India toured Australia in the December of 2018 and as we know, clinched the test series 2-1. As monumental as a series win on overseas shores was, there were many who chose to undermine it. This was a victory against a weakened Australian side, they said. Their star batsmen David Warner and Steve Smith, who were then serving bans for the infamous sandpapergate scandal, were absent.
Two years later, circumstances are dramatically different. For starters, the term ‘bio-secure bubble’ was irrelevant to cricket the last time around. Secondly, Australia have fielded full-strength sides while India, besides coping with the absence of their captain and best batsman, Virat Kohli, have had to contend with injuries to several senior players. Despite all this, after three tests done and one more to go, the side is very much in contention to repeat their 2018-19 feat. We wonder what the detractors have to say this time?
India began the series with a humiliating defeat at Adelaide, where they were bowled out for their lowest ever total of 36. They pulled things back magnificently at Melbourne, registering an impressive victory on the back of stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane’s heroics and tying the series 1-1. It is, however, the third test at Sydney that will be spoken about for years and years to come. The two teams battled hard for the entirety of five days, and both remained in contention till the last session of the last day. A depleted Indian side channeled all its reserves of grit, determination and fortitude and dealt with a fierce pace attack, racist barbs from the crowd and constant chatter from the Aussie fielders to eke out a draw that was perhaps more satisfying than the MCG win. The game showed what test match cricket was capable of producing. T20 can draw crowds and give you big sixes, but cannot push the limits of a player’s skill and mental strength like the longest format. The Sydney spectacle produced four heroes who played out of their skins. Incidentally, these four men have time and again been at the receiving end of flak from the media and fans.
— BCCI (@BCCI) January 11, 2021
Hope all of us realise the importance of pujara,pant and Ashwin in cricket teams..batting at 3 in test cricket against quality bowling is not always hitting through the line ..almost 400 test wickets don’t come just like that..well fought india..time to win the series @bcci
— Sourav Ganguly (@SGanguly99) January 11, 2021
Cheteshwar Pujara was the architect of our series win in 2018-19. We thought three centuries and a man of the series performance would be enough to put an end to talks about his strike rate. But alas, 24 months and two IPL seasons later, we’re back to criticising his supposed “lack of intent”. To put things into perspective, he scored half centuries in both innings of the game. More importantly, in the second innings when India had to bat 131 overs to save the test match, Pujara alone consumed over 34 of those (205 balls), more than any other batsman. If this doesn’t underline the man’s value to the Indian team, nothing will. The intricacies and complexities of test cricket are often lost on the IPL generation fan. It’s isn’t always about plundering runs. As we saw in Sydney, test cricket often demands resilience and more importantly, patience. Pujara packs both in plenty.
In the last 7 AUS v IND Tests in Australia, the hosts have bowled 7250 balls at IND. 1881 of those have been at Pujara. One in every four balls faced by an IND batsman in a Test in AUS since 2018 has been faced by Pujara. AUS are probably sick of the guy by now.
— cricketingview (@cricketingview) January 11, 2021
One thing is certain, Rishabh Pant is the kind of talent that comes along once in a generation. At just 23, he is already the first Indian wicketkeeper to score test centuries in England and Australia (yes, not even the great MS Dhoni managed this), and averages a whopping 59 down under. It takes a special player to smash 97 off 118 balls on day five of a test match. It broke our hearts when he fell, not only because he deserved a hundred but also because India would’ve won if he had stayed at the crease. Pant does have a tendency to play rash shots and his carelessness often costs him his wicket, but people tend to forget that he is still 23. At this age his feats outweigh his faults, which is why his place in India’s test XI should most certainly not be put under question.
Many questions must be resting in peace for now… #RishabhPant
— Irfan Pathan (@IrfanPathan) January 11, 2021
If Rishabh Pant’s whirlwind innings was special, Hanuma Vihari carved out a masterpiece of a different kind. Perhaps the most understated player in the Indian team, Vihari had had a rather forgettable first two tests, which is why his selection for Sydney raised a few eyebrows. To make matters worse, he hurt his hamstring. When he came out to bat on the fifth day he couldn’t run, and so he decided to simply block everything that was thrown at him. He endured pain for 161 deliveries but remained unbeaten and saved the test for India.
Spare a thought for #HanumaVihari. Endured a wretched tour, worried about his immediate future, tweaks his hamstring, can’t run…. everything going wrong….then produces one of the finest rearguard actions in Indian cricket.
— Harsha Bhogle (@bhogleharsha) January 11, 2021
When Vihari lost his dad at 12, he couldn’t be traced for 4-5 days. His mother would discover later that he was winning a game for his school scoring 82. His single-mindedness then is what convinced her he’d play Test cricket someday. That determination is on show today #AUSVIND
— Bharat Sundaresan (@beastieboy07) January 11, 2021
With 350+ wickets, four centuries and an astute cricketing brain, Ravichandran Ashwin would walk into any test side in the world, no questions asked. Yet, over the years he’s often found himself playing musical chairs with his spot in the XI. While his bowling in overseas conditions has improved by leaps and bounds, on Monday he showed us what a terrific fighter and a team man he is. A bad back didn’t stop him from going out there and ensuring a draw for India. He batted through pain and bravely stood up to the chin music served by the Australian pacers for 128 balls.
To reiterate @ashwinravi99 bowled 19 overs on Day 4 with discomfort in his back, woke up worse for wear, kept standing in the dressing-room till the time he walked out to bat, spent the tea-break on his feet, then batted another full session to save the day. Just Special #AUSvIND
— Bharat Sundaresan (@beastieboy07) January 11, 2021
The man went to bed last night with a terrible back tweak and in unbelievable pain. He could not stand up straight when he woke up this morning. Could not bend down to tie his shoe laces. I am amazed at what @ashwinravi99 pulled off today.
— Prithi Ashwin (@prithinarayanan) January 11, 2021
India now move on to Brisbane where they just need another draw to retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy. However with so many injuries in the dressing room and the Aussies likely to come all guns blazing, it isn’t going to be an easy task. But India will take confidence from the face that they pulled off something phenomenal at Sydney.