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A series of two young skippers

Just one ball was left to round off the fifth day. Bhuvneshwar Kumar was on strike surrounded by nine close-in fielders like vultures around a corpse, Nathan Lyon dropped it short and Kumar rocked back and swirled his bat.

cricket Updated: Jan 13, 2015 21:58 IST
Sai Prasad Mohapatra
Sai Prasad Mohapatra
Hindustan Times
Bhuvneshwar Kumar

Just one ball was left to round off the fifth day. Bhuvneshwar Kumar was on strike surrounded by nine close-in fielders like vultures around a corpse, Nathan Lyon dropped it short and Kumar rocked back and swirled his bat. The ball raced to the square-leg boundary for four. Handshakes, stumps uprooted for souvenir sake, teams lined up for exchange of camaraderie and the iconic Border-Gavaskar trophy ends.

The series has beaten many expectations over the 50 days that saw plenty: human emotions, pain, loss, change of guard, success, failure and unanticipated development.

A series that started anticipating hostility when India left from Mumbai and the stand-in skipper Virat Kohli announced his aggressive intent even before he landed in Australia.

The tragic death of Phillip Hughes drew a sheet of grief, loss and empathy all over the nation. Australians took their time to recover: a few expressed fighting the inner demons, a few clung on to their near and dear ones for comfort. Hughes’ memories reigned through the series, he was celebrated, every knock was dedicated to him, there was a pause on 63, the pitch he played on was kissed, Australia in an unprecedented solidarity played the whole series with black armbands. The terror siege in Sydney overlapped with the tragic sentiments that they were already in.

The debate around bowling bouncers died an early death. Virat was hit, so was Shane Watson. Bowlers were unabashed and the series came alive to its original hostility.

Words were exchanged, on-field banters reached the media room even as both teams maintained the line wasn’t breached. And every bad decision stoked a debate on DRS. India couldn’t care and maintained: the DRS is not foolproof and umpires are human.

While all of these were at play two unmarked men emerged as future leaders. MS Dhoni was injured, so Virat captained. Dhoni led in Brisbane and retired from Tests at MCG. Virat turned a new page as official skipper at Sydney. On the other side, Michael Clarke’s troubled back and hamstring forced Australia to pass the baton to Steve Smith who batted like a dream and led like a natural. Kohli too matched everything that Smith achieved with the bat. It turned out to be the series of two captains: similar yet contrasting.

It was meant to be an Australian summer. But the pitches, volume of runs, spinning wickets and two drawn Tests suggested it was an Indian summer played out in Australia. In all 5870 runs were scored, the most ever in a Border-Gavaskar series involving four or less than four Tests. India couldn’t have asked for a better home ambiance with three Tests going into the final day.

Even then a few failed: Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina. If Virat would be jotting his future list along with the selectors, he must decide what to do with Dhawan on overseas tours. Between Raina and Rohit who he can pick or discard both and invest in someone else in the middle-order and for Pujara how to introduce him in the team again and arrest his sliding form.

In the winners’ group Ajinkya grew in stature, Virat rose like a gladiator, Vijay was the steadiness at the top of the order and KL Rahul, it seemed, was a perfect foil and to be pursued further. R Ashwin shone at least once and Ishant Sharma led from the front with discipline and purpose.

The 0-2 loss is not a bad scoreline considering it could well have been 2-0 or 1-1 for India who failed to cash in on those key 45 minutes where they lost both matches. The series was a departure from 0-4 in England, 0-4 in Australia, 0-1 in South Africa, 0-1 in New Zealand and 1-3 in England. Young India emerged a fighting unit, full of resolve, new energy and a new thought.