The celebrations following an inexperienced and underrated Indian side's win over a vastly more seasoned and full strength Australian team playing in their home conditions have still not subsided. The members of the side deservedly received a rousing welcome when they landed in India. Most of the players had left the shores of their motherland prior to the commencement of Indian Premier League (IPL) and thus been away from their homes since mid-August. The stress of living in bio-secure bubbles with no outside contact and nil socialising for a period of more than five months apparently strengthened the resolve and resilience of the side and spurred them towards a achievement that made the entire country proud.
The win in the last Test tasted extraordinarily sweet as it was completely unexpected. For that reason alone, this victory finds a place in the list of other great achievements of the national side which include the triumphs over the West Indies in 1983 World Cup final and against England at the the Oval in 1971, besides the great turnaround scripted at Kolkata in 2001. The draw secured by the team in the third Test of the series at Sydney, when they battled both the Aussie bowling and severe injuries to the players, was hailed as greater than a win by most observers.
When the side took the field at Brisbane, no one gave the visitors a chance; even the most optimistic would have been happy with a draw that would have helped India to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
The first four days of the game held little clue to what was likely to happen during the last three sessions. The Indian bowlers, with a cumulative Test match record of four games and 11 wickets among them did well to retract the hosts to moderate scores, denying them the huge totals in first innings that is the norm for the Aussies playing in their home conditions. Our batting in the first essay was nothing special, except for a spirited stand for 123 runs for the seventh wicket between debutant Washington Sundar and Shardul Thakur. When Australia were dismissed for 294 runs in their second innings towards the end of the fourth day, leaving India with a target of 328 runs, most of the Indian supporters were discussing the possibility of batting out the last day and securing a draw, as was done at Sydney. A win did not appear within the realm of possibility.
However, Ajinkya Rahane and his boys had other ideas. Opener Shubhman Gill, who made his debut in the second Test at Melbourne, batted with the ease and poise of a veteran campaigner. When he and Cheteshwar Pujara took the score to 132, one felt a faint tingle of hope, which was dashed when Gill was dismissed just nine runs short of what would have been a brilliant century. This was taken as the signal for downing the shutters and prevent fall of further wickets. One expected Pujara to continue with his act and Rahane to follow suit and make Aussie bowlers sweat for their wickets.
The first sign that the team was not thinking about a draw came from the manner in which Rahane took on the bowlers. He scored only 24 runs but they came off a mere 22 balls, and included a six and a boundary. He also made clear the intent of the visitors that they were not planning to play defensively but were looking at taking the battle to the camp of the hosts.
Rahane’s departure brought Rishabh Pant, a youngster without nerves, to the crease. Nothing appeared to unfaze him as he took the dismissals of Pujara and Mayank Agarwal in his stride. Other than Sundar, the hero of first innings, who gave him company with yet another spirited innings, Pant was on his own, a fact that did not trouble him the least. He batted with gay abandon and calmly took the side past the winning post.
Many reasons have been attributed to this incredible achievement. From a strategic perspective, this victory should be attributed to superb planning by the team management, on containing the Aussie batsmen, and its brilliant execution by the bowlers. The mighty Australian batting machine, led by the redoubtable Steve Smith, could not reach a total score of 400 in any of the eight innings that they batted. Bharat Arun, the bowling coach, has since revealed that India adopted the tactic of denying their opponents any width outside the off stumps, by placing focus on middle and leg stumps. This resulted in the batsmen not getting enough opportunities to play shots on the off side, an area that traditionally brought them a large cache of runs. The fact that India could continue to execute this plot despite all the top bowlers being rendered hors de combat for the final Test stands as testimony to only for the depth of the bench strength but also for the discipline of the bowling unit, led by Mohammed Siraj, playing only in his third Test.
While the bowlers stuck to their role and performed brilliantly, the batsmen too did not lag behind. Very few would have expected the willowwielders to recover from the trauma of being dismissed for 36 runs in the second innings of the first Test. The task that the batsmen faced was made more daunting by the fact that their most prolific batsman, who was also the captain, chose to go back to India at this juncture. With the benefit of hindsight, it appears that the absence of Virat Kohli was a blessing in disguise as it helped the rest of the side to shed off any undue dependence on him. It also denied the opponents the extra surge of Adrenalin and energy that his dismissal invariably gave the bowlers. But the batsmen showed tremendous grit and spirit to battle their way back and win the respect of the Aussie bowlers.
Here India were shown the way by two batsmen - Gill and Pant - who were brought into the playing eleven after the loss in first Test. Pant had two Test centuries to his credit prior to this tour and was expected to chip in with the bat. But this was not the case with Gill, who found himself pitted against the best bowling attack in the world on his debut. However, Gill showed that he not only possessed the technique to cope with the stuff thrown at him by the Aussie bowlers but also had a remarkable temperament that belied his young age. It will not be a hyperbole to say that not since Sunil Gavaskar created history by his record breaking exploits in the West Indies in 1971, has the arrival of new opening opening batman from India created such excitement in international cricket circles.
The success of Gill and Pant have been attributed to their tremendous self-belief and fearlessness. Here, one wishes to elaborate further and say that their unique quality is that they play the ball and not the opponents. In other words, they are unencumbered by the burden of history which will tell them the past record of sides that batted last on the Brisbane wicket or the number of wickets taken by the Australian bowlers. Nor were they bothered about their personal records as they did not place the landmark of a three figure knock against their name above the interests of the side. Their style of batting and approach towards the game brought to memory the one of the slivers of advice given by Lord Krishna to Arjuna before the start of the Mahabharata War, immortalised as the Bhagawad Gita, which goes as follows
“Nirasir nirmamo bhutva yudhasya vigata jwara”
On rough translation this means that a battle should be fought without desires and selfishness and after freeing the mind from feverish lethargy, brought about by thoughts about the adversaries. These words of advice by Lord Krishna to the main warrior of the Pandavas, the underdogs, helped them to overcome the obvious might and strength of the Kauravas in the 18-day war.
A big salute to the newcomers to the arena of international cricket who brought laurels to their country. Let us hope that the spirit of Brisbane 2021 continues to guide Indian cricket through the times to come.
(The author is a former international umpire and a senior bureaucrat)