Nagpur. Roorkee. Fazilka. Palghar. Sangamner. Siliguri. Rajkot. Salem. Karnal.
Most of us may not be able to pinpoint these Tier 3 & 4 towns on the map, but beyond the traditional cricketing metros of Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Bengaluru, Kolkata & Hyderabad in India, these are the birthplaces of the new Gen Z rock stars who have become legends Down Under and will be celebrated for scripting Team India’s best ever series win overseas in the 89 years that the nation has played this game at the international level.
Bollywood itself could not have conceived a better fairy tale narrative than what we have witnessed over the 30 odd days. Perhaps Amazon Prime – Netflix is already talking to BCCI to buy the rights!!
For folks like me, who have followed Indian cricket overseas in the last 3 decades, the narrative was rather standard ~ wake up in the wee hours of the morning with the hope of seeing our team bat first and bat big; switch off the television after Tendulkar or any of the other Big 5 legends got out; enjoy the early hours of some “military medium” pace and then hope that spin could do the trick and help us draw the game.
Venomous pace-attacks and victory were not familiar words in our dictionary and territories that we didn’t dare to trespass too often barring one-off miracles in Adelaide 2003 & Perth 2008.
For us commoners, who even hesitated to dream of last-day victory at the Gabba & many of us were praying to the rain Gods, the miraculous, statistics-defying fairytale over the last 30 days that was defined by gumption, grit, decisiveness, fearlessness, resolve, character and a killer-instinct unknown, was shocking yet soothing; mind-numbing yet exhilarating; unimaginable yet awe-inspiring!
- How could an inexperienced squad, under quarantine, that had only 2 players who were fit enough to play all the 4 matches in the series (a feat last repeated back in 1995!) defeat the mighty, full-strength Aussies in their backyard?
- How could a nascent bowling unit, who were mostly meant to roll over their arms in the nets, to help our batsmen practice, with a collective experience of picking just 13 wickets in 9 Tests take 20 wickets at the Gabba, whilst their experienced, Australian counterpart with 1033 wickets in 254 Tests failed to do the same?
- How could the sons of auto-rickshaw & bus drivers and loom workers, who hailed from resource-scarce Tier 3 & 4 towns have the audacity to dream big?
- How did a 21-year-old Shubman Gill, who still doesn’t have a bat sponsor, muster the courage and fearlessness to drive, cut & pull Starc so fluently in the 1st session on a deteriorating, rain-soaked, Day 5 pitch, after his experienced, opening partner fell quickly?
It was so mesmerizing that I had to keep the live stream switched on Hotstar on my lap during a meeting and keep a tab on it with occasional awkward, sly glances all through!
Beyond the valuable strokes, his 3% false shot percentage, the 2nd lowest for an Indian in Australia, showed why he is being earmarked as a future star.
After an intent-driven 2nd innings in Sydney and being peppered with critical comments from the armchair, Whatsapp-critics globally, how did Pujara have the courage, gumption, patience and grit to grind out 211 balls to score his slowest fifty in Tests (after having faced 717 deliveries prior to that in the series, which was already the highest across both teams!) apart from being battered blue with some 11 odd nasty, intimidating Bodyline blows?
If Pujara was placing his body on the line to avert defeat, how did his partner in crime, the swashbuckling southpaw in Rishabh Pant, read the game completely differently once again, as he did in Sydney and make a mockery of the famed Australian attack?
With today’s Man of the Match performance, the 23-year-old has scored 89+ runs in the fourth innings twice in 2 weeks while saving/winning a Test, a feat that legends like Gavaskar have managed to achieve 4 times & Tendulkar and Ganguly twice over their long Test careers.
His tally of 624 runs from 12 innings in Australia is the 2nd best for a visiting keeper and he is the only Indian wicket-keeper with 500-plus Test runs in Australia. He now has the distinction of scoring the top 3 highest scores for an Indian wicket-keeper in the fourth innings of a Test. So much for all the criticism about his style, stance, approach and recent form in the IPL!
- How did the debutant in Washington Sundar hook the world’s No 1 fast bowler for a six at a crunch moment in the game and follow it up with a boundary that he sliced hard over the slip cordon?
- Was the confidence from his ‘Dattu Phadkar like’, 3 wicket haul and his maiden 50, that he strung in a 123 run partnership with ‘Takoooor’ rubbing off on him?
- How did Thakur, who had a brief 10 ball, injury-stricken debut in Test cricket, manage to have a full-throttle re-start to his career with a maiden 67 in an important 8 wicket partnership & a 7 wicket haul in the match?
- How did Siraj, who began as a batsman and only mastered the art of pace bowling with a leather ball just 5 years ago, and got his Test cap due to Shami’s injury, erupt to be India’s leading wicket-taker and find of the series?
