From 36 to 32

History said, “It won’t happen”. Maths said, “Okay maybe.” Belief asked, “Why not?”. Spirit replied, “Let’s do it.”  And oh boy did it happen and how. You either die a hero or see yourself long enough to become a villain. Rishabh Pant did neither but what he did is no less than heroic. A bruised and battered team achieved something that even its illustrious predecessors couldn’t. If someone had said to me that the scoreline would read 2-1 India’s way post that 36 all-out catastrophe, I would have cut all ties with that person for his sheer lack of cricketing knowledge. How do you explain something which even common sense can’t? Well, ask that to these young, fearless boys and you’ll have a template ready on your table. It has been that kind of series. The greatest ever after Ashes 2005? I think so. 

Let’s not forget that this Indian Team has been on a constant move after a  6 months lockdown.

Cricketers only know one thing and that is to play cricket. What happens when you take away that only known thing? They didn’t know what to do in this forced break. Some found their way by taking interviews of fellow cricketers, while many found their way by learning new skills. But as they say, something good always comes out of something bad. And it happened. IPL happened. Some of the current team players played well, some of them didn’t. Few of them found their form, and many didn’t. And then after a gap of 8 months from regular international cricket, the Indian contingent arrived at Sydney for their ODI series followed by the T20 series, a 1-2 defeat in the former and 2-1 win in the latter.

And then the most-awaited, maybe the second most exciting test series after THE ASHES, the Border-Gavaskar Trophy was about to start. India won the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in 2018-19, but many experts judged this win as an aberration as the two strongest players in the Aussies – Smith and Warner – couldn’t play in the series. And hence there were still some things to prove for this team, still many mouths to shut. They can’t do it, said the world. They can’t beat Australia in their own backyard with a team of Smiths or Lyons or Cummins or Starcs, said the cricketing world. To add to the hype, India was going to play three of those 4 test matches without their best batsman. VIRAT KOHLI- captain, leader, inspiration. Australians after the previous loss wanted to see him bruised, hurt. They wanted him to go back with a reassurance that he never will achieve the feat twice. It was always Virat Kohli vs Australia. He would eventually go back to India for the birth of his child, which no doubt was going to be a national celebration. But still, there was a series to play, a battle to fight, a war with a whole pack of Aussies with their lethal bowling attack and their shrewd batting line-up. 

The series started in Adelaide. Everything went India’s way till day 2. But then arguably India’s worst hour of play in their entire test history happened on day 3.  The team with extraordinary players, hundreds and double hundreds, just couldn’t help but script one of their bizarre downfalls ever. The team who played brilliantly till this hour just couldn’t hold its act together. With just 90 to get, Australia won that match with 9 wickets to spare. What a way to bid adieu to your captain!

The team and all their fans were just left stunned. Some cursed, many trolled, most of them already declared the series winner. And just as they say, when going gets tough, the tough get going! Now in retrospect, it seems that India didn’t look back. It doesn’t matter if you fail, what matters is how you fight back after that failure. Indians with their atrocious ability to fight all the odds in life and dream of playing cricket at the highest level had nothing to lose. With their star batsman gone, Shami the experienced campaigner down with an injury and a bizarre nightmare just a few days back, there was no way these lads would have fought back. But the rest is history. The stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane built the first block of his palace and everyone just started putting in their efforts. Bumrah, into his 16th test, already the leader of the bowling attack, scalped 4-fer to restrict Aussies below 200 at their favorite MCG. Once again Ash spun his web to get Smith for a duck. To put more salt on the wound,  a composed Ajinkya scored a magnificent hundred without even flinching once. Right there with his Lord’s century. A calm, shy person with the grit and competence of a lion led the team from the front. With other players chipping in, India had now a lead of more than 100 runs. It was befitting to see the captain hitting the winning runs. He, staying true to his personality, just smiled and went into the dressing room as if nothing significant had happened. India just after 7 days of their worst nightmare went on to win and level the series 1-1. If you want to learn how to get back up every time you fall in life, follow this Indian team. 

