Team India’s new year party gets going two days early, visitors 2-1 up in Australia Test serieshttps://indianexpress.com/article/sports/cricket/india-australia-tour-boxing-day-test-match-virat-kohli-cheteshwar-pujara-5516406/

Team India’s new year party gets going two days early, visitors 2-1 up in Australia Test series

Amidst all the joyous chaos, Cheteshwar Pujara and Jasprit Bumrah, the chief protagonists of the 137-run victory over Australia in the third Test that took India 2-1 to the final game in Sydney, scrambled to collect souvenir stumps.

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Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane celebrate after winning the third Test in Melbourne on Sunday. (Reuters)

When the decisive blow arrived — Ishant Sharma getting Nathan Lyon to top-edge a catch — the entire Indian team swarmed into a huddle to the backdrop of thunderous applause under a slaty sky. Mohammad Shami, who was stationed the farthest, ran across half the massive Melbourne Cricket Ground to join the celebrations. Even those on the bench and the support staff were leaping and hugging each other near the boundary ropes.

Amidst all the joyous chaos, Cheteshwar Pujara and Jasprit Bumrah, the chief protagonists of the 137-run victory over Australia in the third Test that took India 2-1 to the final game in Sydney, scrambled to collect souvenir stumps.

On either side of the MCG’s Members Stand, a party was underway, Tricolour fluttering, drums thumping, and whistles piercing the air, to celebrate a rare afternoon of Indian glory in Australia. It was only the second time in their 70 years of touring the country that they have won two Tests in the same series, which puts them on the brink of a historic outing beginning in four days.

On Sunday, the resilience of Pat Cummins and Lyon, and the intermittent morning showers, merely delayed what was a foregone conclusion. All it took was 27 balls into the post-lunch session, after a rain-induced wait consumed the first session. Kohli said later that they weren’t watching the sky, but plotting the dismissals of Cummins and Lyon, who had hung around for 86 minutes on the fourth day. “We knew we had enough time to get them out,” Kohli said.

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The Australians negotiated the first three overs, but Cummins was lulled into plonking his bat to a Bumrah delivery that angled in and fractionally seamed away, Pujara clinging awkwardly into the edge. Immediately, Kohli and Co feverishly wheeled away into celebrations, having snuffed out Australia’s last lingering hope of winning this Test.

Also read: Melbourne ultimatum

From the moment the home team lost half the side for less that 150, the defeat was inevitable, but Cummins and Lyon had sparked the slimmest of hopes. Fittingly, it required a Bumrah-Pujara double act. If the latter’s patient century in the first innings was the edifice of this victory, Bumrah’s incisive bowling was the pillar — not just this Test, in all four of India’s overseas victories this year.

It’s not just those two, of course. Spurring Kohli’s dream is the reality that India possess their most complete bowling pack ever, and one of most penetrative in contemporary cricket. Shami and Ishant have been influential, as also the spin pair of Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin, and the pace reserve of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav. No Indian bowling unit has picked as many wickets in such a short period as the present generation: 240 from 14 matches.

No wonder then, that the legendary Glenn McGrath rates them as the best Indian bowling unit he has ever seen — “by a long, long way.”

The batsmen have also begun to share the burden on Kohli’s shoulders. Twice in this series alone, Pujara has set up victories with grinding hundreds, and Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma have chipped in with crucial knocks. Hanuma Vihari and Rishabh Pant demonstrated their adaptability to Test cricket while Mayank Agarwal seems to have solved half the headache regarding openers.

Looking back on 2018, losing close Test rubbers in South Africa and England would have dented any team’s morale. But Kohli and his team seldom lost self-belief. “We have always believed that it is possible because of the talent we have in the side and the mindset that we have been carrying in the last 12 months, regardless of what has been said, regardless of the mistakes we have made. Our mindset never shifted once,” he said.

That was on display at the MCG, when Ishant nailed the final-day win with a well-directed bouncer at Lyon to put Kohli on the brink of what no Indian skipper had ever accomplished before: win a Test series in Australia. There have been times when India had come close — 1977-78 and 2003-04 — but not with as much belief or a sense of historic inevitability.

Now, Kohli can dare to dream what Bishan Singh Bedi and Sourav Ganguly couldn’t. Or some of the great players who featured in those sides, from Sunil Gavaskar and Gundappa Viswanath to Sachin Tendulkar and Anil Kumble. Bedi himself was over moon Sunday, tweeting: “Great win India, assertive in every sense right from the time coin was in favour. Indians made the ball run from them.”