19 January 2021this Date shall be etched in the memories of all Indian fans for a very long time and will go down in history as the day a new India stood up against all odds and showed the world what we are capable of. Many future cricket stars who are currently in the age group of 8 to 15 across India whoever may be from Big cities.. small cities.. towns or villages will see this as the Inspiration to go on and represent the country at the test level and replicate this feat for themselves.
The words of the legendary Harsha Bhogle on commentary resonate with our thoughts here. ‘How Can You Love Life, If You Don’t Love Test Cricket?’ Quite Literally it is ‘The Game Of Life’ !The Border Gavaskar Trophy 2020 will not only be remembered for the high quality cricket that was on display from both sides but for innumerable stories behind the scenes especially from the Indian camp which made these Cricketing Heroes overnight superstars and larger than life characters. It was the story of how Test Cricket won during the toughest of times despite the challenges of Covid, Bio Bubbles, Quarantines, Injuries amidst the Uncertainties of the Venues, Pitches, Weather etc and certain off field controversies. It was the story of a Touring Indian Team up against all odds and with their backs against the walls virtually in every game and the ability of a bunch of players being ably led by a stand in skipper to bounce back every single time and face the opponent eye to eye.
Yes, as Indian fans we would like to forget the infamous ’36 – 9′ at the Adelaide Oval on that 3rd morning of the 1st test but, the real story lies within those very numbers. That ’36’ was a wake up call and also a reminder to each one of us that just like in Cricket, Life will throw up such numbers in your face at times Marks, Percentage in Board exams, Interviews etc. Yes the System will tell you that your ’36’ isn’t good enough. Yes, people around you will tell you that you have failed but, never ever let that decide your destiny. Getting a ’36’ is not the end of the world, a bad performance here or there does not make you a ‘Failure’. Life throws at you these challenges to teach you how to grow. It is now upto each one of us how to respond to it. It would be easy to give up and disintegrate just like the cricket pundits who had written off this side to be whitewashed 4-0.But it takes Heart, Courage, Determination, Hard Work, Perseverance and Character to pick yourself up and prove these detractors wrong. These qualities were on display abundantly from this new generation of Indian Cricketers being led by a quietly confident and fiery Ajinkya Rahane and the team management. No Praise is enough for them.
The amount of Injuries & setbacks this side had to endure over the past 1 month since that ’36’ on the morning of 19 December 2020 at the Adelaide Oval cannot be emphasized upon enough. However it just helped each and every person in that unit to get together even more and play for each other.The Fight, Character, Grit and Team Sprit was evident amongst them and it surely sent shockwaves across the Aussie camp. What was supposed to be a walkover after Adelaide was soon turning out to be their greatest nightmare. In Justin Langers own words, the take away from this series was to ‘Never ever take the Indians for granted’.
With a new team virtually in every test after Adelaide, the Indians went about doing their job in a professional manner. The outside noise, debates, pundits, team selections etc was completely blocked out and huge credit to to the team staff for that. Pujara, Rohit, Pant, Siraj, Shaw, Mayank, Rahane etc almost each one of them faced lots of hate and criticism at some point of time or the other during the series but all this was being done by Indian Fans and Experts sitting from home. Special Mention to Pujara and Pant with absolutely contrasting styles of playing cricket yet proving to these ‘Critics’ that they have what it takes to be successful and the method that works for a player need not be in accordance with someone else’s expectations. So hats off to these Guys.
The Revival may have been kick started at the Melbourne Cricket Ground(MCG) in the Boxing Day test with a Captain leading from the front and scoring what was to be the only century in the series for an Indian but the momentum that this bunch of Indian bowlers gained during the test surely paved the path for what was to come.
Sydney was supposedly gonna be easy for India but we again lost a crucial toss and gave away early advantage after the 1st innings to yet again be against the wall trying to save the test with many broken bodies in the camp, but not a broken spirit which was exemplified by a fighting performance by Pujara , a counter attack for the ages by Pant and then the ‘Great Escape’ by the bruised and battered pair of Hanuma Vihari and Ashwin who helped India get out of a hole and leave Sydney unscathed. As Tim Paine said at the time that they couldn’t wait to get the Indians to Fortress Gabba for the Finale but was immediately shut down by a cheeky response from Ashwin. That was some class from Ash and one of the favourite memories for Indian fans and take away moment of the series.
