By Paresh K Das
The just-concluded test series between India and Australia in which a depleted and virtually second-string Indian XI turned the tables on a full-strength Australian team to win the series 2-1 will go down in the annals of world cricket as one of the finest contests ever.
For Indian cricket, perhaps it was the finest moment. India’s epoch-making victory in the Oval test in 1971 which enabled the Ajit Wadekar-led squad to register its first ever series victory (1-0) on English soil will come a close second. The fantastic win by Ajinkya Rahane’s boys at the Gabba, Brisbane, in the fourth test, in the opinion of many, would even put to shade the country’s World Cup victories in 1983 and 2011. It may dismay some readers, but it is because the incredible Indian performance has put on display the importance of test cricket at a time when the slam-bang variety of the game has become the staple diet of the average cricket fan. It has also put in perspective the beauty of test cricket, the highest form of the game.
When the Indian team landed in Australia, in the backdrop of the shadow of Covid-19 pandemic, both sides appeared balanced on paper. But the story unfolded in such a way in the test series that India had to field as many as 20 players in the four games with virtually a second string team squaring up against the might of the Kangaroos in the last test.
The first test, a day-night contest at Adelaide, was an even contest and though India gained a 53-run lead in the first innings, the visitors inexplicably collapsed for an all time low 36 in the second innings handing Australia an easy win. The batting collapse in which no Indian batsman could touch double figure brought back horrendous memories of the team’s batting failure in England in 1974 when Ajit Wadekar’s team was bowled out for 42. Most cricket pundits including former greats wrote off the Indian side saying the demoralized team would suffer a wash out in the series.
The morale of the batters was at an all time low when they lined up for the second test at Melbourne with the captain and best batsman in the side, Virat Kohli, having flown home for personal reasons.
Most felt that for Ajinkya Rahane, who took up the reigns of the team in Kohli’s absence, it would be an unsurmountable challenge. To make matters worse, one of the team’s best pace bowlers, Mohammed Shami, had been sidelined after he suffered a fracture in the first test.
The depleted team, however, rose from the depths of humiliation at Adelaide like the proverbial phoenix to crush the Aussies by 8 wickets in the second contest. Rahane, calmness personified and just the opposite of the volatile and expressive Kohli, led the way with a century while pacemen Jasprit Bumrah and debutant Mohammed Siraj aided by off spinner Ravichandran Ashwin plotted Australia’s downfall. The captain’s calm demeanour and astute handling of the talent at his disposal came to the fore as the team fought like a united force, each player trying to contribute.
Australia roared back into contention in the 3rd test at Sydney by batting well in both innings and establishing a first innings advantage of 94 runs. India were set the stiff target of 407 runs in the fourth innings with the Aussie pace battery comprising Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood moving in for the kill. Incidentally, Hazlewood had decimated the Indians at Adelaide with a magical spell of 5 for eight.
Though many had thought that India without Kohli would collapse under the weight of pressure, the team fought back by batting 131 overs in the fourth innings to reach 334 for five. Most batsmen rose to the occasion and faced the torrid pace attack risking injury. While Cheteswar Pujara led the way with 77 off 205 balls, it was the hurricane knock of 97 by young Rishabh Pant (118 balls) which truly stopped the Aussies in their tracks. The Pant innings even raised visions of an improbable Indian victory. A late order rearguard action, in true test tradition, by Hanuma Vihari (23 off 161 balls) and an unfit Ravichandran Ashwin (39 off 128 balls) ensured that India would go to Brisbane on level terms.
At Brisbane, India had to sideline at least four of its players who figured in the third test as they were injured. Bumrah, Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, the mainstay of the bowling attack, and Vihari had to sit out. In came rookie Thangarasu Natarajan and Washington Sundar. Siraj, just two test old, became the spearhead of the pace attack. Siraj, Natarajan and Shardul Thakur, the other medium pacer fielded, had the collective experience of just three tests. Mayank Agarwal who opened in the first test, was fielded as a middle order bat.
But the young guns rose to the challenge in such an unbelievable way, that the team turned the tables in the final test winning the contest by three wickets triggering unprecedented scenes.
In the first innings, it was the inexperienced duo of Sundar and Thakur who shared a 123-run stand for the seventh wicket to revive the team when the chips were down and narrowed the Australian lead to just 33 runs.
Set a stiff target of 327 runs for victory, young Shubman Gill led the way with a polished 91 confirming the arrival of a class batsman who could serve the country for a long time. But it was the irrepressible Pant again who blasted an unbeaten 89 to guide the team home.
What this stupendous series has uncovered is India’s present depth of cricketing talent. Suddenly thrown into the deep end of the pool, these young talents showed they had the skill and temperament to fight and win. Undoubtedly, It augurs well for the future.
About the Author:
Paresh K Das is a senior journalist based in Bhubaneswar
This is the personal opinion of the author. The views expressed in this write up have nothing to do with the www.prameyanews.com