India's Shardul Thakur (C) bowls to Australia's batsman Cameron Green on day four of the fourth cricket Test match between Australia and India at The Gabba, Brisbane, January 18, 2021 (AFP)
India's Shardul Thakur (C) bowls to Australia's batsman Cameron Green on day four of the fourth cricket Test match between Australia and India at The Gabba, Brisbane, January 18, 2021 (AFP)

A new team comes of age

There may be no greater test of character in sport than a Test match run chase
UPDATED ON JAN 20, 2021 06:10 AM IST

There may be no greater test of character in sport than a Test match run chase. No matter what the score, no matter what the conditions, going for the target is always on before the first ball of the innings is bowled. And there is always a choice for the captain, the individual players, and the team — to either back itself or try to hold on for a draw. Make no mistake: There is great character in stodgily sharing honours, in forcing a stalemate, as India did in the third Test at Sydney. But a successful chase beyond 300 is that rare, fluorescent rainbow that cricketers live to chase. And on Tuesday morning, at the Gabba — the most impenetrable of all Australian fortresses — India resolved to venture into uncharted territory to dig up its pot of gold.

Set 328 to win the final Test and the four-match series — one in which it had faced the ignominy of its lowest-ever Test score, where captain Virat Kohli was missing for the most part, and half the squad was lost to injury — the team astonishingly decided to go for it. It was visible in the glint in opener Shubman Gill’s steely eyes as he drove through the covers to keep the scoreboard moving; in how Cheteshwar Pujara took blows to his body as the Australian pacemen bowled with their tails up in the pivotal moments of the fifth morning. It was visible, but hard to believe.

But this team has shown that it is made of sterner stuff. Down on its knees in Adelaide, it first roared back in Melbourne, and then held its own in Sydney. All the while it kept finding different sets of heroes — a bevy of fast bowlers who showcased the depth of India’s new assembly line, lower-order batsmen who dug in for match-turning partnerships, and debutants or near-debutants who displayed the confidence of pros. On Tuesday, the striking arm was Rishabh Pant. His unbeaten 89, perhaps a trifle inelegant as match-winning innings go, will now be brought up in conversations that centre around VVS Laxman’s 281 in Kolkata, Rahul Dravid’s 233 in Adelaide, and Sunil Gavaskar (102), Gundappa Vishwanath (112) and Mohinder Amarnath (85) in Trinidad. For this is the moment a new Indian team comes of age — one whose defining qualities are not necessarily perfection or precision, but resilience and fearlessness.

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