India's Shardul Thakur and Washington Sundar during a fourth test match between India and Australia, in Gabba on Sunday.(BCCI/ANI)
India's Shardul Thakur and Washington Sundar during a fourth test match between India and Australia, in Gabba on Sunday.(BCCI/ANI)

India vs Australia: The debutants' report card

"Above all, for me, what stood out was that it was not so much the Indian cricket team that won the series but the idea of a new India," writes Sanjay Manjrekar in his column.
By Sanjay Manjrekar
UPDATED ON JAN 21, 2021 05:26 PM IST

What a fantastic series!

So many aspects of it to highlight and marvel at.

36 all out in the same series that was eventually won 2-1, that too versus a full-strength Australia beaten in their own backyard, twice in a row now.

Above all, for me, what stood out was that it was not so much the Indian cricket team that won the series but the idea of a new India.

Which team in the world could have pulled off a feat like this? Going into the final Test missing six first-choice players, including the entire first choice bowling attack, and still winning against one of the strongest opponents in the world on their home turf?

The tour has seen the most exciting flood of debutants since, well, ever. Each match barring the first Test saw at least one debut; the final Test saw two.

Also Read | 'Australia just couldn't get him out': Clarke on India batsman's 'huge role'

Here’s a look at each of them, including Shardul Thakur, who did not make his debut here, but makes this list because he bowled just ten balls in his first Test in 2018 before making his comeback on this tour.

Shubman Gill

Indias Shubman Gill bats during play on the final day of the fourth cricket test between India and Australia at the Gabba, Brisbane, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. (AP)
Indias Shubman Gill bats during play on the final day of the fourth cricket test between India and Australia at the Gabba, Brisbane, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. (AP)

The class of the man was evident even when he was playing non-India games. He seems to have all that is needed to succeed at the highest level, and I am only talking Test cricket here in all the following assessments.

A calm demeanour and good balance are his main strengths. He has this slight back-foot trigger movement which is quite common and globally effective, but he is still able to get forward against the fast bowlers.

The only little chink that he has is his tendency to play inside the line of the ball. It's okay for middle order batsmen to do this, not for an opener. But as the series went on, you could see he was already working on it. It’s common for Test cricket to throw up glitches in your game and those who address those quickly go onto have a long career. Even Sachin Tendulkar had one that he addressed in a matter of months. Gill does not have a clear, convincing plan against the short ball. He must work on that—either defend or attack the short ball, but both reactions need a little more certainty in execution.

Washington Sundar

Indias Washington Sundar bats during play on the final day of the fourth cricket test between India and Australia at the Gabba, Brisbane, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. (AP)
Indias Washington Sundar bats during play on the final day of the fourth cricket test between India and Australia at the Gabba, Brisbane, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. (AP)

He might just be one of India’s first cricketers to be fast-tracked into Test cricket from IPL and T20s and look every bit a Test cricketer.

The talent of the young man just boggles my mind. He can walk in to the Test team as a pure bowler. He has great control over his line and length and that's most boxes ticked to be successful in Tests; with the bounce he gets from his high release point, he can be a real handful, especially on Indian pitches. His batting is controlled by a batsman's mind.

Shardul Thakur

Indias Shardul Thakur celebrates the dismissal on the 4th day of the fourth test match between Australia and India, at The Gabba on Monday.
Indias Shardul Thakur celebrates the dismissal on the 4th day of the fourth test match between Australia and India, at The Gabba on Monday.

Wasn’t quite his debut in Brisbane but the spark he has shown as a low-profile seamer in the IPL and domestic cricket ignited into a full-fledged fire in the Test. He straightaway enters my top-five list of Indian Test pacers.

1)Mohammed Shami

2)Jasprit Bumrah

3) Ishant Sharma

4)Mohammed Siraj

5)Shardul Thakur

His great asset is that he runs in easily, does not expend too much energy and delivers the ball in the high 130s kph. Every time the ball leaves his hand it does something—he can swing it, seam it, bowl a good yorker and a potent bouncer too. He can be handy in getting rid of the tail that often troubles India. His batting is an asset too, but for him to be a regular in the India team he has to be a stock bowler, not an out and out strike bowler looking for wickets, like Siraj does.

That brings us to…

Mohammed Siraj

Brisbane : Indias Mohammed Siraj gestures with the ball as he leaves the field after taking five wickets during play on day four of the fourth cricket test between India and Australia at the Gabba, Brisbane, Australia, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. AP/PTI(AP01_18_2021_000049B)(AP)
Brisbane : Indias Mohammed Siraj gestures with the ball as he leaves the field after taking five wickets during play on day four of the fourth cricket test between India and Australia at the Gabba, Brisbane, Australia, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. AP/PTI(AP01_18_2021_000049B)(AP)

It’s his attitude that really fuels his excellence. No matter what the match situation or how many overs he’s bowled, he will run in like a keen teenager excited to bowl like he hasn’t bowled for two years. He is a proper seamer, can get the ball to swing too, but he needs a bit more work with his yorker and his bouncers.

He is a captain’s dream: an eager, wide-eyed fast bowler itching to bowl even when the opposition is dominating you is a blessing. He has the wicket taking knack and this has nothing to do with luck; bowlers like him have a sense of how to get wickets. Siraj looks a long term prospect to me.

T Natarajan

Indias Thangarasu Natarajan rests on the pitch during play on day two of the fourth cricket test between India and Australia at the Gabba, Brisbane, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Tertius Pickard)(AP)
Indias Thangarasu Natarajan rests on the pitch during play on day two of the fourth cricket test between India and Australia at the Gabba, Brisbane, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Tertius Pickard)(AP)

Of the lot, Natarajan looks least likely to have a long Test career. I said least likely, not impossible and Natarajan’s story has a lot of near-impossible plotlines!

All his skills are in the final action—he must get stronger and get more out of his run up. But he deserves a standing ovation just for the fact that he debuted for India in all three formats in a space of 48 days and did not look completely out of place in any format.

A lot of the success of these newcomers wasn’t even planned—Natarajan, like Washington and Shardul, was in Australia for the Test series only as a net bowler.

That really is the big take-away from this win—that there is a wonderful supply chain within Indian cricket that allows talent from all corners of this giant country to get into the spotlight. Once they are in that Under-19, India A, IPL and first-class system, their talent will be seen and allowed to flourish. “A” tours have been a big reason for this success—almost all the debutants and fresh-faced players we saw in Australia had been overseas before to play cricket.

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