A phone call five months before the series even started was the genesis for India outsmarting the Aussies on their home turf.
A phone call five months before the series even started was the genesis for India outsmarting the Aussies on their home turf.

Phone call that brought Australia to its knees

Four days on from the Gabba miracle, it's still difficult to comprehend how the Indians managed to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

India quickly became everyone's second favourite team by defying injury woes and biosecurity bubbles to secure a 2-1 series victory over Australia.

Considering how rare winning away from home is in the modern era, the 2020/21 triumph will be remembered as one of India's greatest ever feats.

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"I'm quite shocked that Australia weren't quite good enough to win this series," former Test captain Ponting told cricket.com.au this week.

"The cold hard facts of it are pretty much that was the India A team that played this Test match and still won."

But as revealed by Indian bowling coach Bharat Arun, the tourists had hatched a plan to silence powerhouse batsmen Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne five months before the Test series had even commenced - and it all started with a phone call from the head coach.

"Ravi Shastri called me sometime in July and said we need to take the off-side out of the Australians," Arun told reporters in a video conference.

"We had our own analysis. Steve Smith and (Marnus) Labuschagne and most of the Australians got a lot of runs out of the cut, the pull and on the off-side."


It was a tactic which quickly paid dividends, with Australia's star batsmen helplessly strangled in the first two Tests of the summer.

India's bowlers relentlessly targeted a leg stump line with a cluster of fielders in catching positions on the leg side.

The opposing batsmen were unable to rotate the strike with ease, and attacking shots also proved risky.

As a result, no batsman in Australia's top six other than Joe Burns registered a half-century in Adelaide or Melbourne.

Smith single-handedly saved an Ashes series off his own bat in 2019, and found success by regularly whipping full deliveries off his pads through mid wicket and square leg.

But the 31-year-old wasn't granted the same luxury this summer, and registered scores of 1, 1*, 0 and 8 at Adelaide Oval and the MCG.

During the Boxing Day Test, Smith was dismissed in both innings after attempting leg glances to full deliveries on the stumps.

In Brisbane, he was also caught clipping a ball to mid-wicket trying to pierce a stacked leg-side field.



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Labuschagne also fell into the leg side trap, regularly offering catches to fielders at leg gully and square leg early in the series.

He finished as the summer's highest run-scorer, but was granted plenty of extra lives at the crease courtesy of Indian's dropped catches.

Realistically, if Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins had not put on a bowling masterclass on day three of the Adelaide Test, India would have almost certainly taken an unassailable 2-0 series lead into the New Year's Test.


Originally published as Phone call that brought Australia to its knees