<
>

How good was Australia's Pune victory?

Steve O'Keefe's heroics held the limelight, but was Australia's win in Pune far greater than it appeared? AFP

"How good was that", or simply "how good", is a phrase used in Australia in a moment of excitement, often in sport but also elsewhere in life. Though taking the form of a question, it commonly goes unanswered except with knowing grins, laughs and whoops. Chances are it was said more than a few times in Australia's dressing room on Saturday night.

But as the pitch dust settles from the visitors' 333-run victory over India in Pune, it is worth making an exception and seeking to answer that euphoric question. As far as single Test match results are concerned, this has to rank with the very best performances put on by Australia in India, and indeed anywhere around the world.

A few things must factor into justifications of that claim. There was the degree of difficulty provided by the conditions first of all, so sharply spinning and foreign to every member of Steven Smith's team. Australian teams have overcome fiendishly spinning surfaces before, most recently to foil Sri Lanka at Galle in 2011.

One of the more storied instances of doing so was at Durban in 1950, when Neil Harvey crafted a brilliant 151 to foil Hugh Tayfield and seal the series after the South African offspinner had rolled the Australians for 75 in their first innings. Smith's Australians were never in as deep a hole as that, but at the same time the 1950 South Africans were nowhere near the team India are today.

Next there is the quality of the opposition: an Indian side previously unbeaten for 19 matches at home, having won the past six series in a row. In 1995, Australia's wins in Barbados and Jamaica secured the first series defeat inflicted upon West Indies at home or away since 1980.

Two years later and another white-knuckle fourth-innings chase in South Africa, this time orchestrated by Mark Waugh on a tricked-up Port Elizabeth pitch, made Australia the first team to beat South Africa at home since their readmission to international cricket in 1992. Similarly in 2014, a win over the South Africans in Cape Town ended a five-year unbeaten sequence for the team then led by Graeme Smith. Pune sits comfortably in this company.

Most tantalising and unknown about Saturday's Test win, however, is how much impact it will have on the series and the fortunes of the Australian side beyond India - perhaps the most enduring test of any one given performance. As scene-setters go, Pune felt similarly seismic to Headingley in 1989, when Allan Border's improving but unheralded team hammered England to set up a 4-0 series domination and 16 years' unbroken ownership of the Ashes urn. Australia had last pulled off the feat of regaining the Ashes in England in 1934.

The aforementioned victory in Barbados in 1995 did much the same for the emergence of Mark Taylor's XI as the world's best side. For his part, the coach Darren Lehmann has mentioned how Steve O'Keefe's rapid destruction of India's batting recalled Mitchell Johnson at Adelaide Oval in 2013, their second win on the way to a 5-0 series scoreline. Michael Clarke's fleet-footed hundred on Test debut in Bangalore in 2004 became the platform for Australia's most recent series win in India.

A few examples exist of Australia being unable to follow-up a rousing early display in a series, thereby lessening the overall impact of the performance. In December 1981 the combination of Kim Hughes and Dennis Lillee pulled together a victory over Clive Lloyd's West Indians at the MCG, but the Caribbean side then responded with a brutal effort at Adelaide Oval to keep their unbeaten streak intact as it was just getting started.

Eleven years later, Shane Warne's breakout performance also took place in Melbourne to put Border's men 1-0 up after two Tests. They seemed capable of winning the series, until Curtly Ambrose crashed through with a pair of indomitable matches in Adelaide and Perth. West Indies squeaked the first of these matches by a solitary run; the second ransacked by an innings well inside three days on a spicy WACA surface.

In India in 2001 a 16th consecutive Test victory for Steve Waugh's team in Mumbai was followed by VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid and tumult at Eden Gardens. And of course a thumping win over England at Lord's in the first Test of the 2005 Ashes series turned out only to be the opening act of a drama that Michael Vaughan's hosts have dined out on ever since.

So in pondering what lies ahead, Smith, O'Keefe and others in the squad will be hopeful that Pune 2017 comes to be recalled alongside Headingley 1989, Barbados 1995 and Bangalore 2004. As such it would be remembered far more fondly, and often, than Melbourne 1981 or 1992, Mumbai 2001 or Lord's 2005.

How good was that, then? We'll know exactly how good at series' end.