They say, when going gets tough you need to embrace the fear. The fear of failure. The fear of not achieving your goal. The fear of not crossing the desired line.
And once that nemesis is conquered you will find your North Star to guide you through that dark night.
Well, the humongous Indian effort in Sydney is a classic testimony of such defiance of the highest quality.
Since that dreadful 36 all out in Adelaide, this Indian team has seen their captain (and their best batsman) going back home, five senior players from rest of the squad (Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, KL Rahul, Ravindra Jadeja and Hanuma Vihari) suffering series-missing injuries, couple of other members allegedly facing racist taunts from the crowd and still this buoyant group of cricketers managed to architect a Test triumph and then following it up with a remarkable draw after batting out 131 overs in the fourth innings against a top-quality attack on a scratchy SCG surface.
For the Ajinkya Rahane-led side, at present, it might seem like nothing short of achieving the cricketing equivalent of Nirvana.
India’s grit and determination in that historic fourth innings chase of 407 depicts the rigidness of this team. When they commenced the final day at 98 for two – with another 309 more to get for an improbable win – not the most diehard of their supporters gave them a sniff of a chance. At that point only two results seemed realistic – the visitors being rolled over and collapsed without a fight and a faint chance of a draw. The second option looked even more unlikely when Rahane got out to Nathan Lyon in the second over of the day.
At that point Rishabh Pant walked in, promoted at No. 5. He was on painkiller, not fully recovered from the blow he suffered on his arm in the first innings.
Primarily, there were two reasons behind Pant’s promotion. Firstly, India wanted to spilt their one-dimensional middle-order and secondly, they had identified Lyon as the primary threat on that Day five surface and hence they wanted someone to go after the off-spinner so that he can not settle into an attacking line and length.
With Pant counterattacking (after being dropped twice by Paine), the Aussies started to feel the heat. Though he was not looking to hit every ball out of the park but the 22-year old showcased controlled aggression and that was enough to convince Tim Paine to push the field back. It also helped Cheteshwar Pujara to rotate the strike more frequently.
Perhaps, there is some room for criticism for the way the young wicketkeeper for the way got out for 97 (and just before the second new ball was taken) and a missed well-deserving hundred. However, we need to understand that for a free-flowing batsman like Pant attack is the best form of defence and during his 148-run stand with Pujara, which raised India’s hope of not just saving the Test match but winning it, it was Pant’s role of being the aggressor.
Meanwhile, coming onto the Sydney Test, India’s lower middle-order was under scanner for not showing enough resistance with bat. Hence, following the departure of Pant and Pujara, when India still had as many as 44 overs to see off, an Australia win seemed inevitable. By that time Hanuma Vihari, India’s last standing batsman, injured his hamstring while taking a single. Furthermore, Jadeja, who dislocated his thumb in the first innings, would have batted only if needed.
Hence, India had to abandon their initiative to go for win.
Now it was all about survival, for 40 odd overs.
A fifth day pitch with uneven bounce, the second new ball and a few injury-hit bruised batsmen – when the odds of surviving the last session were heavily favouring the opponents, India found resistance from an unassuming Vihari and gutsy Ravichandran Ashwin.
Vihari couldn’t move due to his his hamstring and Ashwin had earlier tweaked his back. Still they made batting look like meditation – unfazed of everything happening around them (including the provocative chatter from the Aussies), they just focused themselves on playing each delivery to its merit. And the ploy did work.
The unbeaten 254-ball partnership literally made Paine and his boys surrender as India achieved one the most famous draws in its cricket history. This remarkable achievement has been aptly put in by a CricViz Analyst tweet. This was the longest an Indian team batted “anywhere” in a fourth innings since 1979. In 1979 against England at the Oval, chasing 438 India made 429 for 8, after batting 150.5 overs. At SCG on Monday, India survived 131 overs and four batsmen – Pujara, Pant, Vihari and Ashwin – played 100-plus deliveries to secure the draw.
“This was as good as winning a Test match. When you come abroad and play a match like this, it is really special. As I said, it was as good as a victory,” a proud Rahane said at the virtual post-match press conference while admiring the herculean effort of his boys. “I think Melbourne was really special for us as a team, coming from the Adelaide loss, the way we bounced back and the way we showed our attitude and character on the field was really good.
“But coming here in Sydney, we were slightly behind the game initially and today we knew we had to chase 407 runs. But talk was all about fighting till the end. We had to keep our game really simple, not to think about outcome, result anything… just play one session at a time. The good thing about the team is everyone actually chipped in at the right time, everyone contributed well, as bowlers, batsmen… that’s what you want. This game was really special and [we are] really proud.”
Right from the beginning this Border-Gavaskar series is living up to be a fine example of what they call a ‘‘great advertisement for Test cricket.” The caravan now moves to Brisbane which is Australia’s fortress. The visitors, meanwhile, will be further depleted but even with their limited resources, one thing is certain, this team will chin-up and fight to uphold its dignity.
So, over to Gabba for the final round!
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