An ode to the miracles of cricket. ‘Never ever underestimate the Indians’
The Indians blew away the Aussies at fortress Gabba as they clinched their third consecutive series victory over their arch rivals. Rishabh Pant played a blinder of a knock to see the tourists through in a finish for the ages.
The Indian flag soared high in the sky, nestled comfortably in the hands of 23-year-old Rishabh Pant. Emotions ran high as history had been crafted at the Gabba in more than one way. Rewind to one of the most anxious and combative finishes in Test history. Rishabh Pant was out in the middle, grinding it out along with Cheteshwar Pujara. He was India’s last shot at an improbable match and series win. The match turned on its head once Pujara was dismissed LBW by the lethal Pat Cummins, and in walked debutant Washington Sundar. Pant and Sundar went about knocking dots and ones for a while, and a draw was most certainly on the cards. But suddenly, out of the blue, the inner monster of Washington Sundar gave him a kick, and there went Pat Cummins’ attempted bouncer flying over fine leg for six. This was followed by a fortuitous four that flew over the slip cordon, and this incursion laid the foundation for Pant to unleash. And once Pant unleashes, it’s all about which fielder will fetch the ball from the boundary. Nathan Lyon was then taken to the cleaners by Pant as 15 runs were collected off his over too. An Indian victory was now the likelier outcome, though a few hearts travelled to mouths when Washington Sundar was bowled by Lyon and Shardul Thakur was caught off Josh Hazlewood in the very next over. But the job was done and dusted by then, as a glorious off drive by Pant rolled to the boundary and caused the Indian dressing room and spectators to go berserk. India had just dethroned Australia in their own backyard twice in a row and Tim Paine was visibly wondering why his keeping gloves weren’t big enough to hide his whole face behind them. This was a Test match of epic contrasts, a full strength Australian side taking on what was almost a second division Indian team. Pant’s free-flowing, counterattacking 138-ball 89* meant that Australia had lost their first match at ‘fortress’ Gabba since 1988. A 32 year long streak, ended by a young but sprightly Indian side.
Captain Tim Paine and coach Justin Langer were looking for places to hide, dumbfounded by what had just transpired. This was a victory against the odds and the genius of Rishabh Pant was to thank for this turnaround. Pant has always been considered a prodigious cricketer who can take his career to unreal heights if he plays senseful and smart cricket. He was the target of harsh opprobrium after his dismissal in the 2019 World Cup semi-final against New Zealand, which India eventually lost. His immaturity and lack of sagacity led to his ouster from the ODI and T20I team, and with the likes of KL Rahul hanging around, his Test position was under the scanner too. But what we have witnessed on this Australian tour is a whole new avatar of him, he has been calm and tranquil in even the most challenging of situations, and this reinvention has reaped benefits straightaway. Pant is now doing justice to his reputation of being a thoroughly able but misguided player, but it is his ability to win matches like this that forces the management to include him in their scheme of things no matter what. The Indian team retained the Border-Gavaskar trophy for the third consecutive time, stretching their winning streak over Australia even further, and this time Aussies have absolutely no excuse to make for this trouncing. After being mortified in the first Test due to that nightmarish 36 all out, India and Ajinkya Rahane received loads of adulation after winning the second Test at Melbourne, especially after Virat Kohli’s departure. His egress was followed by Mohd. Shami, Umesh Yadav, Hanuma Vihari, Ravichandran Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, KL Rahul and Ravindra Jadeja, and the visitors from the subcontinent were wounded, impotent and helpless heading into the last Test, or so it seemed.
Stalwarts of the game like Michael Vaughan, Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin among others had completely written India off after the first Test debacle, but they would now be swallowing their words with some shame. Ajinkya Rahane’s captaincy has been a breakout revelation over these past three Tests. After India was unable to register a win with Virat Kohli at the helm, there was little faith that they would be able to touch success without him. But Rahane displayed magical composure and intelligence to outclass the Aussies in the very next Test and level the series. The Indians then received a massive boost as Rohit Sharma joined the team for the third and fourth Tests, stitching multiple successful partnerships with Shubman Gill at the top of the order. Ajinkya Rahane has a certain subtlety and percipience about the way he goes about his leadership, and to get even the youngest and inexperienced of bowlers to perform the way they did against a ferocious batting lineup is a gargantuan accomplishment. The dip in confidence everyone expected India to undergo after Kohli’s departure was never on exhibition even once. Instead, they made it their objective to perform even better without their regular skipper. The application and resolve displayed by the youngsters, who were picked in the team during such perplexing circumstances, just ameliorates the happiness this series win brings. Rahane’s modus operandi while captaining is very disparate when compared to Kohli’s. Rahane remains observant and collected while leading, while Kohli is much more expressive and aggressive on the field. Even after leading his team to one of the most famous Test victories of all time, Rahane was quiet and composed, almost as if he was remembering the gods and thanking them for this incredible triumph.
