Balls on fire, a canopy of clouds throwing rain over the field, racial abuse, injures, and the pandemic: Can a cricket series get more hostile? Yet at the end of the Gabba test, Indian cricket team can proudly say, they have breached the historic fort and won the series 2-1. The question is, despite adverse conditions, how did India win the series? Probably the simplest answer would be, this team was not built in a day but forged fearlessly in the fire over time. When Ajinkya Rahane, the Indian skipper handed over the trophy to T Natarajan, the statement was clear: this is the new Indian cricket team — young with a never-give-up attitude.
The biggest blow that the Indian team faced was injuries of important players — KL Rahul, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav and Hanuma Vihari. In addition to these, Navdeep Saini and Mayank Agarwal were also injured, but fortunately not serious enough to keep them out of the game. Cheteshwar Pujara was hit multiple times as well. After all these injuries, the substitutions made were a few inexperienced players. Mohammed Siraj was the most experienced bowler with two test matches in his kitty. Navdeep Saini and Shardul Thakur were playing their second test match. Natarajan and Washington Sundar were playing their debut match. Yet, with this inexperienced bowling attack, Indian team picked 20 Australian wickets.
Above the bowlers’ performance, the unsung hero behind this success would be Bharath Arun, the Indian bowling coach. Nothing sums up the efforts of Arun than a tweet by Rohan Gavaskar (@rohangava9), “Bharat Arun slipped while bowling his first ball in Test cricket. I remember watching that as a kid. Bharat Arun made sure our team didn’t slip after the Adelaide Test. Massive props to the entire coaching staff.”
The match is evident that the tireless effort Arun has put, working with bowlers behind the curtains has helped India pick each of those 20 wickets. Also not to forget, the efforts of the head coach Ravi Shastri and Indian captain Ajinkya Rahane who engaged in a crisis-management to get the team ready against all odds.
However, this isn’t hopefully a one-off match, as some experts believe that it is the result of a strong foundation. Maybe that is why it is no wonder that Rahul Dravid (Coach of India U-19 and India A from 2016 to 2019) is also praised for the performance of the Indian youngsters in the series. Shubman Gill, Rishabh Pant, Washington Sundar, Shardul Thakur, Navdeep Saini are all output of India’s strong investment in junior and domestic level cricket.
The team that played the final test is also a balance between youth and experience. Rohit Sharma, Pujara, Rahane, and Mayank Agarwal might have brought in their international and domestic experience into play when the officially inexperienced fearlessly marched ahead. Rishabh Pant’s game in the fourth innings, of 89 from 138 is a demonstration of this fearlessness. Chasing a score above 300, that too in the final day of the test match, is not an easy hill to climb and nobody would blame the batsmen if they had played for a draw. Even a draw in the final test would have helped India retain the trophy because they were the winners in the previous Border-Gavaskar series and this series is at a draw (1-1) before the fourth match. Yet, the fearless Indian team went for a win.
Shubman Gill fired on top with a solid 91. What followed was a well-measured and calculated win. Pant sensibly accelerated the innings, taking the team towards the target. Yet at one point of the match, towards the end, the required run rate climbed to six. With eight overs left and fifty runs to get, the Indian batsman might have been in pressure. After all the 20-20 matches they have played, this was not an impossible target. The conditions were although different in Test cricket. Pant and Sundar did exactly what was expected: hit hard. Sundar did a quick cameo scoring 22 from 29 with two fours and a six.
It was the last ball of the ninety-seventh over. Josh Hazlewood bowled a low full toss. Rishabh Pant drove the ball straight. The ball gently rolled over the green grasses of the famous Gabba, slowly towards the far boundary. Pant knew it, the Australians knew it, the Indians knew it and when the ball touched the fence, India breached the Gabba fort — a venue where the hosts had been unbeaten for the last thirty-two years.
After the end of four test matches, after India won the test series 2-1, Pujara reasserted that he is the most treasured Test player in the country. What fine poetics, what fine temperament and what fine aesthetics does this man possess, in chiselling beautiful innings out of hardest circumstances. He was hit on the body and helmet 14 times during this series. Twitter member @cricvizanalyst says, “That is a record for body blows received in a single series by a batsman since such things were recorded in 2006.”
Even with a bruised body, Pujara running back for the fourth run along with his partner Ajinkya Rahane shows the attitude of the player. Each of the 928 balls Pujara played in the series is an act of survival, weathering down the ball, grinding down the bowler.
This series is nothing short of a fairy tale. An injured team mockingly called “hospital-ward”, a new captain, a bunch of inexperienced youngsters, media and experts writing off the team even before the first ball being bowled, yet at the end of the day, India lifts the Border-Gavaskar trophy. Above all these heroics, there is a golden question: Do we still prefer limited-over cricket over Test cricket? The answer is not binary. T20 and ODI cricket are entertaining. However, there is something that Test cricket has, something captivating and seductive. The series was like a long classic movie: beautiful, poetic, gutsy, and daring.