On the December 19, 2020, if you would have told Team India would be holding the Border-Gavaskar Trophy on the 19thof January 2021 (last day of the Test series), you would’ve been ridiculed. India were allout for 36, their lowest ever in the history of the game. 4, 9, 2, 0, 4, 0, 8, 4, 0, 4, 1 were the scores of Indian players on that dreadful day.
The series seemed dead and buried then and there. “4-0” became a common term used by the former Australian cricketers and a quite a few others. Talismanic skipper and premier (best) batsman Virat Kohli was to go on paternity leave. Mohammed Shami broke an arm in the first Test match. India were already without ace pacer Ishant Sharma and Rohit Sharma, with the latter due to join the team after the two first Test matches.
And you still thought India would retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy? People would’ve laughed it off.
What unfolded in the next three Test matches is really the stuff of dreams. The Indian Test team proved to the world that fairy-tales exist and when life gives you a chance, you need to grab them.
In each of the four Test matches, you wouldn’t be wrong if you went ‘Wait, how on earth did that happen?’
That 36 allout shocked the world. It wasn’t a reflection of this Indian team. It was one bad session, one bad hour of cricket, one bad hour where they just nicked everything and it found an Aussie pair of hands. It was an aberration and they proved that in the following games.
At the iconic MCG and in the Boxing Day Test match, they counter-punched. Ajinkya Rahane, the stand-in skipper, led from the front. The bowlers (a proper collective effort), who had delivered even in the first Test match only to see their batters fluff a big chance got back up and landed the knockout blow.
That was a stunning comeback to square it all up at 1-1. But surely, that’s it, right? India lost Umesh Yadav in that Test match. Cheteshwar Pujara was hit on the finger in the lead up to the game. Rohit Sharma returned but he hadn’t played a red-ball game in 14 months and add to that, a hard 14-day quarantine.
Moreover, SCG and the Gabba were Australia’s favourites venues. Teams don’t win here often. Forget winning, teams barely compete. Australia usually brush teams aside barring an exception here and there. Everyone knows Australia last lost a Test match at the Gabba back in 1988 and 24-0 (seven draws) since then. In this 21stcentury, Australia lost just two Test matches at the SCG (both to England –in 2003 and 2011) and since 2011. Moreover, India had one win at the SCG dating back to 1978 and none at the Gabba.
But this was an Indian team that cared little about the pitch, conditions or the ground. As the head coach Ravi Shastri once said (after India’s 3-0 Test series win over South Africa in 2019), “Pitch ko nikalo game se, bhaad me gaya pitch [To hell with the pitches]. Be it Johannesburg, Mumbai, Delhi, Auckland or Melbourne,if we pick up 20 wickets and then our batting clicks, then it’s a bit like our Ferrari has taken off. If our bowling unit picks up 20 wickets then we’re well placed to pick up the World Test Championship points we’re after.”
That’s exactly what happened. Yes, Team India didn’t pick 20 wickets at the SCG but they didn’t let Australia do the same either. Despite playing catch up right from the start of the game as Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith put Australia in ascendency, the bowlers fought superbly to come back and restrict the hosts to 338 on a ground where 450+ has been the norm.
With the bat, they didn’t really live up to the expectation in the first innings and were behind the eight-ball. They had several injuries throughout that game. Bowlers, batsmen, everyone was going down and the injury list just seemed endless. It just seemed a matter of time before the Aussies wrapped it up. But India stood up. India fought on the back of two partnerships (Pujara-Pant and Vihari-Ashwin). They played out 131 overs to defy the odds and pull out a miraculous save. Irrespective of how the pitch played, the opposition had the world’s best and relentless attack.
SCG draw, a huge sigh of relief. The Gabba?
Surely, a mountain too steep to climb? Forget winning, teams barely compete against Australia at the Gabba despite being full strength.
The entire bowling was rejigged as Jasprit Bumrah and Ravichandran Ashwin suffered injuries. Hanuma Vihari and Ravindra Jadeja were already ruled out. Surely, if India could manage to hold on to a draw with weather around, it would’ve been remarkable.
No team comes to the Gabba and takes twenty wickets so easily and that too with a bowling attack which had a total of eleven wickets and three Test matches and ten balls going into the Test match. But this Indian team with a bowling attack comprising of Mohammed Siraj, Shardul Thakur, Navdeep Saini who went down after seven overs in the first innings, T Natarajan and Washington Sundar did the unthinkable. Before this Indian team, only two teams had taken twenty wickets at the Gabba in the last thirty two years.
It was only a fantastic resurrect act from Washington Sundar and Shardul Thakur that took India close to Australia’s total of 369 in the first innings before another lion-hearted bowling effort restricted Australia to 294, setting India a fourth-innings target of 328.
Surely, you must think, it’s beyond India’s reach. Team India had chased down a score more than 328 only twice in their entire Test cricket history. Playing for a draw might be the safest option. But no, this Indian team went after it. There were only a few moments where it felt they were going for it but they largely played normal cricket. It was a cracked Gabba pitch which was going up and down and sideways at times.
But, once again, for the umpteenth time in this Test series, they defied the odds. When everybody thought, India should settle for the draw, level the series 1-1 and take back the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, the efforts of four men (Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara Rishabh Pant and Washington Sundar) took India over the finish line in a tense final day.
Twitter and social media went wild. 2-1 after that dreaded 36 all out? Surely, this must be a dream.
Absolutely nothing went Team India’s way. The universe aligned itself against Ajinkya Rahane (Virat Kohli in the first Test) and his men. The odds were stacked against them.
Injuries before the series. Kohli leaving after the first Test. Shami, Umesh, Rahul, Jadeja, Ashwin, Vihari, Bumrah – injured one after the other through the course of the Test series (Saini injured during the fourth Test). No one gave India a chance.
They bounced back from the infamous 36 to record a famous win at MCG. They were battered, bruised at the SCG, but they survived and hung on to a monumental draw. And then the big one, the Gabba fortress was breached.
India might have been hard done by the injuries and players went down left, right and centre. But remember, there were heroes born at every juncture as well. Every time Team India was in trouble, they had someone bailing them out. Stars were unearthed at every stage and that’s the sign of a champion team.
Siraj stepped up in the absence of Shami and later, Umesh Yadav at the MCG to bowl his heart out. He led the bowling attack admirably in the absence of Bumrah in the fourth Test. Ashwin shut his critics with splendid performances at Adelaide and MCG and then joined hands with Vihari under pressure at the SCG to bat out more than three hours to force a draw. Rahane stepped up with a match-winning ton at the MCG. Bumrah was superb in the three Tests he played. Rohit Sharma showed signs of maturing as an overseas Test opener. Yes, he threw it away but there were huge positives in the way he batted. Shardul and Sundar stepped up when the opportunity came around in the fourth Test. Shubman Gill showed he is here to stay.
In the span of one month despite being battered and bruised, Team India went from 36 allout to chasing 328 on a fifth-day Gabba pitch and defied the odds to register a massive 2-1 win. Last time when India went to Australia and won 2-1, they said, no Smith, no Warner and now, they’ve done it in some style. Numerous first-choice Indian players missing against a full-strength Australian side and to win 2-1 on the back of that is something extraordinarily special. And it will be long cherished in the history of Indian cricket.