Australia’s win over India achieved in admirable style, and Tim Paine’s team is just beginning
A mid-morning celebration never feels quite as good as one in the late evening, but in this case Tim Paine would hardly have cared.
It was a breakthrough win, a monkey-off-the-back moment for a team that has endured too much and a captain who was lobbed a pinless grenade. After five Tests and five ODIs, Paine has finally led Australia to victory in a cricket match.
More than just Paine’s first win, it was Australia’s first in a Test since the sky caved in in Cape Town, and a first taste of victory for Marcus Harris, Aaron Finch and Travis Head.
It felt fitting that Pat Cummins fell to his knees while taking the game’s final catch, for that’s where Australian cricket has been for most of its nine-and-a-half-month stint between drinks.
It had been said that the easiest way for Australia to win back its uneasy public was to resume winning. That remains true to an extent, but if results alone could inspire affection the Australian cricket team wouldn’t have found friends so hard to come by recently. There needed to be something more than that.
And that’s why this win in Perth carried with it an added significance. It proved Australia can balance both sides of its personality, playing with a definable toughness while remaining well clear of anything that could be considered untoward.
There was short, fast, intimidatory bowling, but it remained in the context of the cricket match. There were verbals, but there was wit behind them rather than pure nastiness, and notably none of the viral videos that emerged from the match featured any bleeped-out words.
India gave as good as it got too, adding to the spectacle. Fans will boo Virat Kohli as a pantomime villain and plenty will join Paine in questioning elements of his personality, but he is an omnipresent spark on the cricket field — the sort that brings Tests to life and transfixes television cameras.
Kohli’s battle with Paine is already a highlight of the summer. Two players in different stratospheres as far as records and rankings go have been thrust into opposition this series and are bringing the best out of each other. Kohli won the battle of the blades, Paine took the wordplay and the match.
Nathan Lyon’s telling triumph over Kohli on the fourth afternoon went some way to him snatching the man of the match award and was the headline moment of his stand-out performance.
Lyon too appears to be a cricketer more at home in this new Australia — cheeky but not abusive, calculating but not conspiratorial.
A classic team effort guides Australia home
It wasn’t a win that leant too heavily on a superstar or two. Every member of the Australian team contributed. Even the misfiring Peter Handscomb was central to the match’s biggest controversy, and took its best catch to dismiss Rishabh Pant on the final morning.
It’s much too early to proclaim the glorious resurrection of Australian cricket, but there should be time to appreciate this for what it is — a much-needed, well-earned success in the middle of a series that is becoming more engaging by the second.
With that in mind, the wait for Boxing Day will feel tortuously long. Cricket Australia has been crying out for a live match at its Melbourne showcase for years, and this one will be about as live as it gets.
Pat Cummins took the last wicket, caught and bowled, while falling to his knees. (AAP: Dave Hunt)
Australia will believe it has turned its corner, has “drawn the line in the sand” as Paine put it, and is ready to get back to its commanding best. India will believe its still ahead of the game at 1-1, with the first two matches considered Australia’s best hopes and the second two India’s. For better or worse, the MCG pitch certainly won’t be anything like this Perth strip.
There will be discussions of changes to both teams, with India almost certain to make alterations to a team that was six-out, all-out in this Test and Australia sweating on Finch’s apparently OK finger and Handscomb’s definitely not OK form.
But for the most part the week will be one of unclouded Christmas cheer, the good feeling around the team sure to carry through until day one in Melbourne, at which point almost anything could happen.
Australian celebrations will be spirited in Perth, but Boxing Day awaits. (AP: Trevor Collens)
As for the Australian players, an hour after the final wicket fell they remained dispersed to various corners of the Perth Stadium playing arena, signing autographs and snapping selfies with countless fans. It must have been the most welcome feeling.
Back on the winners’ list and back in the hearts of at least a portion of the country, these five days in Perth have the potential to be the catalyst for something much more for Paine and his men.