Defied By A Rejuvenated Kohli, Australia Fall Short In Test Cricket’s Toughest Challenge

In a notable contrast to the firebrand of his youth, India superstar Virat Kohli calmly waved his bat to the faithful at the 132,000 Narendra Modi Stadium which was only sparsely populated but the noise was still deafening.

The rowdy fans were jubilant to see their hero finally score a Test ton after a three-year drought with Kohli looking relieved in a celebration that also underlined a growing maturity and perhaps inner peace for the devoted family man.

On a flat surface, veering sharply from the raging turners earlier in the series, Kohli wasn’t going to miss this opportunity on the fourth day as he batted Australia out of the match with their dreams of a series-levelling victory evaporating every time India’s No.4 nurdled the ball to the leg-side.

It wasn’t his most exquisite ton, in fact it was quite dreary at times, but Kohli’s determination and focus never wavered to blunt Australia whose confidence had grown after a shock upset in the third Test.

Kohli’s 186 lifted India to a 91-run lead on the first innings meaning there were only two results possible on the final day – a victory for the hosts or a draw. There were fears a flagging Australia, showing signs of wilting after a taxing tour and two days in the field, would crumble on the last day of the series.

But after the early wicket of nightwatchman Mattthew Kuhnemann, it became pretty obvious that this lifeless pitch was going to trump the venom of spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.

As an incredible finale was playing out in Christchurch, with a last-ball victory from New Zealand over Sri Lanka lifting India into June’s World Test Championship final against Australia, the dreary last day in Ahmedabad was not a good advertisement for Test cricket.

The surfaces in the series were too skewed with little competitive balance between bat and ball in a disappointment. But of intrigue will be the WTC final in the neutral surrounds of the Oval in London.

The WTC final is essentially a glorified shoehorned prize, in the sport’s gatekeeper’s desperate bid to provide context into the warhorse of a long format, with qualification an absolute mishmash and incomprehensible.

Still it should be a riveting battle on a much fairer surface between two teams who appear relatively well matched.

Even though it was an admirable performance, considering playing in India is the toughest challenge in Test cricket, Australia ultimately fell short. They will rue several factors which made their task of ending a near two-decade drought in India even harder.

Firstly, a lack of preparation – with most of their batters having played in the Big Bash League ahead of the tour – meant they were on the back foot early in the series and a couple of horrific batting collapses almost predictably ensued.

They were, however, unlucky to have been without emerging star allrounder Cameron Green, who missed the opening two Tests. He showed why he’s rated as the most exciting prospect in cricket with a debut international century in the fourth Test.

At just 23, Green is rapidly becoming the most valuable player in cricket – as underlined by his recent mega $2 million deal in the Indian Premier League – and he’ll surely be Australia’s talisman next time they tour for five Tests in 2027.

But for many of his veteran teammates, this figures to be their last Indian tour and the end of their hopes of capturing the biggest prize in Test cricket. The likes of Steve Smith and Nathan Lyon, who was magnificent in the series and cemented his stature as an all-time great spinner, probably won’t return to India in four years.

They will likely never taste the holy grail of Test cricket, but can experience a consolation with a triumph in the WTC final.

The one-off match in neutralised conditions looms as a better gauge on determining who is the better Test team.