- How did accidental Test bowler in Nattu, manage to calm his nerves and produce 3 wickets on debut, including that of Labuschagne & Wade?
- What compelled Navdeep Saini to come back and bowl 5 overs in the 2nd innings despite the niggles in his groin?
Most importantly, what helped our stand-in skipper, Ajinkya Rahane to lead this depleted unit with belief, composure, quiet confidence and the audacity to chase down 328 runs on the final day of the series, to do the unthinkable and penetrate the fortress at the Gabba for the first time in 32 years; for the first time ever by an Indian touring side?
Ajinkya Rahane’s motivation is to be “Ajinkya Rahane” (translates to remaining invincible in his mother tongue Marathi!)?
The 325 runs scored on Day 5 were the 3rd highest ever in a winning run chase and it’s funny to realize that just a month ago, the Indian team had failed to cross 36 ~ goes on to prove the age-old investment caveat that ‘past performance is not indicative of future results’
And all this with just 1 centurion; 1 bowler to have taken a 5 wicket haul and not a single batsman in the squad to have touched the 300 run tally in the series!
Test cricket at its best.
— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) January 19, 2021
A rather anomalous but impactful, winning team effort nonetheless. But what led to this herculean transformation of epic proportions that would have taken a lot of conviction, physical strength and mental fortitude to compensate for the loss of early morale and lack of experience?
- Was it that there was nothing much to lose anyway?
- Was it the experience and confidence-inducing pep talks by Coach Shastri, who had helped his team win the World Championships Down Under in another format in 1985, behind the scenes?
- Was Kohli’s incessant stress on physical & mental wellness paying dividends?
- Was it because of the way BCCI has developed the domestic structure, talent spotting initiatives and its investments in cricketing infrastructure?
- Was it the childhood struggles of many of these youngsters that have made them resilient?
- Or is the confidence, fearlessness and flamboyance a result of the IPL, a platform where ironically folks like Washi & Thakur may have learned a few tricks and benefitted from the company of Australian greats like Warner and Smithie?
- Or is this a generation thing wherein Gen Z likes to express themselves fluently and has learned the Gita-Esque art of “decoupling the eventual results from their effort”, as a commentator suggested today?
- Or has Dhoni’s meteoric rise from the small town shores of Ranchi given the new crop of players the confidence and belief that they can achieve whatever they set their sights on?
- Or does the credit go to one gentleman called Dravid, who post-retirement has been patiently nurturing talent at junior levels for a larger game plan, just the way he would architect his innings in many overseas games, like the ones at Adelaide in 2003 that gifted our generation a rare victory to relish for a decade?
Attribution is a tough sport and perhaps the answer lies somewhere in between all of those questions but what this miraculous victory, which has catapulted Team India to the top position of the rather complex World Test Championship (WTC) table, has done is that :
- it will make a generation dare to dream & believe that it can achieve anything that we want to
- it will break down physical & mental barriers and encourage people to push boundaries and test their limits
- it will tell people that it is important to back oneself and have the courage of conviction despite what others may perceive or advise.
- it will convince people that you can be down but you can choose not to be out and bounce back with resolving most things in life are a team sport, a long relay marathon and one does not necessarily need superstars to ace the race but just needs everyone to contribute with a big heart.
- it has shown the power of sport, a traditional often not-understood, long 5-day game, to unite people and bring them unadulterated joy and excitement
As Harsha Bhogle said, “you can’t love life if you don’t love Test Cricket” and Australia 2021 will share a seat in the same cabinet as 1971, 1983, 2001, 2003 & 2011 and will inspire a generation to grow up and make a dent.
Thank you, Australia for hosting us, competing hard as always and pushing our backs to the wall to bring out the best in us.
England ~ we are all set to come to you and remember that this time if we win.
I wish my grandfather would have been alive today, we lost him 10 months back. Thank you for making me fall in love with test cricket. I Miss you out there but I know somewhere from above you were hooked on the last ball of the last test hour of yesterday’s match. We both have seen this journey of Indian cricket sitting next to each other for almost 3 decades. ~ Yours Tinku 🙂
Till then, do remember the faces and names of these fearless, and youthful characters from Nagpur. Roorkee. Fazilka. Palghar. Sangamner. Siliguri. Rajkot. Salem. Karnal. ~ They may not be “The Invincibles” yet but they held fort to help India score a hat-trick with the coveted Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
The romantic tragedy that is Test cricket, unfortunately, many of them may never play a Test match again.A TEST MACTH IS A REPLICA OF LIFE
~ A true Test Cricket Fan
Below is a glimpse of why conquering Gabba was a befitting reply….