The locum skipper, Ajinkya Rahane, made a brilliant hundred, claimed victory and was man-of-the-match. That’s a team with its act together.
Another quantifiable factor is that pitches with a bit of character make for more interesting cricket. Who would have thought? The curators in Adelaide and Melbourne can take a bow. Whoever is next should take note.
There is also that each team played five bowlers in this match. It used to be said that five bowlers won’t do what four can’t. Here, it could be said that none of the 10 ever were at risk of being over-bowled, and the siege of the batsmen was never relieved. For India, it meant that the loss of Umesh Yadav early in the second innings did not stretch them unduly.
The difference between this Australia-India series and the last two years ago was supposed to be David Warner and Steve Smith. Warner hasn’t yet appeared, and is no certainty for the next match, venue to be advised. Smith has made 10 runs and has reached a point where he is hesitant even to shape a shot to a ball aimed to or over leg stump. Read that, England, and weep.
The rest of the batting was unable to break India’s stranglehold. In the second innings, their run rate was less than two an over. At no stage did they look able to take the game to India, let alone away.
Cameron Green was the most composed of them all, but even he found himself in an XXL sized straightjacket. He played one astonishing shot to Jasprit Bumrah, a kneeling cut for four, but his next attacking shot was caught at mid-wicket. In two Tests, he has looked the part utterly, but still has not reached 50 nor taken a wicket. They will come.
Deepening the intrigue, both teams will make changes for the third Test in its mystery location. India will further plumb their new-found fast-bowling depth, and perhaps reinforce their batting with Rohit Sharma. They can afford to tinker.
Australia must both change and reshuffle their batting personnel. Joe Burns is shot and while Matthew Wade has been admirable temping as an opener, he is needed back down the order. Compounding considerations is the doubtful fitness of Warner and Will Pucovski. But Australia can’t afford not to tinker.
The final unknown is DRS and its use and misuse. Typically, cricket has tripped itself up on good intentions. Firstly, it granted three reviews an innings to compensate for home umpires. Firstly, that is a slur on the professionalism of umpires. Secondly, the most problematic DRS decision in this match was against the home captain.
Thirdly, three cracks at it means that teams are using DRS to speculate and hope rather than to correct blatant mistakes. Shane Warne is right (you read that right): abolish umpire’s call, and reduce the allowance to one an innings, but empower the third umpire to intervene as he sees fit. Then we’ll see who is gaming the system and who is not.
The moral of this engrossing series at its midpoint is that what happens today is today’s happening, not the status quo. Beaten modern teams are like Mark Taylor was when beaten outside the off stump, able to forget it instantly and concentrate on what comes next.
Right now, it could be anything. As Australia and India repaired to their rooms on Tuesday afternoon, there was less certainty about where they would play their next two Tests than there is about the one after that. On current standings and projections, they will clash in the inaugural Test championship play-off at Lord’s in June next year. It is a prospect to savour already.
Greg Baum is chief sports columnist and associate editor with The Age.