India has won the Border-Gavaskar Trophy for a fourth consecutive time, defeating Australia 2-1 after a gruelling four-Test series in the subcontinent.
After three low-scoring affairs on raging turners, the tour ended on a batting paradise in Ahmedabad where four players reached triple figures — a stalemate was unavoidable.
Australia and India will face off again later this year in the World Test Championship final, which is scheduled to get underway at The Oval on June 7.
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INDIA REMAINS THE FINAL FRONTIER
Nineteen years and counting …
Winning a Test series in India remains the final frontier for Australia, with its latest escapade to the subcontinent ending as another failure.
The 2023 Border-Gavaskar Trophy was the final opportunity for Australia’s senior players to conquer India. But Usman Khawaja, David Warner and Nathan Lyon have fallen short three times in 10 years.
Steve Smith and Mitchell Starc, both aged 33, are also unlikely to return in 2027, with the Australian stand-in captain confessing this will probably be his last Border-Gavaskar Trophy in India.
What makes it so difficult to win Test cricket in India? The host nation has lost just three matches on home soil since the start of 2013, winning 16 consecutive Test series during that period.
The most glaring answer, of course, is the vastly different conditions, with humid weather and dry pitches that turn sideways on day one.
But more importantly, India’s Test side is packed with talent. Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli are modern greats of the game, while Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have unrivalled records on home soil. The Indians were also without Jasprit Bumrah and Rishabh Pant, arguably the best all-format paceman and wicketkeeper respectively in world cricket.
There’s no shame in losing 2-1 to a team of this quality in their own backyard, but the Australians would be the first to confess they made their fair share of mistakes over the last six weeks.
Matthew Kuhnemann wasn’t named in the original squad, Travis Head was dropped for the series opener, Josh Hazlewood flew over despite nursing an injury, and Ashton Agar’s treatment could have been better.
Hindsight is 20/20, but Australia’s horrific collapse of 8-28 on day three of the Delhi Test was the difference between a series loss and a historic triumph. That chaotic hour ultimately decided the series.
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“It’s been a tough challenge,” Lyon said after the fourth Test.
“Coming over here against India, we know it’s going to be tough, but it’s been rewarding. I think our group can take a lot out of it.
“Some areas where we can improve, but some proud moments in there along the way.”
Looking ahead to 2027, what can Australia do to prepare for their next venture to India? Australia A tours to the subcontinent are a must — Todd Murphy and Kuhnemann have repeatedly credited their success during this series to last year’s Australia A series in Sri Lanka and the camp at Chennai’s MRF Academy.
Marnus Labushcagne and Head, both on their first Test tour of India, also will have learnt some valuable lessons which will stand them in good stead for 2027.
FUTURE OF AUSSIE SPIN STOCKS IN SAFE HANDS
The future of Australia’s spin stocks looks healthier than ever after the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
Todd Murphy and Matthew Kuhnemann, both uncapped before the tour, collectively finished the series with 23 wickets, supporting veteran tweaker Nathan Lyon across the four gruelling matches. Indian coach Rahul Dravid said Australia’s spin attack was the best his team had faced in more than a decade.
“Both of them, in their first series, played with really good composure,” Australian stand-in captain Steve Smith said in the post-match presentation in Ahmedabad.
“No doubt they’re going to learn a lot out of his series.”
Despite being an off-spinner like Lyon, Murphy was given his baggy green ahead of the series opener in Nagpur, taking a seven-wicket haul on Test debut — he became the youngest Australian spinner to snare a five-fa in Test history.
Kuhnemann was rushed to India ahead of the second Test, taking 5-16 in Indore to help Australia secure a nine-wicket victory.
Lyon was undeniably Australia’s most consistent spinner across the series, but it’s reassuring for national selectors that Murphy is primed to replace the 35-year-old when the time comes. Fingers crossed, there won’t be a repeat of the post-Warne debacle, where Australia cycled through a dozen spinners in six years.
“I think you get the confidence that (Murphy) can transition into all style of pitches all around the world,” Australian assistant coach Daniel Vettori told reporters last week.
“(Kuhnemann) gets an increased amounts of revs on it, and so that’s going to be his differentiator.
“If he remains as consistent as he has been in there, then he can put a lot of pressure on. He gets a lot of drift and spins the ball hard.
“So I think that’s the other factor that allows you to think these guys can compete on all kinds of surfaces.”
Unfortunately, it may be a couple of years before Murphy and Kuhnemann don the Australian whites again, with Lyon showing no signs of slowing down despite entering the twilight of his professional career.
But Murphy in particular has cemented his status as a future star of Australian cricket, and looms as a critical figure for the 2027 Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
GREEN IS A ‘ONCE IN A GENERATION’ TALENT
If anyone doubted Cameron Green belonged at Test level, the West Australian proved them wrong in Ahmedabad.
The 23-year-old silenced any linger critics by cracking a swashbuckling 114 in the series finale at Narendra Modi Stadium — not only did he tick off a huge personal milestone, but the young all-rounder once again proved he’s capable of success in all conditions.
