HANDS up if you saw that coming.
Come on now… how many would have predicted a 2-1 series win for India after the disaster of Adelaide in the first Test, when the tourists were bowled out for their lowest Test score of 36 to get thumped by a triumphant Australian team?
And how many would have said the Indians would ultimately turn that disaster around without their talisman Virat Kohl, who went back to help change some nappies after the humiliation in the City of Churches?
Also how many predicted that even though a depleted team won in Melbourne at the Boxing Day Test and survived in Sydney with more big stars missing, that a side with a bowling attack formed of players who had played four Tests between them would help set up a run chase of 328 at a ground where the home team had not lost since 1988?
And finally in this amazing summer, just how many believed that even after that remarkable draw in Sydney that this Indian side that had been battered from pillar to post and had nine changes from the one which took to the field in Adelaide, would chase down that 328 with three wickets and three balls to spare to round off a remarkable win at The Gabba and a even more remarkable 2-1 series success?
The answer to all those questions would be … not many… and if you were one of those who believed in India after Adelaide then firstly you probably needed your head read or you were the most diehard fan from the sub-continent ever.
To put it quite simply, this was arguably one of the greatest series wins from any country in Test history, given the circumstances.
The Indians were down and out after Adelaide and with Kohli leaving, that just piled the pressure on his deputy Ajinkya Rahane.
But if he felt any pressure as he led from the front in the Boxing Day Test to level the series.
Rahane lost the toss and would have feared the worst as Tim Paine won the toss and batted.
But an attack shorn of Mohammad Shami, who had his arm broken in Adelaide, bowled the Aussies out for 195.
Rahane stepped up in the Indian reply to score his team’s only century of the series as the tourists won by eight wickets.
With the series tied at 1-1, Steve Smith, who had been strangely subdued, broke from his shackles to score a century on home soil as the Aussies set up what looked likely to be a comfortable victory.
But with The Rock Cheteswar Pujara denying the Australian attack with a painstaking 77 and Rishabh Pant scoring at will with a brilliant 97, the tourists were able to draw after at one stage looking like chasing down an unlikely victory target.
India’s best fast bowler, Jasprit Bumrah and their best spinner, Ravi Ashwin, plus star all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja were all injured in that Sydney Test, meaning India was forced to dig deep to find players for the final Test at The Gabba.
Ajinkya Rahane with India’s only ton of the series
Off-spinning all-rounder Washington Sundar (debut) medium pacer Shardul Thakur and Thangarasu Natarajan (debut) were all drafted in, tasked with taming an in-form Smith and home-town favourite Marnus Labuschagne.
Everything looked like it was going according to script as Labuschagne hit a ton in Australia’s first innings.
But with India reduced to 6-195 at one point, that’s when the tide turned in what had already been a series with more swings than a fairground.
Sundar and Thakur combined for a fearless 100-run partnership which stunned the Aussies and took the Indians close to parity.
Still Australia was favourite, don’t forget they had not been beaten in Brisbane in 32 years.
Australia then posted 294 to set up a chase of 328 after rain had set in late on day four.
Again the home team were odds-on to secure the win.
Surely this Indian side, shorn of so much talent and with so little experience, could not do what they had done in Sydney.
But they went all in and raised a determined draw at the SCG to a fantastic win at The Gabba, where the previous best successful run chase was 236 some 70 years previously.
Again it was India’s young stars… this time Shubman Gill (91) and Pant again, who smashed an unbeaten 89, to lead the Indians home.
Pujara too was a star on the final day, taking blow after blow from the Australian bowling attack, but still managing to score 56.
The recriminations have already begun after India’s remarkable success.
India celebrating retaining the Border Gavaskar Trophy at The Gabba
Is Paine still the man to lead Australia?
What is wrong with Mitchell Starc?
And why, on big turning wickets like the SCG and The Gabba, couldn’t Nathan Lyon spin Australia to big wins.
The answer is predominantly, even though a lot of pundits might not be able to admit it, that they were beaten by the better side.
Maybe no one wants to say that because that would suggest that India’s back-up players had been better than Australia’s first-choice ones.
But sadly for coach Justin Langer that was the truth about a summer which had started on the most positive of positive notes.
So where did it go wrong from the Aussies’ perspective?
Firstly, their star performers, other than Smith and Labuschagne, did not play to their usual high standards.
Starc looked bereft of ideas when the ball didn’t swing (after Adelaide) and Lyon, had no answer to how the Indians (the best players of spin in the world), played him.
Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood once more stood up but without help from all-rounder Cameron Green, who is still searching for his debut Test wicket, by the end of the final Test, they looked shell-shocked.
There is no doubt that even though the Indians’ side was weakened after losing the likes of Kohli, Jadeja, Bumrah, Shami, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav, the players they brought in might have been inexperienced Test players but they have benefited from playing in the Indian Premier League.
Mohammed Siraj only made his debut in the second Test in Sydney after Shami’s injury but claimed 13 wickets in the series and was was rewarded with his first five-wicket haul in Brisbane where he was tasked with leading the visitors’ attack despite only having played three Tests.
India was certainly a damaged side by the time it arrived in Brisbane but the young brigade of Gill, Pant, Sundar and Siraj, certainly played with a freedom maybe not seen before in Indian Test cricket.
Australia didn’t really have an answer and that’s the biggest problem for Langer and Paine.
They have to look at why, in two consecutive Test matches, on wickets that were offering a lot of help to bowlers on the final day, could they only manage to snare 12 poles… drawing one and famously losing the other.
A Test series in South Africa in February is next on the agenda for Australia, depending on COVID-19.
There has been talk that the Aussie selectors need to swing the axe, with Starc, middle-order batsman Matthew Wade, opener Marcus Harris and under-performing quick Starc all under the microscope.
Tim Paine’s captaincy has been called into questions by some of the media
Wade and Harris look most likely to be made the scapegoats for the humiliating defeat to India, with Langer leaping to the defence of Starc after his poor performance over the last three Tests.
Paine too is most likely to hold on to the skipper’s armband and the keeper’s gloves, even though, he too has been below par this summer.
India is now the No.1 Test team in the world and faces home and away series against England before the Test Championship final at Lord’s in June.
New Zealand at this stage is their likely opponent with Australia needing to beat South Africa to stand any chance of making the top two.
Perform as they did over the last three Test matches and that is unlikely to happen.
It seems everything is not as rosy as it seems in the Australian Test match garden at the moment.