Around four pm in Melbourne, the sun beat down from cloudless skies after what seemed like ages, as if there had been no rain or cloud for eternity. Umbrellas and raincoats hung from the balconies of tidy skyscrapers, sunshine and warmth spilled over the streets, and the India supporters celebrating the victory outside the team hotel were finally expended of their collective vocal energy and spread out to soak their wet shirts in the sun, one eye fixed on the balcony, hoping one of the players would peep out from the balcony. No one did, but they patiently waited like their victorious team in the morning.
The city woke up drenched, rinsing hopes among Australian supporters, who tuned their eyes to every scroll of weather update running at the bottom on the telly sets, flipped through the weather apps like they were keeping a tab on their adolescent child. For, the only possibility of Australia keeping the series alive was for the rain to persist, pound and maybe cause a deluge of Biblical proportions. Conversely, the only practical way to prevent India from seizing an unassailable lead was incessant rain to wash the day off, or at least a chunk of it. And so a group of Indian supporters began to chorus, as the players began to warm up: “Rain, rain go away, captain Kohli wants to win.” Or maybe it was their ingenuity to elicit Kohli’s attention.
When the two-hour-25-minute wait was finally over at 12.55 pm, Nathan Lyon and Pat Cummins strode in. The latter seemed the only man who remotely stood between India and a victory, the man the cricket-watching Australian public want to be the prime minister-elect.
Virat Kohli took his sweet time to set the field and file in some last-minute counsel to Ishant. Being made to wait on more than one occasion, Cummins seemed to lose a bit of focus, and swished at a leg-side-bound ball,which struck his thigh pad en route to Rishabh Pant, who only needed the faintest of sounds to file an appeal.
Maybe, Cummins was a little knackered after all the toil, after all he was on the field on all five days. The front-foot stride was not decisive, the head fell over a few times and his outside-the-off-stump judgement deserted him. He played-and-missed a Jasprit Bumrah delivery on the fifth stump, admonishing himself to focus harder.
He couldn’t. Off the 21st ball of the morning, Cummins wilted, trying to fend a fuller-length ball that marginally shaped away from him after pitching. The front-foot again was not fully forward and the hard hands ensured a thick edge flying awkwardly to Cheteshwar Pujara in the slips. The latter, though he made it look clumsier than it actually was, held on dearly. Kohli, charging towards the bowler, leapt in the air like he was about to unfurl an Eric Cantona-like kung-fu kick, and punched the nippy air before embracing Bumrah, the priceless weapon in his arsenal. Their wait seemed closer to ending, as Cummins stuttered dejectedly back to the dressing room, hardly realising the deafening applause he was receiving.
By the time Josh Hazlewood lumbered to the middle, Kohli and Co were already in celebratory mood, clapping and chatting and ready to plunge into each other. They couldn’t wait longer. And Nathan Lyon didn’t make them wait for long. Six balls and the Indians were wheeling away, as if time had stopped still for them. The wait was over.
The wait is not yet over, it continues. It’s the way life rolls out, and it’s the way sporting glories too. The Border-Gavaskar Trophy would travel home, but it’s the overseas series win that’s India’s undiminished pursuit. It was the year, Kohli said, he and his team would conquer the world. True to his word he did, but not many of his colleagues. The quest, at several junctures, seemed endless and elusive, but now they’re tantalisingly close to it. It’s hard to see such an opportunity beckoning this generation again in Australia.
What is certain is that the team would travel to Sydney with a hurtling momentum. It can be argued that they had gathered a similar steam in Adelaide, only to release it in Perth. But the Melbourne victory is a different story. It is, as Kohli reflected in the press conference, an attestation of the bouncebackability, a retort to their critics. Such a result infuses teams with a rare strength of character.
The build-up to the Boxing Day Test, or rather the vestiges of the Perth Test, was bitterly antagonistic. There were talks of rifts within the team, footage of teammates squabbling like wimpy kids in the middle of the ground, criticism and scorn regarding their tactics and team selection, an injury intrigue, an injured mainstay spinner, a sniff of a calamity waiting to unravel. It prompted a bombastic defiance and defence from coach Ravi Shastri, who lashed out at the critics “firing blanks from millions of miles away.” Further criticism ensued when both openers were dropped and a middle-order batsman was thrust into opening.
But creditably, each of their tactics worked and they demonstrated considerably wherewithal to fight back, reclaim the lead in convincing fashion and are now heading to Sydney with their morale peaking. To win in Sydney and thus the series, he says, is an obsession. “ If you want to win a series away from home, it has to be an obsession. And once you are obsessed, changing your decisions according to opinions is not an option at all. We haven’t changed our mind-set regardless of who said what, and at the end of the day, your belief is what matters. Because you are out there competing,” Kohli said, specifying that they will play the game of their lives to win in Sydney. “This is the last Test of the series and you have to give everything you have to win a series,” he adds.
Where the wait for a victory in Melbourne ended, began the wait for Sydney.
Around five pm in Melbourne, the clouds reemerged, wrapping Melbourne in gloom. But Kohli would remember that their gloomiest day in the city was also their sunniest.