The scenes of jubilation out on the ground as soon as the final ball of the match touched the boundary rope were every Indian cricket fan’s dream. Shardul Thakur, Prithvi Shaw and Mohammed Siraj gathered around Pant and congratulated him, followed by the rest of the squad who then lifted him up in the air. The youngster had carried the hopes of 136 crore Indians on his 23-year-old shoulders, but the finish he gave to the match was a fitting testament to his freakish talent. Coach Ravi Shastri then put both his arms around the young hero, smiling from ear to ear. If not for Shastri, then maybe this dream would never have come true at all. He has provided the squad with strength, belief, motivation and confidence, in a way only he can. The 58-year-old has handled things in a very collected and serene way. The all new zeal and ardour that this young Indian side has brought to the table has been approved by the coach, who has not tried to change anything with the way these future stars approach the game. After conquering the Aussie challenge, the Indian team paraded the ground with the Indian tricolour flying high and handsome. It passed from hand to hand, Rishabh Pant, Mohammed Siraj, T Natarajan, Shardul Thakur etc. proudly clasped their nation’s identity in their arms, after all they had made the country proud. What was pleasurable to see was that the youngsters were marching on in the frontlines, while the more experienced lot stayed conspicuous at the rear. Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara were silently clapping and cheering from in between the group, while Rohit Sharma and Ravi Shastri were having a chat further back.
The new crop of players were exposed to all the applause and approbation showered upon them by the grateful Indian crowd, who turned equally hostile on occasions too. Whilst being interviewed during the post-match presentation, Australian captain Tim Paine was subjected to loud and hateful booing by the Indian spectators, indicating to him that sledging Indian batsmen won’t do the job. Australian coach Justin Langer conceded defeat by saying ‘first, you can never take anything for granted. Second, never ever underestimate the Indians.’ Prithvi Shaw, who did not have the best of tours, was also as jovial as everyone else, making it clear that it was the team’s performance that mattered in the end. But the one issue that highlighted this series was the injuries the Indian team suffered. Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara were the only two Indian players to play all the Tests in the series, the rest being unavailable at some point or the other. The short ball seemed to trouble the Indian batsmen on plenty of occasions, something one would have expected them to prepare for. The inability of the Indians to sway out of the line of pernicious bouncers is a matter of concern as it could be a weakness other teams will exploit. But apart from injuries inflicted by the Aussies, there were other areas of trouble too. The likes of Jasprit Bumrah, Ravi Ashwin, and third Test hero Hanuma Vihari among others suffered from various muscular issues. Aching hamstrings, groins and backs were certainly not helping India’s cause. Cheteshwar Pujara and Rishabh Pant were also at the receiving end of a heavy barrage of bouncers, and around half of them hit Pujara somewhere on his body. Maybe the more experienced lot need to learn a thing or two from newcomer Shubman Gill, who easily tackled the Aussies’ short ball assault on his way to a sublime 91, pulling and cutting with ease. However, with all these hurdles put to the side, it was as complete a squad performance as India could have hoped for.
The immense young talent sprouting on Indian soil is now showing its class and quality and India’s bench strength is certainly something to behold and admire. Adding to these young breakout stars, are plenty of other cricketers like Devdutt Padikkal, Rahul Chahar, Ishan Kishan, Kartik Tyagi etc. waiting on the sidelines, and it seems like the future of Indian cricket is as bright as the sun. Ajinkya Rahane’s boys have turned the impossible into possible and have vanquished the Aussies yet again to hand them their third successive series defeat against India. With this dismantling of the kangaroos, India have also shoved aside the assumptions that they are a team dependent on Virat Kohli. There will be cake and champagne flying all around the Indian dressing room today and a big party will surely be in the offing, while it will be a night full of despair and disappointment for the Australians. This tour will be remembered for time eternal as one of the greatest cricketing heists ever pulled off. It was a young Indian team, with not too many renowned players, squaring up against a powerful Australian side and not many expected them to win. But one spirited captain, plenty of determined youngsters and a couple of experienced campaigners took the game away from the hosts to script history yet again.