The series was perfectly poised. It was living upto the expectations. The teams arrived at SCG. India, still battling with the injuries of the players, went into the test with 2 young fast bowlers, Siraj and Saini, and a new opening pair of Sharma and Gill. Australia, batting first, scored 334 thanks to Steve Smith’s brilliant century. Despite failing in the first two tests, a tentative Smith  showed the character that he always had to get through the tough phase. In response India scored below 250, with the help of Pujara and Sharma’s half century. Another inning, another injury. This time it was Jadeja with a broken finger. With just 4 bowlers to face, the Aussies went all guns blazing to post a huge total to chase with the match entirely out of India’s grasp. And this is where the beauty of test cricket lies. There is one team with one of the best bowling attacks in the world and on the other side there are 10 men who either have to bat the whole day or score those runs to win. Aussies would have woken up already feeling that they have won. Hell, we thought we had lost it. But Pant, Pujara, Ashwin and Vihari had other plans. They restored the belief in test cricket. They restored the belief in fighting even if all odds are against you. The Pujara-Pant duo was mesmerizing to watch. Both playing their own games yet wanting to win the match. Pujara just stood tall at one end and Pant exactly on the contrary, smacking the bowlers over the rope. One wearing down the bowler’s patience and the other one making them helpless and grinding down on their belief. Just when all was going well both the set batsman departed and the baton was passed over to the duo of Ashwin and Vihari. First they had to overcome their self-doubts and the fear of failure and then they had to face the bowling line up who was waiting for them to make some mistake. But after 300 balls, tired bodies, hamstrings, back-pains and a multitude of emotions these men helped India to claw their way out of defeat and draw the match. 

The Gabba test match was nothing short of a fairytale. If someone asks me why I love cricket, I wouldn’t mind showing them this Test. This was the team that had been combating injuries while living in a bio-bubble for 4 months, was led by a stand-in captain and still stood fighting relentlessly for their country. This was the same team whose core was made up of hard work and self-belief and the team that ignited hope in every Indian cricket fan who religiously woke up at 5 am everyday to watch them play. And this was the team who gave it their all and more to script history as one of the greatest results in Indian cricket. Brisbane stadium was a fortress for the Aussies who had never never lost a Test match here in the past 32 years. Ganguly’s team couldn’t breach it. Smith’s South African team couldn’t breach it. But Gabba was yet to face a team with its captain named ‘Ajinkya’. Siraj, playing his 3rd test, was now the most experienced of the bowlers and rose magnificently  to the occasion . Despite another century from Labuschagne, bowlers chipped in with wickets at the right time which helped in keeping  the total down to 350. But again, our batting order was down to its last pair of Sundar and Shardul who were playing their first match. Had they not done  what they did, the match would have been out of our hands  there itself. They played the shots like proper top order batsmen and stitched together a valuable partnership, reducing the lead to just 33 runs. A 5-fer from Siraj and some help from the rain gods kept the Aussies below 300 and now India had to chase down 328 on the Gabba pitch, day 5. The last day of a prolific series was near.

Despite the early wicket of Sharma, with  help from  Gill and Pujara, India looked strong at the start. Gill – playing his 3rd test –  was hitting  some crisp shots and the new wall of Pujara at the other end was tiring for the bowlers. Gill’s valiant 91 was a display of terrific cricketing shots and the face of a new India which was going for the win.  Rahane’s cameo bore  testimony to the new mindset of the Indian Team. Now it was again the duo of Pujara-Pant  at the crease . Pant now was a test match older than SCG and knew when to take on the bowlers and when to keep playing the Pujara way. After Pujara’s dismissal, Pant alongside Sundar and Shardul kept going from strength to strength. From “there is no chance India can do it” to “indeed, there is a chance that India might do it.” The story shifted its momentum and with still 3 overs and 3 wickets remaining Rishabh Pant punched the ball down the covers to script the greatest win India had ever had.. 

Who says test cricket can’t teach you about life? For old test cricket lovers, Pujara teaches you to keep your head straight and bat like a veteran, just blocking every ball to the ground. He teaches you to play your natural game, your natural instinct. The Gills and the Pants teach you to be aggressive but not careless. They tell you to back yourself 100% over your strength and have no doubt about it. They give you the glimmer of hope that you can pull this off, once the Pujaras in you help you survive it. The Ashwins, Viharis and Bumrahs tell you to become a complete team player, who does anything he has been asked for and the Rahanes teach you to hold your nerves when you are down, because you have something in you to take you through this in such a way that you will outshine this dark phase like the beautiful Sun rising over the horizon. These players aren’t just meant for glorification, they are meant to be idolized, to be imbibed permanently into the fabric of our lives. This series just gave us the new hope we were all waiting for after the tough past year . Cheers!

Swaroop Joshi 

SY B.Sc Economics

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