- Written by RAJAS JOSHI (SFA)
An India vs Australia series has seldom been one without excitement and controversy in equal parts in the last two decades. What makes a series down under have a bit extra is the hype that gets created around the rivalry and the banter that begins even before the Indian team arrives. This series (India tour of Australia 2020-21) was no different in that sense and yet very different given the travel restrictions, quarantine periods, limitations on the crowd, and living in bubbles!
Image: Team India celebrate after their historic win at the Gabba [Image Courtesy: cricket.yahoo.net]
One would have to think back to the 1999-00 tour to remember the last time India sent a team that never looked like it will win. Since then, India has always looked good to win Test matches and even the series down under, but only crossed the line in 2018 before coming very close in all the previous ones. A 2-1 victory came with a postscript that it wasn’t a full Aussie side without Smith and Warner.
This series looked different though. Already short on important players who were missing out due to injuries, India would only have the services of their captain Virat Kohli for one of the 4 tests. A behind-the-scenes documentary on Australian cricket told us the focus the Australian team and management has on this one man and the difference his presence made. As expected, the predictions from the Australian media and pundits were running riot of a possible white-wash. An injury-ridden but strong Indian bowling versus an impressive Australian batting seemed to be the pre-series flavor. India needing a good start to the series to keep any hopes of retaining the trophy and Australia waiting to pounce on their home soil to win it back.
Adelaide was an even contest till India nosedived in a session. Indian fans would never want to relive how 9 wickets were lost for a mere 36 runs and with it, the first test.
Melbourne brought India a sweet victory with Ajinkya Rahane playing the innings that we all came to expect from him but always seemed elusive.
Sydney, which is by far the most suited for spinners, had India defending a mammoth total on a dry last day pitch. An enduring Pujara, a limping Vihari and a composed Ashwin saw India through while a belligerent Pant even gave us a glimpse at an unlikely victory.
Series tied at 1-1 and all to play for. Australia needed a win to clinch the series while India could do with a draw and keep the series level while retaining the trophy by virtue of winning the previous one.
For over three weeks India had almost lost all of its pace attack – Shami, Yadav, Bumrah – along with Jadeja, Vihari, Ashwin and KL Rahul – that put the likelihood of a win in question.
Brisbane, the Gabba, which the Australians consider sort of a fortress and rightly so, with the record they’ve had over three decades, had a different air this time around. The pressure was on the Aussies to win and the weather forecast showing rain wasn’t helping. With almost a repeat from the previous test, India were set an unlikely target that wasn’t successfully chased at the Gabba in decades. An elegant Gill, an unrelenting Pujara and an aggressive Pant etched themselves in history by pushing India towards a famous victory that no one could have predicted before the series. It was a classic David versus Goliath story coming to life.
The one thing that an Australian tour possesses is the power to make or break players; to show who has the mettle to perform at the highest level under the most trying circumstances and extreme pressure. A youngster scoring a high pressure hundred will announce his arrival; get a fifer, and you belong to test cricket as a bowler. Mohd. Siraj, Rishabh Pant, Washington Sundar, Shubhman Gill and Shardul Thakur showed that they belong.
What this series has done is announced to the world that India can overcome any adversity, rise up to any challenge. All this with a bunch of youngsters who had the resilience, self-belief and commitment to see through an underpowered Indian team and bring the trophy home.
Indian players pose for a photo after defeating Australia in the fourth Test at the Gabba, Brisbane [Image Courtesy: espncricinfo.com)
The postscript this time will be very different. It will be about a leader who rallied his battalion with calm; a fearless wolf pack that did not give up and came back stronger every time they were put into difficult situations; a set of individuals that as a team conquered a full-strength Australian team playing at home to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy!
* All views and opinions mentioned in the above article are solely of the author.