Dissecting the miracle down under!
Guiding a team to an enthralling victory down under, that too after being mauled in the first cricket test and consequent to the ignominious 36 runs all out in second innings, is one of the most famous victories in the history of cricket. With the captain and team's best batsman Virat Kohli on leave for the last three tests and ploughed by injuries so badly that only two who played the first match could be retained in the last test, India's handsome series victory is incredibly astounding. With five rookies, two of them who were drafted in as net bowlers in the beginning, making their debut in the series and punching above their weight, and India clinically outclassing a fully fit Australian first eleven in their backyard, is indeed historic. This miraculous performance has many components.
Even though a bit low on confidence, the stubbornness of Cheteswar Pujara in the middle order is the prime factor that held the Indian innings together during the crisis, just as it was in the previous tour. Five youngsters who were in fact forced to make their baptism by fire amazed all not with their skill but with their maturity. T Natarajan and Shardul Thakur with their moderate talents may not frequent the Indian dressing room in the longer version of the game. But Mohammed Siraj, Navdeep Saini and Washington Sundar will surely give the national selectors a hard time in the coming years. These three youngsters are not only talented but possess amazing cricketing brains. Thanks to the IPL, they displayed street smartness when it was required. Washington Sundar is a wicket to wicket off spinner. But he used the length and flight of the ball, with the added advantage of height with precision.
Two 90-plus scores by Rishabh Pant, tilted the scales in favour of India in the last two tests. It's heartening to see this twenty three-year-old evolving and maturing into an adept, dependable batsman and agile wicket keeper.
Ajinkya Rahane has the unenviable destiny to be unwittingly placed in tough situations and unceremoniously dumped when times are normal. This has been the new norm much before the pandemic started its unfinished innings. But as usual, he rose to the occasion with the serenity of a Japanese Zen master. (incidentally Rahane holds a black belt degree in Karate). The poise with which he marshalled the resources with ease in the three tests was among the most pleasing scenes in the recent history of test cricket. No other Indian captain touring down under had to face such tough situations in such a short time as Rahane did. Extolling the virtues of Ajinkya Rahane for his brilliant century and India's victory, sans Virat Kohli, in the Melbourne test, is not the purpose of this write up. This is just to point out the treatment meted out to him by the Indian cricket team management and administration in the past three-four years. When the blue-eyed boy of the powers that be, Ambati Rayadu, was selected for the last ODI World cup, the axed Rahane was coming to terms with yet another demotion. Ajinkya Rahane has not played in a one-day match for India since 2018. Once this euphoria of victory against Australia subsides, Rahane will presumably be treated with the same neglect.
At Sydney and Adelaide, before the start of the fourth innings, Australia certainly were in the pole position. In the third test, the world's best fast bowling trio squandered the advantage with listless bowling. Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins who bowled 74 overs between them, could uproot just three wickets and eventually had to concede a draw. Fourth test wasn't any different. The threesome toiled hard 62 overs to bag 5 wickets and couldn't deny Indians a historic win. The pitch in both these occasions had ample lift and bounce. But the much-vaunted attack lacked the focus and intensity to destabilise India. At Adelaide, Cheteshwar Pujara awkwardly defended a barrage of short pitched stuff. But the Aussie bowlers couldn't convert them into wickets. With an iota of assistance from the pitch, Glen McGrath, with his unerring line and length, had dislodged wickets with ease; he would have single-handedly demolished India in such a scenario.
With the advantage of a huge first test victory, predecessors of Tim Paine would have wound up the series 3-0. But this Australian captain, by default, didn't display the strategic acumen and killer instinct to trample the opposition. He seems to be a good vice captain. But, certainly not one born or groomed to lead!
FREEHIT: Here is my gut feeling. Had Virat Kohli been the captain of the Sydney test, India might have lost. Reasons are two:
- Australian bowlers, well aware of Kohli's overconfidence outside the off stump, would have set traps in the bouncy wicket, even on the fifth day of the Sydney test. The captain's downfall could have prompted a collapse, even though nothing like the 36 all out in the preceding match.
- Kohli's over aggressive approach to captaincy might have made him go for the win, when 5 wickets, including Ravindra Jadeja, were remaining, which would have gifted the match to the Kangaroos.