India vs Australia, 4th Test: India's miracle at the Gabba
Has it sunk in yet? It’s not a dream. You saw it happen. Try and slowly let it soak through. Watch the highlights, all five days. Enjoy the slow burn, and the thrill of a chase. Make no mistake. This is history. A bruised and heavily depleted Indian team recovering from being shot out for 36 in an embarrassing defeat in the opening Test to win the series 2-1 in Australia. The last time any team came back from defeat to win in Australia was West Indies in 1993.
Better than Eden Gardens, 2001? Arguably. That was at home, involving the best names in the business, and in front of a boisterous crowd doubling up as India’s 12th man. This came at a venue that hadn’t witnessed an Australian defeat since 1988, at a time the team had to spend close to three months in a stifling bio-bubble to beat a pandemic. And then there was the never-ending list of absentees. No Virat Kohli. No Ishant Sharma. No Mohammad Shami. No Umesh Yadav. No Jasprit Bumrah. No Ravichandran Ashwin. No Ravindra Jadeja. No KL Rahul. And no Hanuma Vihari. By the time India reached Brisbane, they were left with three net bowlers and three fast bowlers with a total experience of four Tests. Caricatures of the Indian team resembling a hospital ward went viral. And yet the Gabba fell. This was the first time an Asian team has won in Brisbane, the first since Viv Richards’s West Indies.
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This is India’s first back-to-back series wins in Australia, or for that matter, overseas against any major team. A tied series would have been good enough. But this team doesn’t know how to take a step back. Out of the shadows of the past when India were sometimes hesitant to take that final step has emerged a different India, where the young and the old forge partnerships to win matches, break records and long-standing myths. Australia can be beaten at home, twice at that. Ask Cheteshwar Pujara, whose 32-year-old body took no less than 10 blows en route to his slowest but steadiest half-century that anchored India’s third highest successful fourth innings chase. Bookending that effort were a sublime 91 from opener Shubman Gill, nicely setting up the match for Rishabh Pant to shift gears and take India home with an 89 he may want to take over a century every time for the rest of his life. To achieve a win in the last hour on a fifth day Gabba pitch against possibly the finest Australian bowling attack ever, is nothing short of sensational. In a series where they were bundled out for next to nothing, it is astonishing.
Rubbers against the most competitive team in the business are supposed to be won like this, working out every session, every day, every Test, till it all comes down to a final grapple. You know the gloves will be off then. That’s the beauty of Test cricket. India persevered, batted with grit and bowled with heart till, it boiled down to the last day. The target was 328. At the crease were Gill and Pujara. Gill looked imperious, right from the moment he slashed Josh Hazlewood for a boundary behind point. When he came down the track to Nathan Lyon to drive him with authority, India were well and truly on their way. Pujara, as usual, took his time. And he absorbed the blows as well -- on the front and back of his helmet, arms, on the elbow and flush on the fingers of his bottom hand. He was in pain but he didn’t flinch.
By the second session, Australia knew it wasn’t looking good. The run of play turned ominous in the 46th over when Gill belligerently pulled Mitchell Starc for a six and followed it up by slashing him for a boundary. Pujara too joined the party with a four. That over went for 20 runs. Till then, India were scoring cautiously. The first session produced 79 runs. But they ramped up the run rate to almost four, adding 100 runs in the second session. Gill missed out on a deserving century but India captain Ajinkya Rahane didn’t let the momentum drop. That was the sign that India were not settling down for a draw but going for the win. By the time the third session had set in, the series was set up for a gripping finale. It was Test cricket was at its simmering best, with Pujara refusing to fall at one end as Pant slowly chipped away at the target.
Australia threw everything at India. They probably over-bowled Pat Cummins after Starc was considerably neutralised by India’s counter-attack. Australia captain Tim Paine too may have missed an early but difficult chance to stump Pant, with Lyon’s ball rearing from length, but India were steering themselves into a winning position. When the new ball was taken right after 80 overs, India needed 100 runs from a minimum 20 overs. Second ball of the 81st over, Cummins got the ball to jack in and hit Pujara high on his back leg. Reviews showed the ball brushing the very top of the stumps but the umpire’s call was in favour of Australia. It proved once again that only a spectacular delivery can get rid of Pujara.
An enthralling cat-and-mouse game between Australia’s pacers and Pant ensued, with the wicketkeeper batsman hitting through the line every time the new ball was being pitched up. The ploy might seem obvious since the new ball fetches quicker runs. But here’s the context: Pant and Mayank Agarwal made up India’s last recognised batting pair. Despite what happened in the first innings, you didn’t want Shardul Thakur or Washington Sundar waging a battle with the tail. Yet India went for it. There were nervous moments as well. The desperation of a failed caught-behind review turned into joy for Australia when Agarwal slapped Cummins straight to Matthew Wade at short cover. Out came Sundar brandishing the same fearlessness that gave India a 123-run seventh-wicket stand in the first innings. Pant and Sundar kept playing balls on merit, knowing well one more wicket may warrant a change in approach. But the runs kept trickling in as India stitched a 53-run partnership.
With the target in sight, Pant started unleashing a stunning array of big shots: there was a scoop, a slog-sweep, a reverse sweep and even a pull over fine-leg while falling over. Add to that the overthrows, byes and leg-byes Australia conceded and India’s slow jog towards the target turned into a sprint. It was fitting that Pant scored the winning runs -- you may not be sure about Pant behind the stumps, but you definitely want him in front of them.
It was history. Joyous history, and unbelievable. But it happened, and we saw it.
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- Vaughan, who had been on a trolling spree ever since the third India-England Test match ended in two days with the hosts taking a 2-1 lead, lauded India and said Virat Kohli’s men ‘out skilled and out thought’ England, showing why they are good in these conditions.