• Sat. Oct 22nd, 2022

Battered and bruised after a challenging summer, India dug deep to ice a series win on Australian soil with an astonishing triumph at the Gabba, leaving the hosts with some difficult conservations ahead, writes Russell Jackson.

Jan 19, 2021

In truth, it happened hours before the miracle victory was clinched by the wicketkeeper who can’t catch and the net bowlers who were 18th, 19th and 20th in line for a spot in the team.
It happened when nobody with a rudimentary understanding of cricket history nobody with basic common sense believed that even India, the team that can’t be killed, the team formed from the surviving components of a cricketing car crash, could become the first since 1988 to beat Australia at the Gabba.
The moment that should define India’s courageous retention of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy occurred in the 51st over, halfway through the final day of the summer. Australian paceman Josh Hazlewood unleashed a vicious, angled bouncer, striking Cheteshwar Pujara’s face guard so violently that his helmet nearly did a 360-spin.
It was the 10th head or body blow Pujara had worn for the day a day on which he would make 56 runs from 211 deliveries but achieve a sporting immortality that isn’t measured in numbers. Earlier, Pat Cummins had struck him in the ribs at full pace blunt force comparable to a sledgehammer blow and Pujara had not so much as blinked.
After Hazlewood’s bouncer, Pujara simply called for a new helmet and determinedly sailed on, staring into the middle distance, dismissed only once he’d moved India to the launching pad from which Rishabh Pant would secure one of the great Test victories. Seconds after the clang of leather on metal, the uncaring bowler had snarled: “Did you see that one?”
Cheteshwar Pujara was battered and bruised, yet India triumphed at the Gabba.(AP: Tertius Pickard)
The catalyst of all that drama was Pujara’s withdrawal from the crease a moment earlier, when his spell of concentration was broken by the appearance of an insect. It looked like a caper white butterfly, Belenois java not native to Brisbane but a fixture in recent summers. Locals decried their arrival at first but were soon transfixed by their beauty.
The story of India’s summer is not dissimilar.
They were skittled for 36 and embarrassed in Adelaide, sledged and abused in Sydney, battered and bruised by Australia’s fast bowlers until they’d used almost enough players for two XIs.
Yet with majestic, confounding and utterly compelling cricket they have not just retained the trophy but won it 2-1, gaining admirers all over the world and finally moving Australians from begrudging respect to unconditional applause.
There were heroes throughout the tourists’ line-up. Rookie opener Shubman Gill made a nerveless, almost faultless 91 that confirmed a special talent and set India on its way. His assault on Mitchell Starc altered the mood of the day and Australia never really recovered.
Chaperoning him, Pujara was like a human pinata. Australia’s bowlers wore themselves ragged trying to crack him open. Washington Sundar threw caution to the wind precisely when it was required, inspiring Rishabh Pant and pushing him to greater heights as the quite ridiculous chase reached its most feverish point.
What is left to say about Pant? His undefeated 89 pushed his series aggregate to 274 runs at 68.50. Will it forever banish the debate about what India loses from his sub-par glovework? He probably wishes every Test was played in Australia. Some of his teammates might wish the same.
Rishabh Pant (right) rose to the occasion to hit the winning runs.(AP: Tertius Pickard)
Australia has far more difficult conversations ahead. One of the primary appeals of Test cricket is its ruthless examination of technique, temperament, strategy and stamina tests Australia flunked in Brisbane as they had in Sydney.
Starc, a frequent destroyer of less heralded batting line-ups, was an unfortunate avatar. With the series on the line, his job was to aim every delivery of his first spell at the widening cracks of the wearing pitch.
In theory, it should have been a nightmare scenario for Pujara and Gill, the batsmen at the time. In reality it was a far tougher assignment for Starc.
A bowler who struggled all summer to aim accurately within the width and height of three stumps was asked to come around the wicket, avoiding deep footmarks that meant he was delivering the ball an extra yard, push through the pain of a hamstring injury that had reduced his rhythm and pace, on the final day of a punishing series, to hit a target the width of a fingernail.
To the surprise of very few, it didn’t work neither did basically everything else Tim Paine tried, aside from bringing back Cummins every time he was refreshed enough to bowl again. Nathan Lyon finished his 100th Test stuck on 399 wickets, contemplating his status as only the fourth-best spinner in the series. His was not the only ego to be bruised.
That is not to say India’s task was straightforward. Hazlewood and Cummins bowled with venom. Because Cummins is so handsome and polite, we underestimate what an ordeal he is to face. He bowled magnificently and with unbelievable resilience: 24 overs, 10 maidens, 4-55. But he couldn’t bowl forever.
Australia might well offer the excuse that the bowlers were already worn out. That shouldn’t wash.
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All summer they’ve ignored capable benchwarmers in James Pattinson, Michael Neser and Mitchell Swepson. And anyway, a group of battlers with 11 Test wickets between them leading into this match took 10 on day four, when the pitch was in better shape than the final day.
“Did you see that one?” It could be the motto of the summer. Following the penultimate day’s play, no less an authority than Ian Chappell said this was a contest to rank with the classics of 1960/61 and 2005. Chappell is not given to exaggerations. On camera, he doesn’t permit himself such excesses as smiling.
In this case, he’s probably right again. Until the quite stirring conclusion, you could have been convinced that it was merely very good Test cricket.
Firstly, compared to the all-timers, with 34 participants, there was a lack of continuity in line-ups. In 2005, England used only 12 players and Australia 13 many of them all-time greats. It and the Calypso summer prompted motorcades, open-top bus parties, knighthoods and MBEs.
What honours are available to Ajinkya Rahane’s team? Every one of them should be forthcoming. An initial suggestion: give them the keys to the Gabba.