In the hallway of the broadcast area of Adelaide Oval straight after play, former Australia Test bowler Damien Fleming was wide-eyed.

“I see it, I see 36, but I don’t believe it,” he said. “It’s insane. The last time I saw that would have been under-12s.”

His disbelief is understandable. How does a team – the modern, professional India team from the world’s most famously cricket-mad country – get skittled in a Test match for 36?

Test cricket’s momentous episodes come at you fast. Even faster in contrast to the mostly slow and daydreaming passages of play from which they are born.

Yet the Adelaide Test of 2020 had not been slow, careering through its first two days and nights at the pace some white-ball matches develop. But even so, the third innings being completed in 21.2 overs was an acceleration that nobody saw coming.

If you are watching the start of a day’s play and the nightwatchman gets out, that’s no big deal. Another wicket a few overs later is significant – the obdurate number three removed for a duck – but that’s not unusual.

The remaining opener gets a nick the following over.

It’s 15-4, but you tell yourself the score looks worse because it includes the promoted tailender. The next pair will adapt their approach and settle into some sort of a rebuild, you think. They should at least get the score to 60 or 70 and get things going.

Except they don’t. Another wicket falls on the same score as the previous three, the team’s vice-captain feathering a catch behind.

The skipper hits a defiant boundary but then gets caught in the gully.

The tail is not much chop, the side is 19-6, and all of a sudden you realise the lowest score in Test history is in play.

India’s players avoided the indignity of crumbling for fewer than 26, but didn’t go much better, setting a new low score for their country.

Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazelwood have been touted as Australia's greatest ever pace attack
Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood have been touted as Australia’s greatest ever pace attack

“It was staggering, you could not quite believe your eyes at the speed at which it was happening,” reflected commentator Alison Mitchell.

“First of all four wickets for no run, then five for four in 35 balls, the innings unravelling. We’ve all seen collapses around the world, but this just happened so quickly, in the blink of an eye.”

The feeling around the ground was one of disbelief. This year’s pandemic-affected Adelaide Oval was different to previous years: the crowd more sparse, more spaced out, no sign of the usual social areas outside the seating bowl.

The bays of India supporters had brought most of the noise. Abruptly, they became extremely quiet. Virat Kohli’s boundary got a cheer, but there was the sense by then that everyone was swept up in the inevitability of India’s demise.

Even from Australia supporters, the last few wickets didn’t so much bring cheers of celebration but more sedate noises of affirmation: of course they were out. Everyone gets out today.

People will naturally speculate whether the playing surface was a minefield. It wasn’t.

It’s true there was longer grass than previous years, in response to David Warner’s 335 not out a year ago.

Before the match, when I asked head groundsman Damien Hough if that would mean more movement, he smiled knowingly and said: “I hope so.”

But his pitch was ideal: there was pace and lift, some sideways movement, and that was it.

“It wasn’t excessive,” said Fleming. “But they didn’t bowl a bad ball. And India’s bowlers could rightly feel like ‘what have we done?’ I wouldn’t have wanted to see Australia chasing 180 on that.”

It came down to the quality of the bowlers. The ABC’s lead commentator Jim Maxwell, having seen six decades of cricket at first hand, was fulsome in his praise.

“I think those Australian pace bowlers are arguably the finest trio we’ve ever had, in terms of their ability to strike,” he told the BBC. “It was a remarkably skilful performance on a pitch that offered just enough.

“You only have to look at the strike rates of Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood to realise when they’re on, they’re going to do things like that. A bit of assistance, that’s all it needs with bowlers of that skill.

“We’ve seen it with Trent Bridge and Stuart Broad, if you get on a roll. As we all know, the most difficult time to bat is when you’re on nought.”


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