a fight.
Brief scores: Australia 260 (Matt Renshaw 68, Mitchell Starc 61; Umesh Yadav 4-32) & 285 (Steven Smith 109; Ravichandran Ashwin 4-119) beat India 105 (KL Rahul 64; Steve O’Keefe 6-35) & 107 (Cheteshwar Pujara 31; Steve O’Keefe 6-35) by 333 runs.