The 2018-19 win was a reiteration of India’s core strengths; 2020-21 emphasised the depth of its talent pool
When Wednesday arrives with the sun spreading its incandescent rays across India, cricket fans will miss their pre-dawn routines. The cell-phone alarms, hurriedly quaffed coffees and then the sense of awe while watching India take on Australia Down Under. The four-match Test series found its cracker of a finish at Brisbane’s Gabba with Rishabh Pant unleashing a slap-drive for four.
Despite being anaemic due to the loss of most of its leading stars to injuries, ‘New India’ still found its beating heart and strung together an epochal 2-1 verdict. A lesser team would have wilted following that 36 at Adelaide. And it is credit to this group that even if that number pops up in quizzes, the first things that would spring to mind are the subsequent miracles which were unearthed at Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
If the successful 2018-19 tour was a reiteration of India’s core strengths, the latest one emphasised the vast riches within its talent pool. The pandemic-induced restrictions, fitness worries and the off-field bitterness triggered by stray racist taunts were all kept aside as Ajinkya Rahane’s men focused on what could be done on the turf.
This was a unit that had to make do without its skipper Virat Kohli after the first Test. And with injuries being a constant shadow, its bowling attack was reduced to such greenhorn levels that it was helmed by Mohammed Siraj, playing only his third Test, at the Gabba! Yet, just like Shubman Gill showed, the freshers seemed ready, be it Siraj, Washington Sundar, Shardul Thakur or T. Natarajan. Add to it the resolve that illuminated Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara, R. Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah and Hanuma Vihari, and you had a unit that always found its heroes.
Australia is never easy and its attack was hostile. Even if Mitchell Starc was off-colour, thanks to the likes of Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon, Tim Paine had enough venom to dispense. But India had its methods, ranging from Pant’s buccaneering ways to the bat-resembling-a-fortress style intrinsic to Pujara.
After the early appetisers of ODIs and Twenty20s, this tour would be remembered for its main-course of dazzling Tests. India against Australia is one for the cricketing gods and their weather counterparts too were so caught up with the riveting action that the rains which were forecast, never happened! Melbourne, 1981; Eden Gardens, 2001; Adelaide, 2003; Perth, 2008; Mohali, 2010 — the list goes on. Now add Brisbane, 2021, to it.
Sport is both about the ‘now’ and its resonance when yellowing scorecards acquire cobwebs. Rahane and company offered undiluted joy at the Gabba and years down the line, these moments will be remembered with warmth. This Indian team has gifted enduring memories and for that the credit belongs to the players, the coaching staff led by Ravi Shastri, a robust India-A conveyor belt and the relevance of the National Cricket Academy where Rahul Dravid keeps a close watch. This is ‘India Unbound’ and the fans couldn’t have asked for more.