India’s series win in Australia came in difficult circumstances, and will be the stuff of folklore
On a magical Tuesday, India’s cricketing history gained a luminous chapter even as the shadows lengthened at Brisbane’s Gabba. When Rishabh Pant’s winning four aptly concluded a tense pursuit of 328 on a nerve-wracking fifth day of the fourth Test, Ajinkya Rahane’s men seized the series at 2-1 to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. As far as role-reversals go, this was stunning in its execution and jaw-dropping in its impact. It was a verdict that seemed improbable after India’s 36, its lowest ever Test score, during the debilitating loss in the first game at Adelaide. But India progressed despite losing personnel to injuries or personal reasons. Skipper Virat Kohli took paternity leave while other regulars had to be benched following a spate of injuries. Yet, Rahane’s men persevered, right from the established Cheteshwar Pujara and R. Ashwin to the latest rookies in the squad — Shubman Gill and Washington Sundar. At various points, the experienced professional and the fresh debutant joined forces and nourished miraculous dreams. The turn-around at Melbourne was followed by the stone-walling at Sydney. Finally, in a long tour that commenced on November 12, last year, a second-wind was found in the climax. India did not have any of its frontline bowlers at Brisbane but Mohammed Siraj astutely helmed the attack and Tim Paine’s men were defeated by three wickets.
Winning a Test series against Australia in its backyard is considered as cricket’s highest benchmark for excellence. This yardstick has lasted for two decades ever since the previous dominant outfit, the West Indies, suffered a decline. Seen in that context, what India has achieved over the course of two tours — in 2018-19 and the just concluded 2020-21 face-off — is nothing short of stupendous. Twice, India has defeated Australia by identical margins (2-1). However, the latest act will rank right up in an all-time list of great Test series ever since the sport’s longest format commenced at Melbourne in 1877. When India last toured Australia, the host was blighted by the ball-tampering scandal and Steve Smith and David Warner were rightly put to pasture. Cut to the present, the visitor was up against a full-strength home unit. These are fraught times due to the pandemic and resultant bio-bubble angst, and even stepping out for a coffee is deemed an offence. To make it worse, India was never at its optimum potential and with every passing day, its list of the walking-wounded grew. There were even wry jokes about how coach Ravi Shastri may be forced to turn out considering his diminishing resources. But India thrived and just like it did at Eden Gardens in 2001, adversity became its springboard for success against an old adversary.