A week ago in Nagpur, Australia’s batting collapse in the first Border-Gavaskar Test came while trailing badly with no realistic route back. It was not ideal but broadly made sense. A week later in Delhi, their collapse was the second surrender of ascendancy in the match. In the second innings they had allowed India’s last three partnerships to reduce Australia’s three-figure lead to a single run. In the third innings, the visitors were 66 ahead on a pitch where 180 might well have been enough, only to lose their last nine wickets for 59.

Over the previous year and a half, as these Australians prepared for and undertook a multi-series Asian odyssey to Pakistan, Sri Lanka and now India, there has been a formula to questions about batting preparation. The paraphrased answer was like this: “Everyone is different, so guys will be coming up with their own plans. Whether that’s the sweep and reverse sweep, or whatever it may be.”

Watching Australia get bowled out for 113 on Sunday, the thought occurred that the implied broadness at the end of that answer might actually cover an absence. The verbal equivalent of an encompassing wave of the hand at a panoply of options might in truth be a vague gesture in the direction of nothing at all. Perhaps all this time, the sweep shot was the only addition that most players had to business as usual.

The only other specific note to emerge publicly from Nagpur was Steve Smith’s encouragement to play positively, after that collapse preyed on defence from the crease. Seeing Travis Head make 39 from 40 balls opening the batting on the second evening further encouraged the rest to copy his approach after he got out on the third morning.

So the Delhi sequel became a manic parade of cross-batted wallops, combining the sweep doctrine and the attack doctrine, as though each player thought that their survival was a lottery and the only chance was a scoring frenzy before the inevitable end. On a pitch with bounce keeping low, against top-line spinners in Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, the end came quickly.

The irony was that Head didn’t play the sweep. He used his feet, hit straight, and showed judgment about when to attack. He and Peter Handscomb were out to excellent deliveries that curved in and turned to take edges to slip. Marnus Labuschagne misread length, wanting to back away and force Jadeja through the off side before losing his stumps to a fast straight one. Those three were the only non-sweep casualties.

Usman Khawaja, top scorer in the first innings, had gone on the second evening, playing a lap sweep without considering the leg slip. He middled the shot but hit it straight at the catcher. Smith made three epic hundreds in India in 2017 and barely played the sweep in any of them, but went to it here and played over the top of the ball, leg before wicket. The same for Matthew Renshaw, after under-edging one sweep and top-edging a reverse sweep off middle stump for his third and fourth runs in three innings in the series.

Ravindra Jadeja celebrates after taking the wicket of Australia’s Nathan Lyon. Photograph: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

Patrick Cummins had a whole drinks break to think about his first shot, and responded with an almighty mow towards deep midwicket that had no business being anywhere near a ball of full length and flat bounce. He became the first Australian captain since Greg Chappell to be bowled first ball. Alex Carey’s reverse sweep was comical, his front leg coming so far across that all three stumps were visible, a cinch for Jadeja to slide one behind him and hit timber. Again, shot bore no relation to ball.

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Nathan Lyon and Matthew Kuhnemann had both batted well in the first innings but kept the pattern here, Lyon a cross-bat slog and Kuhnemann a reverse, both deflecting on to their stumps. Jadeja couldn’t believe his luck. He just had to keep bowling straight and let the rewards come, finishing with career-best figures of seven for 42. Asked during his player of the match presentation whether sweeping was the right method against him, his spontaneous laughter said it all.

India’s batters hardly swept in either innings, losing one wicket to the shot and picking off a few lap sweeps when the ball was safely heading down the leg side. They also played with calmness while mixing attack and defence. By contrast, two frantic Australian innings have already ensured that the Border-Gavaskar Trophy will remain in Indian hands. Now the visitors have an extended break before the third Test to figure a way back into the series. The plan will need a thousand times more nuance. The only sweep that India will be planning is of the series 4-0.


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