There is something about an underdog victory that makes for a great story. It’s probably because in an unjust society, majority of people associate with the underdogs and such victories provide them the hope that with some resilience and relentless effort, they can win their individual battles too. Test cricket emulates life for the virtues associated with it like patience, hard work, physical and mental toughness. “It isn’t about how hard you hit, but it’s about how hard you get hit and still keep moving forward.”
The Indian team suffered several severe jolts throughout the series but that did not deter them from punching way above their weight time and again. It was a display of individual skills and team work of highest order. This series win is also a testament to India’s bench strength mentored by none other than the Indian legend Rahul Dravid himself. These talented young cricketers appear unfazed by the enormity of the stage and have the self-belief to pull off a win from any situation.
An inexperienced bowling attack
It seemed that we saw the best cricket that Indian squad was capable of, at Sydney, hence the draw there felt like a win for the team. However, injuries from the match ruled out four Indian players which meant that the already depleted Indian side would be further deprived of experience. Hence India were forced to enter the decider Test with the most inexperienced bowling attack since the independence. The collective wickets taken by Indian bowlers, three of whom were effectively making a debut, were 1000 less than their Australian counterparts.
However it was these inexperienced players only who set the match for Indian batsmen to finish on the final day. While bowling, Natrajan, Shardul and Sundar took 3 wickets each to restrict Australia to 369 in the first innings. Shardul and Sundar top scored with bat too to take India closer to the Australian total by their century partnership at a crucial juncture. On Day 4, Siraj bowled superbly to claim his maiden fifer while Shardul took 4 wickets to set India a target of 328 runs.
The Final Day
Australia had not lost a Test at Brisbane in 32 years and to chase above 250 on a 5th day Gabba pitch was unheard of. Most of the Indian supporters hoped for rain to save their team and help them secure a draw as many experts believed that winning was not an option. However, like in Sydney, here too, a group of individuals believed differently and that’s what mattered. India did not have an ideal start as they lost Rohit Sharma quite early in a typical Pat Cummins dismissal- edged one that angled in but left him slightly after pitching.
Cautious first session
Pujara joined Gill in the middle and the duo ensured that India did not lose any further wickets till lunch. However the strategies used for the same by the two were poles apart. Gill was quite flamboyant in strokeplay and utilized every opportunity to score runs. He played some classy drives and cuts on both front and back foot. He even used his feet well against Lyon and never looked uncomfortable. Pujara on the other hand was rock solid with the only intent to blunt the Australian attack by pure defense. He scored just 8 runs off 90 balls pre lunch.
Just half an hour before lunch Australia, unable to get any assistance off the pitch or in the air, resorted to short stuff. They continued this strategy even after lunch but to no avail. Again both Pujara and Gill dealt with it differently. Gill selectively took on the short balls and played some nice upper cuts and pulls. Australia had three men catching for the pull shot on the boundary but Gill’s calculative shots were played away from those fielders. Only once he mistimed a shot that went above the head of the deep square leg fielder who was slightly inside the boundary line. Pujara again chose to defend the short balls. He took several body blows and was struck on helmet a few times. He would ask for some assistance from the physio and then again got on with it like nothing happened the previous ball.
Post lunch show of intent
Post lunch there was a subtle change in Pujara’s approach as he started to play his shots and utilize every bad ball from the Aussies. Meanwhile Gill reached his half century and was looking good for his maiden century when just nine runs short, he drove a Lyon delivery away from his body only to edge it to Smith at slip. Ajinkya Rahane was the next batsmen in but he did not let the tempo of the chase get down. He stepped out and hit Lyon for a six over mid wicket to clearly indicate his intentions. He played a few shots and also ran well between the wickets with Pujara. With India half way through to their target, Paine brought his best bowler Cummins back in the attack and he struck right away. Rahane, trying to cut too close to his body, was caught behind for a 22-ball 24.
Pujara was now joined by Rishabh Pant. It was this partnership that changed India’s fortune in the Sydney test. But Pant could not finish that improbable chase and was dismissed three runs short of a well deserved century. This time Pant came in with a stronger resolve. Just like Sydney, he had a very cautious start to his innings. India went for Tea at 183/3, needing 145 off the last session in which minimum 37 overs would be bowled.
Going for a win
Post tea, India had a clear target in the mind- to go for a win but without being reckless about it. They played a few overs without any boundary. Pant, trying to break free, stepped down the track to hoick Lyon, but could not get any connection with the ball. Luckily for him, even Paine could not get any connection with the ball as Australia lost a tough chance to earn a wicket. This however did not deter Pant from trying the same shot but this time successfully. Pant had blocked enough deliveries, now he was searching for a boundary every over. Meanwhile Pujara got to his fifty off 196 balls, his slowest yet one of his finest.
With the second new ball, Cummins came back into the attack and yet again he provided the breakthrough for his team. It was the prized scalp of Cheteshwar Pujara, beaten on the inside of his bat and struck in front of the stumps. He batted for close to 5 hours for his 211 ball 56 that had 7 boundaries. He was the sheet anchor around whom the team built the innings and played shots without worrying about the other end. While Pujara played for the overs, he allowed others to go for the runs as Test cricket is as much about time as it is about runs and wickets.
The final hour
India needed 100 runs from the last 20 overs. Stage was set for a thrilling finish. Pant wanted to finish the job that he left unfinished the last time. He played some beautiful cover drives to start with and followed it with assertive cuts and sweeps. He paced his innings sensibly and also ran well between the wickets. Pant reached his individual 50 off 100 balls with four 4s and a six. India’s chase met with a jolt as Mayank’s uppish drive was caught in the cover off Cummins. While other bowlers kept waiting for the Gabba demon to wake up, Cummins bowled his heart out to claim his 4th wicket of the day. Even though he did not receive much assistance from the conditions, he always looked threatening and kept the batsmen honest. But his lone effort was not enough to check India’s resurgence.
The sweet taste of victory
Sundar pulled Cummins for a six and then sliced him for a four to open the flood gates. Lyon’s next over went for 15 with two boundaries from Pant. With win within sight, India lost two quick wickets of Sundar and Shardul; and Pant too played a false shot that landed safely. Pant calmed his nerves and drove a full ball from Hazlewood through vacant mid off for a boundary. India had pulled off an unbelievable run chase- to score in excess of 300 on a 5th Day pitch against one of the best bowling attacks in their own backyard is no mean feat. This test and with it the series victory will always feature in Indian and even world cricket’s folklore for generation to come.
This win meant that India would retain the Border Gavaskar trophy with back to back series wins in Australia. Rishabh Pant was adjudged Player of the Match for his match-winning innings of 89* off 138 with 9 boundaries and a six. Pat Cummins was chosen the Player of the Series for his aggregate of 21 wickets at an impressive average of 20. India’s win also ensured that they reclaim the top position on the points table of World Test Championship.