Thu, 25 Feb 2021

By Vishesh RoyNew Delhi [India], January 20 (ANI): Moments before India registered an epic draw in the third Test against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground, skipper Tim Paine engaged in a verbal duel with R Ashwin. "Can't wait for you to reach Gabba, Ash (Ravichandran Ashwin)," Paine said, keeping in mind that the hosts had last lost a game at their fortress back in November 1988.

Being undefeated for 32 years at a single venue gave Paine a sense of pride which bordered on arrogance. The injury woes in the Indian ranks only compounded the problems for the visitors as pundits started questioning if Ajinkya Rahane and boys' reluctance to play at The Gabba was indeed due to strict quarantine rules or an attempt to avoid a defeat at the Brisbane Cricket Ground.

India had already lost Ravindra Jadeja and Hanuma Vihari in the third Test and on the first morning of the final game, it was clear that Jasprit Bumrah and Ravichandran Ashwin wasn't available. But newbies like Washington Sundar, T Natarajan, and Shardul Thakur showed it is not always about the experience and at times it is also about the urge to punch above the weight.

Chasing 328 to win in the final innings on a Gabba wicket without Virat Kohli in the ranks is no mean feat. As far as cricketing sense goes, one can say, you need a century from at least one batter if you have to chase a total of 328. But this Indian team showed that if everyone contributes in their own manner, the biggest mountain can be climbed and the flag hoisted.

Shubman Gill's 91, Rishabh Pant's 89, Cheteshwar Pujara's 56 are some of the notable performances, but Washington Sundar's 22 and Ajinkya Rahane's 24 have the same weight if you look at the context of their innings. In the course of the final innings, Pujara who is being termed as "The Warrior", was hit on his body multiple times. But the resolve he showed after being hit, was one for the ages. Josh Hazlewood's delivery that hit Pujara on the helmet, may have thrown many out of their groove, but a single stare from the Indian batter can be seen as a "major highlight of the series".

Gill and Pant showed the exuberance of youth and how this team is the true ambassador of new India which doesn't believe in giving up without a fight. Cricketing sense would have made most of the teams go for a draw and retain the trophy, but these youngsters showed that when one can go for glory, one shouldn't be happy with a consolation price.

This Gabba win helped India retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy against all odds, and this will definitely go down as one of the greatest Test series win ever recorded in cricketing history. Before the start of the four-match series against Australia, regular skipper Virat Kohli famously remarked "my personality is a representation of new India where we want to take up challenges and move forward with optimism", but immediately after, the team was bundled out for 36 and Kohli and boys had to suffer a humiliating loss at Adelaide. This loss forced most of the pundits to predict that the visitors will go down 4-0 Down Under.

However, Kohli's quote can be understood better now that the series has been played out and it gives a whole new context to what he meant. How many would have won a series after being annihilated and not having their main batsman in the line-up? Kohli departed from Australia after being granted paternity leave, but Ajinkya Rahane, a silent assassin, carried the baton ahead and under his leadership, this Indian team showed what resolve and grit is all about.

Rahane rose to the challenge and went on to play a match-winning knock at Melbourne as the visitors levelled the series in the second Test. After being bundled out for 36, the Indian line-up showed great character to turn the tables on the hosts who were riding high after the win in the first Test. Indian bowlers went on like workhorses in the second Test, and the absence of Mohammad Shami was not felt as Mohammed Siraj came in and he showed the world that the newbie is here to stay.

Siraj had lost his father before the start of the Australian series, but he stayed back to fulfill the dream of his father, and now as the series is over, his father would be smiling from above and he cannot be more proud. There are many stories of "rags to riches", but Siraj was rich with blessings the moment he decided to stay back in Australia to fulfil his father's dream.

After Melbourne Test, came Sydney. Before the Test, Australian media and fans went berserk and they started targetting the Indian line-up. Firstly, a mountain was made out of a molehill when five Indian players including Rohit Sharma were seen eating at a restaurant in Melbourne. All five were sent in further isolation and the Australian media went all out regarding an alleged "breach of bio-bubble".

A lot was being said about India having problems with quarantining in Sydney, but on the eve of the match, Rahane made it clear that his team had gone to Australia to win, not to complain. For the major part of the Sydney Test, the Indian team found itself on the backfoot and not many gave them a chance of walking away with a draw. During the Sydney Test, the Indian pace duo of Mohammed Siraj and Jasprit Bumrah also had to endure racial slurs from the Australian crowd, and many believed this might distract the visiting side.

However, on the final day, this Indian lineup produced one of the most famous rear-guard actions and the side went away with a scrapping draw. Needing more than 400 runs to win, it was again Pant and Pujara who were at their sublime best. The left-handed Pant hit a quickfire 97 and now if you look at it, who knows what could had happened if he hadn't got out to Nathan Lyon. Pujara and Pant departed, but then came out Hanuma Vihari and Ashwin.

Batting out 258 balls with a fierce home team throwing everything it had up its sleeves is no mean feat. But the Indian duo of Vihari and Ashwin stood ground and managed to do just that as they eked out a draw at the SCG. Batting out 131 overs -- the most India have batted in the fourth innings of a Test since 1980 -- showed exactly what Ashwin meant when he spoke about playing like true warriors at the end of the fourth day's play at the SCG. A hamstring injury notwithstanding, Vihari hit an unbeaten 161-ball 23 while Ashwin hit 39 off 128 balls as the two defended away any hopes Australia had of registering a win.

Post the Sydney Test, Ashwin's wife Prithi revealed that the spin spearhead was in tremendous pain when he woke up on the final day of the Sydney Test and wasn't able to stand up going into the final day's action of the Pink Test. For a long time, Indian cricket has been hampered by "hero worship" and not many have seen what a total team effort can do for the youth looking to take up the sport. This collective effort will very well show what "team spirit" really means and this also highlights one is never defeated as long as there is a will to go out and defy the odds.

The 2001 Kolkata Test is one of the major highlights of the Indian cricket history as the Sourav Ganguly-led side came from behind and defeated Australia at the Eden Gardens. It was the pair of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman who provided the fight in that Test, but this time around, the fight has been shown by the entire side for an entire four-match series against Australia.

There is no doubt that this 2020-21 series will go down as one of the greatest, but looking at what the visiting team had to endure during this three-month tour, it is safe to say this side has registered its name in the history books as the "toughest bunch of men" to ever take the field for India. (ANI)

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