India’s Pathway to the Pinnacle

My earliest memories of the Australia tour dates back to 2008. I had just started watching cricket a year back. I never knew the ruthlessness of Australians or our inefficiency in overseas matches. I didn’t even know the matches start at 5.30 AM Indian time. The first test in the 08 series was a revelation of the harsh reality for me. India was bowled out for 191 and 168 in their two innings and consequently lost the match by a huge margin of 337 runs. Anil Kumble was the captain back then. The captaincy was then transferred to MS Dhoni. India excelled well in home tours under his captaincy however the overseas tours remained a nightmare. Be it any country, the results were similar. A humiliating loss by a huge margin or a demoralizing innings defeat. The trend continued for several years.

Barring a few, the bowling lacked the technique while batting lacked the endurance. Every single series was a forgettable affair. Even a single rare win in overseas looked golden. However, After getting some blows in the initial tours, the things started to change once Kohli reigned in power. The team started to put up a fight despite falling short. If you look back at India’s tour of SouthAfrica scorecard, it would read South Africa 2–1 India. However, the story it doesn't say is that the proteas had to fight for every single run and every single wicket. India won a test match however it was seen as a lost opportunity to win a series overseas. Later that year, India toured Australia and went one step ahead. India won the tour against the might Aussies in their own backyard. Cheteshwar Pujara, Jasprit Bumrah, Rishabh Pant, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, every single player stood up when it mattered. It was when India actually became the no.1 side in tests. Though India won the series, the accusations that they beat a warner and smith less Oz side dented the credit which made this Australian series even more important.

Before the start of the series, many didn’t give India any chance. They were ‘generous’ enough to say India will win T20Is but restrained from believing that this Indian side could defeat the Aussies. Michael Vaughan predicted 4–0 scorecard while Michael Clarke said India won’t win without Kohli and lastly Ricky Ponting commented that India won’t cross 200 runs in 4th innings in the latest test match that concluded at Sydney. While the factors like unavailability of their captain, their prominent pacers and injury concerns in the lineup stand as a support to their statement, they have forgotten that this Indian team is groomed by Virat Kohli and it shall not go down without a fight.

Rightly so, India made the Aussies sweat every match in this series. Sydney test is special in numerous ways and shall be etched in our memories forever. Coming into this test, Steve Smith openly admitted that Ravi Ashwin had got better of him in the first 2 matches. Australia are infamously ‘ruthless’ country. They could go any distance to ensure win, even if it they need to use sandpaper, provoke the players with silly banters or erase the guard lines at the crease. Hence, India were under real test as they came into this test. As expected, Steve Smith found his form back and India couldn’t stop another collapse in the first innings that gave them a lead of 94 runs. It felt like the match is a lost cause. Steve Smith continued his good innings and the absence of Jadeja in the second innings dented the chances even more.

Having to chase 407 runs with 10 players(Jadeja’s injury restricted him from batting) in the 4th innings, the hope was negligible. We have seen numerous innings in the past where players try hard to negotiate a draw. Gambhir against New Zealand, Kallis and Amla against India are some of the valiant efforts that went in vain. India never really had a chance when they came in for Day 5 with 8 wickets in hand. However, Pant and Pujara showed the world that they are made of steel. While India was looking at a lose or draw, Pant eyed at a win. He toiled the Australian bowlers all across the ground. It felt good to see an Indian batsman counterattack the best bowling attack in the world. It was a sign of hope. It was a sign of change. Though he fell for 97 runs, Pant had instigated that the win is a possibility. Pujara on the side continued to do what he does the best. Even after the wicket of Pant, India eyed a victory until before Hazlewood broke pujara’s defence to knock the bails off.

When Pujara fell, India needed to survive another 43 overs with a limping Hanuma Vihari and Ravi Ashwin who has been off colors with the bat lately. I never really thought they would last 40+ overs blocking. The loss looked inevitable. Ashwin and Vihari had other plans. Ashwin got some bad blows on his ribs and shoulder but his continued fight was a inspiring tale. I have always viewed Vihari as a player with great potential though his returns have been scarce. With failing in as many opportunities in the series so far, his time was running out. Today, Vihari showed why he’s one of a kind and is a player to backup for in the future. Usually a batsman can attack or defend a delivery but today Vihari couldn’t play shots due to injury and has to sustain the overs solely by defending. It narrows the bowler for the lengths to bowl at him. Even in that difficulty, he made sure he survived the attack. Yes, there were some missed chances but it mustn’t lessen the monumental partnership that the 2 batsmen had at the middle.

Adding to the agony, Australia played some nasty cricket. Though it could be another brain fade, Smith’s act of erasing the pant’s guard mark at the crease was something that you don’t expect from a batsman of such stature and who has been banned once already for disobeying the rules. Wade on the other hand threw the ball twice at Vihari who was already injured stood as another testimony to their ‘win at any cost’. Though Tim Paine, the captain tried to get into the head of Ashwin with silly banters and inappropriate language, Ashwin’s epic response to him ended the banter as well is another high point of the match.

India didn’t win the test. They just managed a draw but the circumstances under which it came makes the test more memorable. This Indian team in the absence of their original captain, in the absence of their main pace bowlers, in the middle of a racial abuse fiasco, in the middle of the bio bubble issue while fielding a relative less experienced and partly injured team stood throughout the test with grit and resilient thus proving that the Indian team shall not bow down without a fight and shall be the best in the world. It will surely be etched as one of the best draw that the India had managed in overseas and will stand as an example to the future generations in the years to come.

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