Updated: January 20, 2021 3:09:41 pm
Kapil Dev on the Lord’s balcony in 1983, Rahul Dravid and V V S Laxman batting an entire day at Eden Gardens in 2001, M S Dhoni sealing it with a six at Wankhede in 2011 will remain Indian cricket’s iconic moments — but they can still be re-enacted. India’s impossible-to-forget Test win in Brisbane and the coming-of-age series triumph in Australia are unlikely to be overwritten in the pages of Indian cricket history.
For the sheer improbability of events that unfolded at Gabba Tuesday and the impossibility of seeing something so storied ever again, this is easily India’s greatest Test win ever.
What are the chances of another series in a bio-bubble amid a global pandemic which coincides with the team’s influential captain going on paternity leave, a new low of 36 all out and about 11 regulars making it to the injury list instead of the Starting XI.
Just two Indians Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane played all four Tests and India made 10 changes to their playing XI in this series.
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India ‘C’ beating Australia at a venue which has traumatised tourists over the years and is referred to as the Gabbatoir is a miracle.
To use sport as a metaphor for a nation’s identity is a little absurd but “fighting back” will now be seen as an Indian thing. It’s a series win that will force the world to look at India with fresh eyes. This Australian tour showed Indian cricket isn’t just about deep pockets; it’s also about a deeper talent pool. When the good old domestic circuit that’s spread across the country weds IPL’s new-age innovations, it gives birth to a team that redefines Test matches.
And, in these uncertain times, reassures the world that long-form cricket will never get outdated.
On Tuesday, while old hand Pujara was making sure that India wouldn’t lose, at the other end 21-year-old Shubman Gill and 23-year-old Rishabh Pant were ensuring that victory, too, remained a possibility. Pujara took the short-ball blows on the head, shoulder, ribs, abdomen and finger but would abstain from the high-risk pulls and hooks.
Gill and Pant weren’t bothered by the men on the fence or the balls rising to their chins, they went for their shots. They have faced these bowlers before; Pat Cummins addresses his IPL teammate Gill as “Shubhy”.
It was symbolic that when Pujara got out, India needed less than 100 runs in about 20 overs. Any self-respecting T20 star would see this as a below-par target. As he walked away, it seemed Pujara, the 32-year-old who doesn’t have an IPL contract, was saying, “Boys, I am leaving. I know you guys can take it from here.”
The boys didn’t disappoint. Pant and Washington Sundar — the big-ticket T20 players — knew how this was to be done. They weren’t burdened by the weight of the moment.
Pant was playing his falling-over paddle shots. Washington, 21, got out attempting a reverse sweep. More wickets fell but Pant was unfazed. Even when he plays for Delhi Capitals, wickets do fall in a high-pressure chase. He didn’t freeze as he sealed the win with a flowing straight drive for four.
There was a refreshing casualness in the way Pant headlined Indian cricket’s cultural shift. Once it was Australia which had shown the world that sport without an all-out pursuit for victory was meaningless, now a bunch of 20-something Indians were teaching the same lesson to 11 tired and dispirited men in Baggy Greens.
The young heroes of this series have fascinatingly diverse back stories but share a common trait that makes them hit this ground running.
Pant, along with his mother, would start his six-hour-long bus trip from Roorkee at 2.30 am to play cricket in Delhi. His mother would pack a coffee thermos and paneer parathas in a lunch box. A gurdwara at Motibagh would be their resting place during the day.
Gill’s father, a landlord, was very sure that he would make his son an international cricketer. His farmhands at village Chak Kherewala, near Jalalabad in Punjab, would often turn net bowlers so that little Shubman could bat for hours.
This tour’s Cinderella story is of T Natarajan, who came to Australia as a net bowler but as the injury list grew, made his T20, ODI, and, finally, Test debut.
Born in Chinnappampatti, a village 36 km west of Salem in Tamil Nadu, he was a star in the region’s annual tennis-ball cricket tournaments. If not for cricket, he would have been a weaver like his father.
Same was true for Mohammed Siraj, the find of the tour, whose five-wicket haul on Day 4 saw India put a foot in victory’s door. If not for a generous coach who gave him the money to travel to Charminar Cricket Club on the outskirts of Hyderabad, the son of an auto-rickshaw driver from the inner city would have been happy to cheer Team India on television and stick to gully cricket.
The story of players from Indian cricket’s outposts getting spotted and earning India caps isn’t new. But this was the series where the newcomer, despite limited first-class cricket experience, seemed to be factory-fitted with the temperament and skills that are needed to play top level cricket.
Of late, the BCCI set-up, along with the IPL network, has ensured that half-cooked cricketers get weeded out.
Franchises with a sharp eye for cricketing talent, and financial returns, are going the extra mile to reach the most underprivileged but talented cricketers in the country’s remotest areas.
India’s Mr Cricket, Rahul Dravid, the man in charge at the National Cricket Academy, has put in place a strict quality control programme. Every performer in this series has had the exposure and education to deal with the rigours of international cricket.
India’s new brand of the game is turning heads. In England, a popular podcast predicts that this is going to be the decade of Indian cricket. Pakistan cricketers Shoaib Akhtar, Rashid Latif and Inzamam-ul-Haq, on their YouTube channels these days, sound like depressed parents who keep comparing their academically average kid to the topper next door.
Australia, in their true tradition of applauding hard-nosed cricketers, have a new-found respect for India. In Brisbane, when Pujara was getting hit from head to toe, they even compared him to Steve Waugh, pointing to the similarities in their approach in dealing with short balls.
Pant’s daredevilry made Google CEO Sundar Pichai take his mind off anti-trust law to tweet: “One of the greatest Test series wins ever. Congrats India and well played Australia, what a series.”
In the UK, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak was sleep-deprived. “What a match! Congratulations India on a historic win. Can we sleep now?”
On Tuesday, the world woke up to see Indian cricket’s big rising.
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