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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 18 January 2019

Australia v India first Test takeaways: Priceless Pujara and agony for Paine

India won a Test series opener on Australia soil for the first time on Monday

Cheteshwar Pujara scored knocks of 123 and 71 to help India to a 31-run victory over Australia in the first Test. EPA
Cheteshwar Pujara scored knocks of 123 and 71 to help India to a 31-run victory over Australia in the first Test. EPA

Priceless' Pujara proves difference between the sides

While the quest for runs proved problematic for batsmen in the first Test, India's Cheteshwar Pujara proved he was up to the challenge. His knocks of 123 and 71 were the fulcrum to both Indian innings and key to the tourists clinching a dramatic 31-run win, rather than falling to a confidence draining defeat in Adelaide.

India captain Virat Kohli hailed Pujara's efforts as "priceless" after the match, while his Australian counterpart, Tim Paine, said the No 3 was "the difference between the two sides". And you cannot argue with either verdict. India had slumped to 86-5 in the first innings before Pujara's 246-ball 123 dragged them to a respectable 250, while his partnership with Ajinkya Rahane in the second meant Australia were left chasing a victory target of 323 that proved just out of reach.

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Top of the order is a major headache for Australia

Stripped of their key batting trio of former captain Steve Smith, his deputy David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, quite where Australia were going to get their runs from up against the world's No 1 Test side was always going to be a major concern for the home side.

In the first home series since the ball-tampering debacle in South Africa – and with Smith, Warner and Bancroft suspended – only one Australian batsman in each innings managed to reach 50: Travis Head (72) in the first and Shaun Marsh (60) in the second.

The top three of Aaron Finch, Marcus Harris and Usman Khawaja managed just 73 runs between them over four innings, which means the pressure in on going into Friday's second Test in Perth.

After the match on Monday, Australia coach Justin Langer admitted they were "still searching for that top three" and were "going to keep making changes 'til we get it'". Finch is the man most under pressure with big discussions down under about if he can be trusted in the opener's role or whether he needs to drop down the order. Perth could be Last Chance Saloon to prove he can cut it at the top.

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'Shattering' defeat and finger fright piles on the agony for Paine

For Paine, the Adelaide defeat was agonising for a multitude of reasons. The loss – that Paine described as "pretty shattering" – was only the fourth time in 30 years that the Baggy Greens have been beaten in the first Test of a home series. He managed just five runs in the first innings and even a battling 41 in the second came at a price, when the 34-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman was hit with a nasty blow to an old war wound by Indian bowler Mohammad Shami. He was struck on the same right index finger that has required seven separate sets of surgery after first breaking it in 2010.

He batted on after treatment – with the finger strapped up – and he was clearly in some discomfort, though Paine insisted afterwards that he will be fit for Friday. The last thing Australia need right now is more drama with a captain.

India captain Virat Kohli, left, celebrates with spin bowler Ravichandran Ashwin after beating Australia to win the first Test at Adelaide Oval. AFP
India captain Virat Kohli, left, celebrates with spin bowler Ravichandran Ashwin after beating Australia to win the first Test at Adelaide Oval. AFP

Captain Kohli will be looking for runs to go with the records

While Paine was nursing his wounds, Kohli was rejoicing after a historic match. India claimed their first victory in a Test-series opener in Australia and Kohli became their first captain since Anil Kumble to win a Test in the country since 2008, only the team's sixth success in the long format down under.

Kohli also became the first Asian captain to win Tests in South Africa, England and Australia, while India became the first team from Asia to win a Test in those three countries in the same calendar year.

And, ominously for Australia, the 30 year old achieved all of this while barely contributing with the bat – managing just three and 34 in Adelaide.

And, make no bones about it, Kohli loves batting in Australia. In the 2014/15, he smashed 692 runs, including four centuries, at an average of 86.50 ... and India lost that series 2-0! Any sign of Kohli finding anything like that sort of form and the Border-Gavaskar Trophy will be safely in his hands next month.

Tim Paine speaks to the media ahead of Australia's second Test match against India in Perth. EPA
Tim Paine speaks to the media ahead of Australia's second Test match against India in Perth. EPA

Have the Aussie mongrels lost their bite?

Australia's cricketers were firmly in the doghouse after the ball-tampering scandal when a scathing review back home saw them criticised for "playing the mongrel" against opponents on the field. Paine had promised that this was a new era for Australian cricket – but that begs the question: stripped of their usual in-your-face aggression, would Australia still have the bite required to win Test matches?

A battling five-day effort in the first Test suggests they still have plenty of fight in them and Paine insisted that their performance showed that you did not have to "carry on like a pork chop" to compete at the top level.

Updated: December 11, 2018 08:04 PM

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