Given the backdrop and the odds that the Indian team faced coming into the second Test in Melbourne, this has to be India’s finest Test victory ever. The humiliation of 36/9 at Adelaide, Virat Kolhi on paternity leave, injury to Mohammad Shami before the game and Umesh Yadav during the Test — there was way too much going against India.
Never ever has an Indian tour party been pushed in a corner like this or written off. But in a dramatic turnaround, India didn’t just bounce back to win the Test and level the series, they gave the fans a lot to look forward to in the final week of the year. Rahane’s captaincy, stunning debuts by pacer Mohammad Siraj and opener Shubhnam Gill being the positives of this historic Test. Read highlights of the Test
What was the backdrop?
The backdrop posed serious challenges. The majority of the players in the team left home in August to enter into the bio-bubble of their respective Indian Premier League (IPL) franchises. This has been an abnormal year that saw Covid-19 ravage lives and livelihoods. From the IPL bio-bubble the Indian cricketers moved to the Indian team bio-bubble, served their quarantine in Australia without a single breach and then took to the field to play a high-intensity series. For over four months now, the players have been on the road, under Covid-safety restrictions. A lot of them have young families back home. Ajinkya Rahane and Co have successfully encountered the on and off the field challenges.
What were the odds?
Coming into the second Test, the odds were heavily stacked against the Indian team. They were carrying the ghost of the 36 all out in Adelaide – India’s lowest-ever Test total. The team’s regular captain, also the best batsman, Virat Kohli, decided to return home on paternity leave. The team’s gun bowler Mohammed Shami was ruled out of the series due to an arm fracture. India were already missing Rohit Sharma and Ishant Sharma. On the third day of the second Test, Umesh Yadav left the field after sustaining a calf injury, reducing the side to four fit bowlers. India also had the baggage of being clean swept in the two-Test series in New Zealand earlier this year. At the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), they stared at the possibility of finishing 2020 without a single Test win.
Does this win have competitors?
Quite a few… The win in the second Test against the West Indies at Port of Spain in March 1971 that secured India’s first-ever Test series triumph in the Caribbean. The victory at the Oval in the third Test against England in August 1971, which gave India their first-ever Test series success in England. The glorious run chase in the third Test against the West Indies at Port of Spain in April 1976 that saw India score a then world record 406/4 in the fourth innings to pull off an improbable win.
The victory in the third Test against Australia at the MCG in February 1981, where India bundled out a batting line-up boasting of Greg Chappell, Doug Walters, Kim Hughes and Allan Border for 83 in the fourth innings to square the series. VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid’s 376-run partnership at Eden Gardens that set up India’s 171-run win, following on, against Steve Waugh’s all-conquering Australia in March 2001. The wins in the first and the third Test against Pakistan at Multan and Rawalpindi respectively in March-April 2004 that secured India’s first-ever Test series win in Pakistan. Bouncing back from a defeat at Perth to win the third Test at Melbourne in December 2018, which would eventually take India to their first-ever Test series win Down Under.
Why is this ‘away win’ unique?
All the previous wins — the badges of honour in Indian cricket — had been achieved with full-strength sides. Here, to start with, India were severely depleted. Then, they had to bury the ghost of the ‘(Southern) Summer of 36’. It wasn’t easy.
Sunil Gavaskar in his book Sunny Days documented how India’s tour of England in 1974 had descended into chaos after the visitors were bowled out for 42 at Lord’s. Rahane’s team could have wilted under pressure. They embraced redemption instead.
How significant has been Rahane’s contribution?
As a captain, from bowling changes to field placements, the stand-in skipper was always ahead of the game. As a batsman, Rahane’s century in the first innings was the difference between the two sides.
“I believe that this hundred is going to be one of the most important hundreds in the history of Indian cricket,” Gavaskar told the Seven Network, adding: “Important because it’s showing character, sending a message to the opposition that after being dismissed for 36 in the previous game, to come back in this manner, this Indian team is not going to just lie down and be walked all over.”
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