Green’s the real deal, a future superstar who, injury permitting, could shape Australia’s middle order for years to come.
“You feel more like a Test cricketer when you’ve got that monkey off your back,” Green told reporters on Friday. “It’s so special.”
Green confessed the finger injury, which kept him sidelined for the first two Tests of the series, was still causing him grief in Ahmedabad.
Despite the ongoing pain, the right-hander put India’s seamers to the sword in the fourth Test, having contributed a gritty 21 on a raging turner in Indore the previous week.
“I hope you tuned into the IPL auction, it just tells you how the Indian cricketing fraternity rates Cameron Green,” Indian spinner Ravichandran Ashwin said of Green, who was picked up by the Mumbai Indians for AU$3.15 million in the Indian Premier League Auction.
“I think he’s a fantastic player.
“Just the raw materials for a person as tall as him, lovely levers, good batting sense, can bowl and really hit the deck well, moves pretty well in the field.
“These are once-in-a-generation cricketers you are talking about.
“We come from different countries – India is very different. We can’t protect such players for a long period of time. It’s perform or perish.
“But in countries like Australia and England, they’re doing pretty well at (protecting players) and I expect Cameron Green to be a wonderful cricketer down the line.”
The Australian Test side feels more balanced with Green in the starting XI, and you can’t help by wonder what impact he could have had in Nagpur and Delhi. He will become a crucial figure in the Test side when Steve Smith eventually hangs up the boots.
WORLD’S BEST BATTERS DISAPPEAR
Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith, No. 1 and No. 2 on the ICC Test batting rankings respectively, were crucial to Australia’s plans for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
Smith was unstoppable on Australia’s previous tour of India in 2017, plundering three centuries in a career-defining performance, and the tourists were relying on him to replicate those feats six years later.
Meanwhile, having scored a breakout century in Sri Lanka last year, it was hoped Labuschagne could carry that subcontinent form through to the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
Alas, they both disappeared when Australia needed them most.
Smith averaged 29.00 across the tour with a high score of 38 — it marked the first time he didn’t reach fifty in a Test series with at least three innings.
All five of his dismissals were against spin bowlers, twice bowled through the gate and twice caught behind on an outside edge.
Meanwhile, Labuschagne was guilty of making starts throughout the series but not going on with them — he registered scores of 49, 17, 18, 35, 31 and 28 not out in the first three Tests, departing just when Australia desperately needed him to steady the ship.
The Queenslander didn’t pass fifty until the last day of the final Test in Ahmedabad, when the contest was already destined to finish as a draw.
His gritty 28 not out in the second innings in Indore was the lone highlight in an otherwise underwhelming campaign for the world’s No. 1 Test batter.
“There’s a lot of learnings from this series,” Labuschagne told SEN.
“I got a lot of starts, and unfortunately didn’t go on with them all.
“I learnt each Test a little more about what shots are tougher to play (in India).”
Usman Khawaja was the only senior batter to step up in the series, with opening partner David Warner also struggling on India’s turning decks.
Australia will need all their experienced players contributing in England this winter for any chance of retaining the coveted Ashes urn.
WHO SAYS KHAWAJA AND HEAD CAN’T PLAY SPIN?
Six years ago, Usman Khawaja was dropped for the series opener of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in India, despite coming off a prolific home Test summer, because national selectors feared he couldn’t play spin.
Travis Head can relate.
Both left-handers were branded home-track bullies early in their respective Test careers following a couple of poor performances in the subcontinent.
Khawaja averaged 14.61 with the bat in his first five Tests in Asia, which was enough evidence for Australian selectors to drop him for the 2017 India tour.
The 36-year-old, of course, has since become Australia’s most consistent batter in the subcontinent, averaging 74.68 with the bat in 11 Tests since 2018.
“I’ve been told my whole life I’ll never score a hundred in the subcontinent,” Khawaja explained to reporters last week.
“It was a self-fulfilling prophecy in its own way, because people started saying that, and perception is reality. Any time I got out to spin, people would say, ‘You can’t play spin,’ and then I probably started believing it myself.
“I didn’t get support from the people around me at the time. Didn’t really feel like the team really supported me, didn’t feel like the coaching staff and selectors supported me through that journey. It just made it so hard.
“I’m a better player of spin now, I have no doubt in my mind.”
Meanwhile, Head was omitted from last month’s series opener in Nagpur following underwhelming tours of Pakistan and Sri Lanka in 2022, where he averaged 15.16 across five matches.
The South Australian was rushed back into the side ahead of the Delhi Test, plundering 235 runs in the following three matches. He top-scored for Australia in the second innings of all three Tests he played in the series.
Head is still hunting for an illusive maiden away Test century, falling agonisingly short in the series finale in Ahmedabad, but the 29-year-old doesn’t have to look far for inspiration.
Khawaja didn’t score an away century in the first five years of his Test career, yet has since become Australia’s most reliable batter in foreign conditions.