After a drizzly end to a Test series where the result had been known four days ago when India walked off with 622, Tim Paine looked back with regret at the series’ opening two days in Adelaide and said he believed if chances had been taken then the 2-1 scoreline could have been reversed.
Even though this series has been crammed into a month, as India celebrated in front of a small gathering of fans, it felt a long time ago that India were 5 for 86 on the opening day of the campaign. Cheteshwar Pujara’s masterful hundred – his first of three for the series – lifted India to 250, but that still offered Australia the chance to take a lead. However, to set a trend for the series, they slipped with the bat and ended up conceding a small lead which India converted into a 31-run victory.
Although Australia levelled in Perth, the slower pitches in Melbourne and Sydney stymied their ambitions and India were comfortably the better team. One more dry day in the final Test and it would probably have been 3-1.
“We honestly feel that we let that [Adelaide] Test slip,” Paine said. “We thought we had a number of opportunities to go well ahead of the game and when those key moments came up India outplayed us to be honest. Looking back now, if we’d won that Test, we win Perth, outplayed in Melbourne then a washout it could have been 2-1 the other way. It’s funny, in a big series of four Tests you go back to a couple of key moments in the very first Test where we let ourselves down and you get to the end of the series and it’s really hard to take.”
Paine lauded, and was no doubt envious of, India for having key players take charge of vital moments in the series: Pujara in Adelaide, Bumrah in Melbourne and Pujara again in Sydney.
“We are really disappointed. We know we had some guys missing but we honestly felt coming into the series that, in Australia in particular, that we could beat India but, throughout the series, more often than not, when those big moments came up, Virat has scored runs, Pujara has scored runs, Bumrah has bowled a great spell and we couldn’t quite get through those moments.
“That’s why India won this series, their best players stood up in the big moments – when they were falling behind in a game one of their good players dragged them back into the contest, or when they were in front of the game they put their foot on us and put us out of the game like they did in Sydney and Melbourne.”
Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon emerged from the series in credit, but there were slim pickings elsewhere. It was a series that was always going to challenge the depth of Australia’s batting without David Warner and Steven Smith, but the numbers have been chastening with just eight half-centuries and a top score of 79 by Marcus Harris.
It was Harris and Travis Head who Paine picked out as being the gains – while also praising Marnus Labuschagne’s return to the team – and suggested that their chance for exposure at Test level could benefit the team in the future. While it is certainly true that Harris has taken his chance, Head’s series faded after half-centuries in Adelaide and Perth.
“From a batting point of view, you look at what Marcus Harris and Travis Head have been able to do they are two examples of guys who might not have played any Test cricket at this stage. They’ve got an opportunity through an unusual situation and I thought both those guys acquitted themselves really well. This India attack was seriously good, I don’t think in Australia we’ve given them enough credit for how relentless they were, it was hard work batting against their attack for seasoned Test players. For Marcus and Travis to show they have got the game to make runs against the best attack in the world is a real positive.”
“For some of the guys in their third-fourth Test maybe it’s hard to look and say ‘I haven’t scored any hundreds’ but Marcus and Travis showed, and Marnus in the first innings [in Sydney], that they can score runs in Test cricket. Sometimes it’s difficult when it seems so far away, but we have three players there who are one innings away from really breaking through.”
Australia’s two most experienced batsmen, Usman Khawaja and Shaun Marsh, scored one half-century apiece. The squad for the first Test against Sri Lanka will be named on Wednesday and Khawaja’s place is not under threat, but the debate around Marsh will be intense. Paine, who is not a selector, endorsed the pair and also the under-fire bowling unit.
“I think everyone in our top seven didn’t play as well as we would have liked. Both of those players we know are absolute class, we know they can score a lot of runs. We have faith in them going forward. The group of bowlers we have in this team have been fantastic for quite a while now. They didn’t have their absolute best series but it’s not easy at this level and that can happen.”