With all the vagaries of the pitch, weather conditions etc in Brisbane and just a 4 test match old bowling line up at his disposal , Captain Rahane arrived at the Gabba Brisbane and yet again lost a huge toss.Team India were yet again caught at sea with nowhere to go and their best bet was to believe in each other and keep giving it their all and boy did they do that and how. The combined bowling efforts from Siraj, Shardul Thakur and the two debutants Natarajan & Sundar after the loss of Saini on the very day one of the test cannot be appreciated enough. The Fightback and firepower from Sundar and Shardul with the bat and yet again stellar performances from Siraj and Shardul with the ball in the 2nd innings meant that India is heading into the final day at the Aussie fortress. This inexperienced side of young guns with a good mix of experience in the form of Rohit, Pujara and Rahane had an unrealistic but not impossible shot at glory. Yes everyone at some point or the other on the night leading upto the 5th day morning were hoping for a draw and may be even for some rain. The amount of Google searches for weather reports above Brisbane was staggering and all the internet traffic over the Brisbane Weather page must have confused the local authorities but in Indian fans hearts they knew how important that was.
After all a washed out day or a lot of rain would have increased our chances for a draw and finish the series 1-1 and help India retain the Border Gavaskar Trophy but, be as it may 5 am alarm’s across India rang and woke up to sunny and bright playing conditions over The Gabba.
It was going to be a very long day again. Could this team pull off another escape and come back with a draw or Could we somehow stop this world class bowling attack on a wearing day five pitch with cracks as big as those seen on the Delhi roads ? Surely it was too much to ask for again especially after Sydney. Many hoped to just be lucky to see another fight atleast before we go down.
Indian fans were all preparing themselves mentally as to how proud this team made us feel even if we lost the series today. Dont get them wrong irrespective of that day’s result it surely wouldn’t have changed that feeling.
What transpired over the next 8 hours was completely extraordinary. If Shubman Gill the boy with the prodigious talent made us believe we could do this with a classy 91.Pujara braved it all against some really mean and hostile fast bowling to stand his ground and ignited hopes for a well earned draw. The Bruises on his body today would be testament to that and knowing the steely character he is and he would wear them as a badge of honour.
India were down to the last session of the series Post Tea. 145 runs needed, a possible 37 overs to get them in and 6 wickets in hand. Surely India wasn’t going for this? Logic defied it. Surely these guys knew we only needed a draw! Pujara and Pant Ice and Fire together. They resumed their job and played sensibly again chipping away and all seemed well as fans. The Indians were all breathing slightly easier now. They were feeling just a little more confident with each solid forward defense of Pujara and every stroke from Pant. Yes Indians had started to believe and nobody was moving away from their TV sets or Mobiles and sat in the same spot over after over. Each of the Indian fan are having a silent prayer in their hearts.
But this was the Border Gavaskar Trophy and nothing came easy. No inch was given. The second new ball claimed Pujara and Cummins was yet again breathing fire. Another 20 overs to go with still nearly 100 runs away and just Sundar, Shardul and the tail left. All eyes were on Pant. For a change the Skeptics, Critics, Fans and the Believers all had the same thing in mind for Pant to continue batting.
Pant and Sundar steadied the ship and slowly went about the job one ball at a time and one run at a time.They showed maturity way beyond their years. Pant has been there before perhaps but this was the big stage for Debutant Sundar. He played like a man in total control as if it was he who was playing his 100th test not Lyon but, right upto the moment where an reverse sweep saw his downfall. Shardul came and went with very little left but Pant was on the charge and and was in his Zone. He wanted it. The whole of India wanted it.
For a generation of 90s kids who had seen their superstars Sachin, Dravid, Ganguly falter and lose series in Australia before and then perform extremely well on later tours till 2018 but, this was the moment. Image after Image flashed in the eyes of the Indian fans. The Boxing Day Test in 1999 , 3-0 series loss, The Joy of Adelaide 2003, The Atrocious Buckner Test as the indians call it in Sydney 2008. The 4-0 series defeats. The pain, the joy, the agony and ecstasy of previous defeats and victories respectively.
At that very moment time stood still and whole of India held their breath hoping for Pant to somehow take a single off the last ball and retain strike so that the long tail would not be exposed the next over But, Pant being Pant and that was the New India. Bang that Shot straight down the ground just beating mid off Four!
Goosebumps! Tears in the eyes of every Indian fan and a Heart Filled with Pride and Joy. The whole India celebrated as one.The Country Applauded Together. 2-1 to India. Rishabh Pant the boy grew up to become a man and take the Indians beyond the finish line.
This win will always be amongst the greatest comeback stories of sport in modern cricketing arena and will be written about in the annals of Indian Cricket for a long long time. The Test Match, the Series was surely a reflection of the existence of the Indian’s. Massive Congratulations from The Sportnasha team to the Cricket Team of India for a remarkable series win and best wishes for many more such victories in the future.With the ICC World Test Championship at stake, every match, each series counts and we wish the Indian Cricket Team the very best for the next challenge home Series against England.
By Paramdeep Rathee