Under gloomy skies and a thin sheet of rain at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Virat Kohli and his team stood on the podium, trying to infuse some drama into the proceedings. Some of them screamed, hugged each other and held the trophy aloft.
But as India completed their maiden Test series win in Australia, after 11 tours across 71 years, the lack of theatre was understandable — only 25.2 overs of play were possible on the last two days of the final Test in front of a scattered crowd of barely 1,000, a majority of them Indians.
Besides, the moment had sunk in long ago, by Sunday evening, when the day’s play was called off. Monday was a mere formality. They had to simply turn up and collect the trophy, without having to break a sweat, or even take the field.
By lunch, it was certain that the match would not resume. The sky was still glum, the drizzle was gathering force, and only a section of the Indian spectators lingered to absorb the history-soaking moment. That arrived at half past two, when the umpires called off the match.
It was fitting that India etched their historic moment at the SCG, where they had endured several heartbreaks: in this century alone, Steve Waugh’s Farewell Test, the Monkeygate Test, the whitewash in 2012 and the World Cup semifinal in 2015. What Sourav Ganguly’s men came so close to, Kohli’s batch achieved. “This team now has an identity to look at any other Indian team from the past in the eye and say ‘We play proper Test match cricket. You did, we did, too, but without being intimidated’,” coach Ravi Shastri said.
Over those 71 years, most of the teams returned with egos hurt and belief shattered. It took India 30 years to win their first ever Test here, 41 years before they won a series. Between 1981 and 2004, they didn’t win a single Test. Even after this series win, they have won only seven of the 48 Tests, losing as many as 28. With South Africa, who they first played in 1992, Australia remained the final frontier. And one that seemed unsurpassable.
Kohli and most of his colleagues grew up watching India being blown away by snarling tearaways and aggressive batsmen. The skipper himself had been part of two series defeats here. “I have seen how disappointed some of the teammates in the past were,” he said. In fact, Kohli rated the victory over the 2011 World Cup win; Ravi Shastri put it over the 1983 World Cup and 1985 World Series Championship triumphs.
Part of the reason for the long wait is that India never had a bowling attack that could be consistently hostile, capable of plucking 20 wickets regularly. Kohli’s group did it thrice, and could have done it a fourth time but for the rain. “I feel great standing in the slip cordon, watching these guys. I didn’t have to tell (Jasprit) Bumrah yesterday to bowl at 149 clicks with the old ball to a No.11. It was his decision. You can see that hunger, you can see that passion,” he said.
It’s also not a coincidence that whenever India have fared well here, the No.3 has stood up. In 2003-04, Rahul Dravid amassed 619 runs; in 2018-19, Cheteshwar Pujara compiled 521 runs, each of his three hundreds a treatise on defiance. Shastri summed it up with a quip: “He made one mistake, that was at the presentation. He should have padded up and gone, and they would have given him the trophy without even mentioning his name.”
Not to discount the contribution of some of the youngsters: Mayank Agarwal, flown in after the Perth Test; Hanuma Vihari, who didn’t shy away from opening the batting; Kuldeep Yadav, the third-choice spinner; and, wicket-keeper batsman Rishabh Pant, the second highest run-getter. But as relieved as Kohli was, he asserted that this series win could be the launchpad. To conquer the final frontier that is South Africa — and set the foundation of a winning dynasty.