Australia went from ‘underdogs’ to slayers of world No 1 India in the space of three days at the first Test in Pune, setting off delirious celebration among their supporters.
The Aussie media hasn’t missed any spin, putting down everyone who had written off Steve Smith’s side.
The favourite target though is the man Aussies love to hate -- Harbhajan Singh. The former spinner, whose 32-wicket haul sparked India’s grand comeback series win at home in 2001, had declared the Aussies will be routed 4-0.
Bhajji nil, Australia 1
Now, Australian news website news.com.au has dubbed Bhajji “The Colossal Clown” in a take on all those who had predicted doom ahead of the tour.
There is no love lost between the Aussies and Harbhajan, who was at the centre of the ‘Monkeygate’ row on the 2007-08 tour and almost led to India abandoning the series midway after he was initially slapped a ban for ‘racial slur’. India completed the tour after the punishment was reduced to fine for ‘abusive language’ on appeal.
The article revisiting the predictions quotes Harbhajan’s combative comments: “If Australia play well, India will win 3-0. That is if Australia play well. Otherwise, 4-0. Looking at the composition, this is the weakest Australian side to tour India.”
Former skipper Sourav Ganguly, who captained Harbhajan in that 2001 series and another India player the Aussies love to hate, is “The Sheepish Shocker”.
Ganguly’s reminded of his prediction: “It will be very difficult for Australia. I predicted before the England series that it would be 5-0. It became 4-0. Australia will go the 4-0 way against India. I will be very surprised if India don’t win 4-0.”
Aussie greats not spared
But Indians need not feel alone. Aussie spin legend Shane Warne may be the country’s highest wicket-taker, but he is “The Flipping Failure”. The colourful Warne had expressed surprise when Steve O’Keefe was brought on after lunch on Day 2, backing Nathan Lyon to do the job.
“When you first start a session you want to set the tone and put pressure on the Indian batsmen and, without trying to be too harsh on Steve O’Keefe, this is the weakest of the Australian bowlers. You can understand Steve Smith trying to give him confidence, but there is a time and a place for Steve O’Keefe to get his confidence, right now is the time for Australia to ram home the advantage with Nathan Lyon I believe at that end. I think Steve O’Keefe might get a wicket and that would be great, but I think Nathan Lyon is a better chance of taking a wicket.”
Warne spoke too soon
Maybe, Warne can blame skipper Smith for switching ends for O’Keefe, who then demolished the Indian batting.
Former Aussie spin great is “The Mistaken Mallet”. Ashley’s crime? “Smith is not a risk-taker as captain, so chances are Australia will field a safety-first 11 for Pune. That means O’Keefe for (Mitch) Swepson and maybe Ashton Agar or even Mitch Marsh for Maxwell. Pity.”
The man who gets the thumbs up is former skipper Steve Waugh, who disagreed with Ganguly’s prediction that Australia will be swept aside while picking Ravichandran Ashwin, the world’s top-ranked bowler, as the main threat. He had advised: “He’s the player I think we have to overcome, and if we can do that we have a chance.”
Former off-spinner Jason Krejza knows what it takes to claim 12 wickets in a Test in India, having done that in a losing cause on the 2008 tour.
Krejza’s different angle
So, what did Krejza predict?
“Steven O’Keefe will — if he bowls well — succeed because his seam angle is very similar to the way the (Indian spinners) bowl. He can undercut it a bit which is why he doesn’t spin it a lot in Australian conditions and he’s extremely accurate. So bowling to right-handers, he’s beating the bat on both sides — if it doesn’t spin he can get inside edges or straight on to the pads for LBWs. And if it does spin, then he’s going to get the edge.”
Now, Ravindra Jadeja, Warne’s ‘Rockstar’, is the only left-hander in the Indian line-up, and he bats at No 8.
O’Keefe had four of his six second-innings victims trapped leg before, while skipper Virat Kohli was sumptuously bowled shouldering arms to a delivery which held its line.