Updated: Jan 25, 2021
The miracle down under.
When I woke up this morning to the notification that India had somehow chased down 328 at fortress Gabba, I think I speak for the vast majority of the cricketing world when I say I was delighted. Tours down under that start bad usually end bad, and Indias tour started poorly before they’d even bowled an over. Ishant Sharma, India's leading seamer, was ruled out of the series after picking up an injury in the IPL, and Rohit Sharma (who had been so dominant at the top of the order in recent times) was to not be available until Sydney at best. Then things started to spiral.
At Adelaide India were in control of the game for the first 2 days and then the unthinkable happened. Josh Hazelwood and Pat Cummins tore through the Indian line up leaving then scraping for hope and answers. 36 all out. The lowest total by an Indian side ever. Australia smelt blood and just ask the England touring party of 2006/07 what happens when Australia gets a whiff. Shami was injured and Kohli returned home, to be an India fan on that day was a bleak time.
Christmas can’t have been too enjoyable for the Indian fans who had to sit dreading what was about to come. Jadeja was back which was a huge balance to the side, and despite Navdeep Saini and Shardul Thakur supposedly being the next in line before the tour it ended up in a shootout between Mohammad Siraj and T.Natarajan.
Here lies our first hero. Siraj; we all know the story, the truly tragic event of his father passing before the tour and Siraj opting to miss the funeral as so to fulfill his fathers dream of playing for India. So often smacked around the park for RCB Siraj was about to enter the most insane few weeks of his life. Starting off he didn’t bowl in the first session at Melbourne but when he did eventually get tossed the ball by stand-in captain Rahane he looked as if he’d been playing for years. A beautiful set up of Cameron Green and an immense discipline showed that India had hit another gem. Then Umesh Yadav went down and all of a sudden Siraj was taking the new ball, but alas he remained unphased and bowled magnificently taking 3 crucial wickets to help India keep the total low.
The winning moment in Melbourne was a huge one as Ajinkya Rahane knocked off the final runs to add to his century in India's first innings. Let us just remember Rahanes knock. Soft hands, playing the ball late and doing it all against some of the worlds best; Rahanes 100 will go down as one of the best ever. India won the game, and importantly new boy Shubman Gill was taking to test cricket like a duck to water.
Then Sydney came. Will Pucovski opened for Australia who brought in Navdeep Saini. There was one problem for India this time around, Steve Smith. Smudge was back to his best at his home ground and showed, once again, why he is the world's best. It came down to the final day. Australia needed 8 wickets and India to bat the day out. 10 balls in and the captain had fallen, there would be no miracle knock this time, the pitch was spinning and Nathan Lyon looked hungry for wickets. Pant was promoted up the order to number 5 in a shock move that turned out to be a masterstroke.
So hero number 2. Pant was left out of the Adelaide test due to Sahas keeping being deemed more important. Recalled at Melbourne he was neither here nor there but in Sydney Pant played one of the best counter attacking innings in recent memory. Pant made Australia's 2nd best ever spinner look like he’d forgotten how to hold a cricket ball. Bang six over mid wicket, bang six over cover he was a man possessed and the perfect mix with Pujara blocking it out at the other end just going about his business. Indian fans started to dream, and nearly everyone in world cricket (who wasn’t an Aussie) was thinking the same thing- it’s possible. Pant fell for 97 bringing Vihari to the crease and it was all on Pujara who was promptly removed. Australia were steaming in, they had a battering ram and all that stood before them and the fragile tail was an injured Vihari and an Injured Ashwin the job was over. But amidst the comments of Paine (more on that later) and the frustration of the bowlers, the two Indian batsmen batted like soldiers and earnt a superb draw. The series was alive.
At this point I feel I must address the acts of Sydney and of one particular commentator. During the Sydney Test match Mohammad Siraj and Jasprit Bumrah twice reported incidents of racial abuse from members of the crows. On the 2nd occasion the men were promptly and rightfully removed from the ground and an investigation was launched. Not a lot has been heard since except for the recent disgusting story of one fan being told to go back to where he came from by a member of staff after trying to bring in anti racism banners to the match. This was not the first instance of racism during the series. In the course of the first game Shane Warne kept on referring to Cheteshwar Pujara as Steve. Steve was a nickname given to Pujara when he was an overseas player at Yorkshire as the players couldn’t pronounce his surname. This is not only deeply ignorant and down right culturally insensitive but it is also a clear example of Yorkshire's bigger issues in terms of racism. So for Shane Warne to openly on air call Pujara the offensive nickname astonished me. How could a man who is paid to speak on live television over a game of cricket not have the class and decency to say a players proper name let alone use a nickname which is so awful and vile. Warne is a prick.
But i digress now we move onto The Gabba. A lot was riding on this test for Australia. Unbeaten in over 3 decades at the fortress and Tim Paines comments to Ashwin meant they couldn’t lose. And it didn’t look like they could. India had lost Bumrah, Ashwin, Vihari, Jadeja all in the space of a week and the debutante were drafted in. Washington Sundar, Shardul Thakur and T.Natarajan all came in for the red ball awakening. A Marnus ton was made on day 1 and it felt service resumed. When Thakur and Sundar joined each other at the crease it was looking bleak for India at 6-186. A no look six of Nathan Lyon and some of the best batting seen all series culminating in a stand of 123 put India right back in the mixer. Warner and Harris started brightly steaming along with no signs of stopping. Walk in Thakur and Siraj. For a moment let us examine Siraj who started out as not even the next in line and then the 3rd seamer then the 2nd and now the 1st seamer leading the attack in just his 3rd test match and boy did he deliver. His 5 wicket haul gave India a chance, but it didn’t matter Siraj bowled his heart out and he can be immensely proud of everything he has achieved, he stepped up in the face of adversity and delivered on the biggest stage of them all.
Then the final day. The cracks were there with one located on a 5th stump line just outside a right handers off stump and when Pat Cummins removed Sharma early everyone thought a repeat of Sydney was never going to happen. A century stand between Gill and Pujara later the game was on. GIll fell for 91 and Rahane for 24. Pant was back in at 5 and started in his usual vein with him and Pujara again showing they are the perfect foils for each other. As those around him fell Pant stood tall and with 18 balls remaining he drove Josh Hazelwood down the ground for 4. The game was done. The miracle was complete and India had done it.
Ladies and Gentlemen what we have just witnessed was one of the greatest test match series of all time. The injuries, the sub plots, the debutants never disappointing and India fighting to the last snatching victory when no one deemed it conceivable let alone a genuine possibility. India were the unexpected heroes, the team of no ones who became everything to everyone.
The job is done, the series finished and the miracle complete.