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Grit, Gumption and Glory – The Story of India’s Greatest Test Victory

Kartikay Dutta, Undergraduate Batch of 2023 and Gaurav Nandan Tripathi, Undergraduate Batch of 2020

Bruised, abused, depleted and yet successful — that was, in a nutshell, the 2020/21 Border Gavaskar Trophy for India. It’s a tale which will be remembered for the rising up of unusual suspects to the cause in the absence of star players. To add more layers to the already rich tale, are endearing stories behind each of these new rising stars including stories of loss, grief, racial abuse, poverty, injury, and above all, the indomitable spirit which is so characteristic of this ‘new’ India.

With the Indian men’s cricket team’s tour to Australia finally over with India winning the Test series 2-1 — their first major cricket involvement since the COVID-19 pandemic kicked in —, The Edict took this opportunity to reminisce about an extraordinary two months of cricket, for which fans across the country have religiously woken up in the early hours of winter mornings to enjoy. We are joined by a guest contributor, Gaurav Nandan Tripathi, a fiercely dedicated fan of the sport whose passion shines through his Instagram page, Cricket Beyond Entertainment.

The Indian Men’s team celebrate after defeating Australia to secure the 2020/21 Border-Gavaskar Trophy

India and Australia split the limited overs games equally with the ODIs going in favour of the hosts 2-1, and that scoreline being replicated in the visitors’ favour in the T20I series. That, however, was simply an appetizer: lessons were learnt, internalized, applied.

The main event would kick off in Adelaide, where India put up a very determined batting performance in the first innings, only for the effort to be diminished by the horror run out of Virat Kohli. The culprit here was Ajinkya Rahane, the captain-to-be from the next Test. That horrendous runout was nothing compared to what transpired in the second innings, where India was bundled out for a mere 36 runs. Without under-stating it, this was horrific, and set tragicomic, unwanted records, and a dark cloud hovered over the Indian contingent — at least from the outside. The bells of disaster rang even harder when a seething delivery from Mitchell Starc fractured Mohammed Shami’s forearm. India not only lost their dignity, but also their premier Test pacer, alongside their best batsman and captain, who was to return home on paternity leave.

After that Test match, almost every cricket mouth predicted a 4-0 defeat for India, which was not shocking by any means. It is telling, however, that this sense of panic never seemed to show on the faces or in the demeanor of the Indian outfit as they took the field at the MCG. Nobody could have predicted what would happen, as India came out a different beast in the same uniform in Melbourne. They bowled out Australia for 195, and then overcame the demons of Adelaide by scoring 326 in the first innings. The new captain Rahane, who seemingly started the fall in Adelaide, scored the best 112 runs of 2020. Ravindra Jadeja contributed with a fifty, and debutant Mohammad Siraj, playing despite losing his father a few days earlier, took 3 wickets in the second innings to ensure an Indian win even though Umesh Yadav left the field injured in the beginning of the second innings. India proved that they would not play like a depleted team, and ultimately their perseverance gave them a glorious win for the ages, tying up the series at one apiece.

Skipper Ajinkya Rahane acknowledges the crowd during his 112-run knock at the MCG

Fast forward to Day 5 of the next Test, when one hit away from a famous historic century at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Rishabh Pant sliced a flamboyant cover drive to short third man, and trudged back to the pavilion stranded on 97. The young man was downcast, to say the least; his eyes didn’t leave the floor on his walk back, as he swung his legs and kicked his bat in his desolation. It was the fifth day of the Sydney Test and chasing 407, the bombastic wicketkeeper-batsman had given a billion Indians the chance to dream of a win, when it had only hours prior seemed impossible. Unfortunately — and also heroically — the three proven batsmen who were to come after him had only two sets of unbroken hamstrings, two good backs, and two sets of unfractured thumbs. To give hope in such a grim situation is the purpose of art, not sportspeople, but Pant was a bold modern artist that day, incomprehensible and focused, but expressive, diminutive and explosive.

Over four hours later, the Australian contingent shook hands with Hanuma Vihari and Ravichandran Ashwin, who warmed the crease for 42 overs with a torn hamstring and a broken back respectively, and while it wasn’t the glory of Ben Stokes’ heroics at Headingley in August 2019, it was certainly a valiant, momentous draw for the Indian dressing room, full of bravado, which had turned into a hospital ward with so many players nursing injuries. This Indian outfit, dead and buried for so many, had taken a succession of punches to the gut and kept itself upright, scars and bruises abundant, but with a distinct lack of any sort of grimace of pain. This was a cricket team on the ropes, but even from ten thousand kilometres away, their courage, heart, and outright belligerence was infusing the Indian atmosphere.

