Australians 'black and blue' (Column: Close-in)
By Yajurvindra Singh
Indias victory in the Test series against Australia exemplified the unpredictability that the game offers to make it so special. In both the third and fourth Test matches, India looked defeated and ready to be slaughtered by the strong Australian bowling attack. The present breed of young Indians’ never-say-die attitude came forth beautifully. The biggest change that modern India has to offer to the world is the change in the attitude of the youth of India.
The confidence, the single-minded purpose to excel and to strive for success has now become a way of life. The Indian cricketers reflected that trait abundantly in Australia. They were beaten black and blue by the Australian pacers. However, they stood their ground like true warriors, neither flinching nor succumbing to the barrage of short-pitched bowling. Their unbelievable and remarkable victory in the fourth Test match in Brisbane will for a long time to come bruise Australian cricket not just physically but mentally as well.
Ravi Shastri, the Indian coach, along with his support staff should be equally praised for their effort in reviving a side bowled out for the lowest total (36) in their history. To rise from being rock bottom to go on to conquer Australia in the very next encounter speaks volumes of how they must have worked behind the scenes.
Shastri loves watching boxing and naturally his favourite is none other than the legendary Muhammad Ali. However, the movie ‘Rocky’ is something that he marvelled at and was inspired by. The movie was based on the famous boxer Rocky Balboa, a rookie side-line boxer. ‘Rocky’ was chosen to fight the then world heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed, as his opponent had an injury and so could not challenge him. The 15-round fight between Rocky and Apollo turned out to be one of the most legendry encounters ever witnessed in boxing history.
Both boxers sustained injuries — Rocky had a swollen eye that needed the eyelid to be cut open for him to see whereas Apollo had a fractured rib and several poundings to his head and jaw survived the bout. Shastri’s Indian squad was gradually depleted for the fourth and final Test match, with the captain away on paternity leave and his frontline bowling attack on the injured list. Rocky Balboa’s feat must have entered Shastri’s mind. To get the inexperienced bowlers and batters, some of whom were there only to assist the team in the nets, and to prepare them mentally for the big arena must have been quite a task.
The 2020-21 Australia-India Test series will be remembered in the annals of cricket history. The West Indian side of 1960-61, led by Sir Frank Worrell, which was involved in the famous tied Test, was a team that stood out as the greatest to have toured Australia, not only on the field but off it as well. They were given a rousing send off by the Australian public on their way to the airport. The streets of Melbourne were crowded with people bidding them farewell.
Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic surrounding the world today does not allow such an elaborate affair. The Indian side of 2021 also deserved a similar farewell from Brisbane for the manner in which they played the series and brought to the fore the skills, values and toughness that go into playing Test cricket. This series has turned out to be just the tonic required to boost Test cricket.
India’s win as one can fittingly analyse was related to various factors. The foremost was the match-winning century by their stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane. This not only established him as a leader but has also identified him brilliantly as a silent killer as well as a good man manager. One could see teamwork and team spirit at its best. The resolute stand between Ravichandran Ashwin and Hanuman Vihari in the third Test match in Sydney and between Shardul Thakur and Washington Sundar in the fourth match was what drained the might of the Australian bowlers.
Solely due to injuries, India were forced to include their second line of bowlers, who brought in fresher and fitter legs. A fit Jasprit Bumrah and Ashwin may have been equally drained out, similar to the Australian bowlers. The young Indian attack was there to prove its worth and for Sundar to bowl the number of overs that he had never done before and the effort put in by Mohammed Siraj, T. Natarajan, Thakur, especially with Navdeep Saini getting injured, was simply remarkable.
The new look young Indian cricketers with nothing to lose is what energised the others as well. Rishabh Pant reminded one of the great Salim Durani. Like the legendary star, Pant has immense talent and is a natural timer of the ball, but also has the unpredictable mind of a flamboyant artist. Every Indian supporter’s heart batted faster at times when he batted, but he also showed that he possessed a cool and calculating mind when most required.
Shubman Gill was the best find of the Test series for India. The young opener is a special talent who needs to be nurtured. His batting received high praise from the innings he played earlier but the 91 runs that he made in the second innings of the last Test match was just outstanding. He was instrumental in giving India the platform to launch from, but the manner in which he punished the Australian attack was batsmanship of the highest order. His batting would have given the rest of the team immense confidence and also allowed the resolute and patient Cheteshwar Pujara to play his role.
Shastri so correctly in his post-fourth Test speech asked the Indian squad to enjoy and relish the moment. Fifty years ago, in 1971, the Indian side did so when they came back victorious from the West Indies and England. To do so twice in the last three years on their return from Australia is something quite extraordinary and unparalleled that the 2021 team has achieved. Its a moment to savour, not only for them but for the millions of Indian cricket followers from all around the world.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal)