In Sydney, when a draw was a win
There’s that old joke about Test cricket. “How can two teams play a game over five days and still not have a winner?” A common rejoinder: “Because sometimes a draw is better than a win.” At the Sydney Cricket Ground on January 11, India made that pithy saying come alive in its full, combative, turbulent and beguiling glory.
Everything was stacked against Ajinkya Rahane’s team at the beginning of this match — Australia’s facility with their home conditions; the absence of regular captain and the team’s most explosive batsman, Virat Kohli; and not one, not two, but three frontline bowlers absent with injuries and replaced by a debutant, and another who made his debut in the previous match of the tour. There was more agony through the match — a dislocated thumb for Ravindra Jadeja after being hit by a Mitchell Starc delivery and India’s most successful bowler in the first innings could not bowl at all in the second; Rishabh Pant, hit on the elbow by a Pat Cummins delivery, could not take the field for Australia’s second innings; Hanuma Vihari had pulled a hamstring and was barely able to run.
So, when Australia set a bruised and battered India a target of 407, the hosts may have expected a thumping win. Instead they got a fiery, belligerent innings from Pant who shrugged off his injury; Cheteshwar Pujara’s absolute calm and class; and a nail-biting lesson in survival from Ravichander Ashwin and a limping Hanuma Vihari. Ashwin and Vihari faced 258 balls from one of the finest bowling attacks in recent memory. Jadeja sat padded up for hours, his hand strapped, needing help even to peel a banana, but ready to join the battle. There was grit and fight in spades. A match was saved. It was a draw that was better than many wins.