New comers filled with scary talent & self-belief defines Team India!
On 19th January, when Pant hit those winning runs, the motley crowd at the Pan Tapri (small shop) went delirious! I thought I was lucky to witness this historical moment. I have been watching cricket for almost 40 years now. The first memory being India winning the World Cup in 1983 in England. Only can be competed by Dhoni’s team winning the World Cup again in 2013! Now, this can be contested by many with their own favorite moments, but I don’t want to waste any more words on that. We can do that on another day. Today I want to just make a few observations on this series and why I think this win is unique.
Kohli, come on…be a man!
First and Foremost: Virat Kohli arguably, India’s best batsmen ever, could have handled his own exit in a much better manner. He knew well in advance that he was not going to be there for the last 3 tests. So why did he not recuse himself after the T-20 series and before the test matches began? That would have given Rahane more confidence and time to prepare. But I think it’s Kohli’s insecurity, which made him behave in such a cagey manner. Also, Rohit Sharma landing in Australia only after Kohli had left, gives a very bad message. And does not augur well for the world’s number one team!
Secondly, once he had decided to stay back and lead the team in the first test and then lost so badly, he should have changed the plan. If he believed his presence was critical he should have easily stayed on for at least for the second test match. Which was supposed to happen in Melbourne and end on 30th December. If he had done that, he would have still almost 2 weeks to spend with Anushka and help her deliver the baby. Yeah, but this would have meant he might have to forgo the New Year party.
In short Kolhi, arguably the best batsman India had, failed the acid test of captaincy. Sadly the story here is not much different than Sachin Tendulkar’s. And no I am not inferring the basis the Adelaide test debacle. His overseas test record as a captain is not great at all. Before the Aussie tour began he had won only 13 out of 29 tests.
With that settled, let’s move towards the more sumptuous part of the series. After getting shot out for 36 how India turned it around? You see if you look at the statistics, it looks like, Indian comeback began in Melbourne, where it won the test match and leveled the series. But I disagree. I think India turned it around on the 5th day of the third test in Sydney.
Overnight 98/2, and needing more than 300 runs in three sessions, dice looked loaded against them. And when Rahane got out in the second over, it looked over. But in a moment of inspiration he sent Rishabh Pant ahead of Hanuma Vihari. And God smiled! Paine dropped Pant when he was on just 3 of Lyon. For the next 90 minutes or so, Pant clobbered Australian bowlers and reached a half-century in no time. Only to be dropped again on 56 by the same man of the same bowler. In the morning session, India scored 108 runs for the loss of Rahane’s wicket. At lunch, it must be the Indians who would have enjoyed the food!
In the post-lunch session, even the subdued Pujara grew in confidence. With the new ball due in exactly 10 overs, he and Pant decided to take maximum advantage. And in the next 9 overs they scored 45 runs. Taking India past 250 and Pant to the cusp of a maiden century. To Lyon’s credit, he persisted with outside off stump line inviting Pant to drive. And with the first ball of the 80th over, he managed to induce a false shot from Pant! The expansive drive to a delivery pitched in the rough took a big outside edge and popped to backward point. Pant gone! For a dazzling 97 of 118 deliveries only. Fastest innings of the tour, both sides put together.
With the new ball in hand, half a day to go, India almost 160 runs adrift, and given India’s long tail, Aussies must be salivating at the prospect! But Indian batsmen and God had other ideas! Instead of dropping the anchor (further) Pujara upped the ante and started scoring freely. Till Hazelwood, got one through him. At that moment, with only Hanuma Vihari & Ashwin left, who had some sort of batting prowess &/or experience, an Aussie win looked certain!
This ain’t Cricket!
And this is where I think, India won the mental duel with Australia! Ashwin and Vihari stopped playing Cricket! They turned into gladiators who were waging a war to protect the motherland against an all-powerful army! Vihari batted with a strapped leg. And Ashwin with body blows! Both just refused to be rolled over! Together they battled for 256 deliveries, facing 128 each. And though the partnership added only 62 runs, it became the fourth largest partnership for the 6th wicket in the fourth innings! India batted for 131 overs to earn a draw. This is only the 6th occasion when a team batting in the fourth innings batted for more than 130 overs to save a match. And only 2nd since 1971. And that tells a tale!
In Sydney the underdog achieved the stripes!
To reiterate the point made above, in Melbourne India achieved statistical parity. In Sydney they became equals! The underdog had achieved his stripes! When they walked onto the Gabba field, they only had the Australian record at this ground in their way. Aussies were unbeaten here for the last 32 years! But this Indian team was not going to be deterred by records.
I thought somewhere, Aussies did take the inexperienced bowling attack lightly. And in both innings, India was able to knock off the last 5 wickets very cheaply.. In first, Aussies’ bottom half only managed 55 runs and 67 in second. Contrastingly the Indian bottom half did magnificently well. In the first innings, the bottom scored 152. And of course for second innings comparison is not possible, because India lost only 7 wickets.
If you want to summarise the last test victory in the fewest possible words it was the resolve of the newcomers! In both the departments, batting and bowling the contribution of debutants was stunning. In the first innings, when the Aussies got away, these greenhorns came back strongly and restricted them to 366, when at one moment 400 looked possible. And again, while batting when India was down for a count, Washington Sundar & Shardul Thakur put 125 for the 7th wicket and converted the test into one inning match.
Bowlers who can bat and Bowlers who can bowl!
In the second innings, I think Aussies were a bit overconfident. And the new recruits in the bowling department came roaring back into the game. Not once, but twice. The first time, when Harris-Warner got off to a brilliant start and were going at 4 runs/over. Shardul Thakur bowled a terrific bouncer to Harris, which he tried to duck under but managed to edge it to the keeper. The second time, with the scoreline reading 196 for 4,(226 if you add first-innings lead) Smith well-set, and Wade, Green, Paine, and Cummins to follow Aussies surely pushing hard and Siraj bowled a cracker at Smith. Which took the bat handle & glove and was caught at the second slip. These 2 wickets at key moments, broke the Australian momentum and restricted Australia to less than 300.
On the last day, once Shubman Gill and Pujara put together 150 plus, for the second wicket Australia was on the backfoot. There was a flutter for a brief when Rahane went after scoring a quick 22. But once Pant came in there was hardly any doubt left that, India is going for it. He put three extremely important partnerships together with Pujara (61 runs), Agrawal (37), and 53 with debutant Sundar. Importantly the scoring rate was not allowed to drop below 3 at any moment. And fittingly enough, with 3 overs to spare Pant hit one through the mid-off to seal a famous victory. Without any doubt, this second inning chase belonged to Gill and Pant. Who scored 91 and 89, at around 4 runs per over. And this positive attitude was the key to the victory!
And to me, this change happened in the third test. Specifically after Pant’s whirlwind knock of 97. Which showed the limitations of Australian attack and inspired Ashwin and Vihari to thwart Aussies then. And Indians carried this positive attitude even in the final test. Which propelled Sundar and Thakur to belt the best bowling attack to all corners of Gabba in the first innings,when the chips were down.
Will end with a small story, but which perfectly symbolizes the spirit of this young and exuberant Indian team. With 10 runs needed of 4 fours for victory, Rishabh Pant hooked a Hazlewood bouncer. And while pivoting, he lost his balance and hit the ground. But even lying down he had an eye on the ball. And was pleased to see the ball reaching the boundary!