As the socially-distanced caravan of cricket moved to Brisbane, we must yet again remember the context leading to the fateful encounter at the Gabba, a fortress where the Aussies hadn’t lost a match since 1988. With Kohli away on paternity leave and all of India’s four frontline pacemen knocked over one by one, three Test-old Siraj took his place as the leader of the attack comprising of practically 3 debutants. The batsmen, who were struck repeatedly during the Test series, nursed injuries and played through the pain — and in the case of Vihari, putting his career on the line by playing with a torn hamstring – had already begun the process of establishing themselves in Indian cricketing mythos. Rahane, a veteran of Test cricket and yet a relative novice with respect to captaincy, led from the front with a famous century in the MCG Test, and established himself as a savvy tactician and efficient quartermaster. We haven’t even begun to describe the calibre of the opponent, nominally at full strength this time around, capable of walking the park when their stellar pieces click in cohesion — Pat Cummins, Steve Smith, David Warner, all capable of taking the game away from the opposition with a speed and brutality even surpassing the famed Australian sides in the 1990s and 2000s. This was the setting as the teams took the field at the Brisbane Cricket Ground, fondly referred to as the “Gabba”.

Australia won the toss and set up a good score in the first innings, with Marnus Labuschagne scoring yet another century. Natarajan, whose storybook-worthy fairy tale inspired many, took 3 wickets. India were tottering at 186-6 in their response, when a 21-year-old Washington Sundar was joined by Shardul Thakur. They batted as if they were veterans, and took on the relentless Aussies toe-to-toe. They batted together for 36 overs and scored 123 runs, falling just short of nullifying the first innings score. Not to forget, Sundar and Thakur also took 6 wickets between them in the first innings, and 5 in the second. The hosts set a target of 328 for India to chase on the final day.

Mohammad Siraj celebrates his five-wicket haul at the Gabba with Mayank Agarwal and T Natarajan

With Rohit getting out early to a Cummins jaffa, Pujara joined another 21 year old, Shubman Gill, whose technically immaculate and aesthetically pleasant stroke play gave immense joy to the viewers awake in the dead of morning. He scored a gutsy 91, which included a 20-run over off the expensive and out-of-sorts Starc. Gill missed out on a deserved century, but the strategy and intent were clear. Post his departure, Pujara would block the bowlers to their grave, taking over 20 blows of the red ball to his body but never shying away, proving his backbone yet again with a steadfast 211-ball innings. Meanwhile, India’s more extravagant batsmen would try to chase down the target from the other end. Rahane came with the intent of playing shots and scored 24 off 22 balls, including as big a statement of intent as any when he stepped down to Nathan Lyon and launched the off-spinner over cow corner. When he was dismissed by Cummins, in walked Pant, playing with a maturity and temerity that impressed a certain aggressive, left-handed wicketkeeper-batsman in the Fox Sports commentary box.

Upon the end of Pujara’s marathon innings, Sundar joined Pant at the crease as the pair held the cricketing world captive with their strokeplay. The all-rounder from Tamil Nadu provided the moment of the game, hooking Pat Cummins for a massive six over long leg. Towards the end, it was a race against time, as India needed to score around 5 runs per over in the last 10 overs against arguably the best bowling attack on the planet, while ensuring that wickets didn’t fall and put the Border-Gavaskar Trophy at risk. Pant proved yet again what has already been said about him previously in this article, as he took India to a famous, era-defining victory despite a few hiccups along the way, with a boundary down the ground against Josh Hazlewood, and Australia’s famed fortress Gabba had been breached by the Indian novices. The might of young India, proclaimed by politicians so many times, was finally announcing itself, not on megaphones, but through the astounding sound emanating from a leather ball hitting a wooden bat.

Rishabh Pant launches one over cover during his unbeaten 89 at the Gabba

In hindsight, when cricket lovers look back at this series, they’ll recount Pant’s off drive which won India the match, or Rahane’s ton at the MCG. But what we all need to remember is the superhuman grit, gumption and perseverance on display from this team which has situated itself firmly in the annals of Indian cricket history. The names Gill-Sharma-Pujara-Rahane-Pant-Agarwal-Sundar-Thakur-Siraj-Saini-Natarajan may never appear together again on a team sheet. But they’ll forever be the living embodiment of this quote from The Shawshank Redemption — “Hope is a good thing, Red. Maybe the best of things. And no good thing should ever die.”

About the Guest Author: Gaurav Nandan Tripathi is a final-year Political Science major. He runs Cricket Beyond Entertainment, an Instagram page dedicated to cricket. His interests also include story-telling and food history.

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