I still get goose bumps. Did it actually happen? I pinch and double pinch myself to check. Yes- it is indeed for real. We did it. Battling, battered and bruised. But tall and proud, last men standing!
So, here’s a tribute to the ‘Few Good Men’- the unlikely set of heroes who gave us our biggest ever test series win vs Australia, against all odds.
Shubman Gill– walked in for his test debut after the 36 all out debacle. Looked calm and composed, as if he has been doing this for ages. The sweet sound off the bat every time Gill pulled and cut was like symphony. That twenty run over from Starc in the second session on the last day of the Gabba test really started giving us Indian fans hope that we can do it. Finished with a 50+ batting average in his first test series.
Rishabh Pant– you love him or hate him, but you sure cannot ignore him. ‘The chatterbox’ and the ‘official babysitter’ of the team- 4th innings giant already at 23. What do you do when a ball hits the crack, spins at right angles and the keeper misses a stumping chance? Well, you dance down the pitch and hit the next ball for a six over long on, against the turn. Well that is Pant for you- unorthodox and fearless. That winning shot to the long off boundary will forever be part of the show-reel!
Cheteshwar Pujara– the new Wall! An unlikely hero in the IPL era. Old school, slow yet assured. And what a fighter! Took eleven blows to the body on the last day. It seems there was one big crack in the pitch and Cummins especially was hitting that with unerring accuracy time and again. So, Pujara decided to let the ball hit him rather than playing for uncertain and uneven bounce. He preferred to become ‘Rocky’ rather than risk his wicket. He scored 500+ runs last time we won the series Down Under and repeated the heroics with a lesser tally but marathon stays in the crease.
Mohammed Siraj– lost his father when he was quarantining in Australia early in the series but decided to stay on for the team’s sake. Was racially abused by fans but decided the ball to do the talking. Became the unlikely leader of the bowling pack in the Gabba test with the spate of injuries. Took a 5-fer in the second innings to break the Aussie batting. Was India’s highest wicket taker in the series. After landing back in India, he went straight to the graveyard to pay last rights to his departed father. What a man!
T Natarajan– truly a Bollywood rags to riches story. Coming from an extremely needy background, he was discovered by the talent scouts and flowered in the IPL. A white ball specialist, Nattu was retained to give the batsmen some net practice as a left arm fast bowler like Mitchell Starc. Became a father midway in the series but decided that India was a priority, so stayed back Down Under. Got an unlikely opportunity to debut in the Gabba test and did very well. ‘Net to Nattu’ was an amazing journey. He is the first Indian to debut across all three formats in a series.
Washington Sundar– again a so called ‘net bowler’ who got his big chance in the last test. Was retained to simulate Lyon and ensure Ashwin gets rest between matches. Bowled exceedingly well in the last test and the ‘no look’ six was one of the moments of the match. Full swag!
Shardul Thakur– got injured in his debut test in Windies two years back and had to drop out after a couple of overs. So, in a way, Gabba was a semi- debut for him too. His partnership with Washi in the first innings actually kept India in the hunt. Took seven wickets too for a truly memorable all-round performance.
And a few who set it up but did not play the last test-
Hanuma Vihari– failed a few times. Was criticized by one and all and was about to be axed. Came to bat in Sydney with the match on the line. Had a Grade 2 hamstring tear and was in unbearable pain. But batted for almost four hours and made the most steely 23 not out (in 161 balls!) to keep India level in the series going into the final test.
Ravichandran Ashwin– a giant at home, but often criticized for his away performances especially in SEAN (South Africa, England, Australia, Newzealand). Gave us the upper hand by taming Steve Smith in the first two tests and stuck it out with Hanuma to draw the SCG test when he could hardly stand due to a back injury. Gave it right back to Paine and won the verbal duel as well as the on-field one.
Ravindra Jadeja– His sword celebration after reaching a milestone gives hope to us always. Whether with the bat, bowl or the field, Jaddu always contributes. His biggest contribution though was padding up on the 5th day in SCG with a broken thumb- showing resilience and courage. As Hanuma and Ashwin battled for the draw, seeing an injured Jadeja in the dressing room ready to come in next, gave them assurance and confidence to hold on in the middle.
Jasprit Bumrah– the best all format fast bowler of this generation. Leading a young pack through the first three tests as one after another senior dropped out (Ishant Sharma before the series, Mohammed Shami in the first and Umesh Yadav in the second test), Bumrah kept going. Now has the best test bowling average of 21 for all visiting teams in Australia in this century!
Lastly, Ajinkya Rahane– he took over the reins after the ‘36 debacle’ with the best batsman and captain back at home. He led with composure and class. When the Aussies talked, he stared back. Led the comeback with the century at MCG. When he looked good for much more, he was run out due to an error in judgement by his partner. He calmly walked up to him, egged him to go on and left without a show of frustration. Great example of leadership in crisis!
Also Ravi Shastri and Virat Kohli– often criticized for their ‘in your face’ and haughty attitudes, but you need to admire the aggression. In a way, the seeds of the Gabba win now were sown in Adelaide 2014. We went for a 300+ last day target then also, and lost. But the seeds of positivity were sown. Life turned a full cycle at Gabba. Shaz’s speech to the team after the Gabba win was a good reflection of how we won in adversity.
And behind the scenes, Rahul Dravid– the silent mentor. Churning out the next generation for India. Working tirelessly with youngsters, shaping their technique and more importantly their attitude. You saw the bench strength of India and you couldn’t but doff your hat to the ‘Wall’.
There are many bigger reasons for this super success.
IPL has given a big opportunity to young players and make them truly believe that they can do it, no matter what!
Calm and composed leadership which converted crisis into an opportunity.
The strength of the bench- India B played like India A+. Anyone wearing the India shirt is capable to perform and win.
The need to take a step back to step forward (Pujara) and also the need to be prepared to lose some to win some (Adelaide 2014 to Gabba 2021).
Honestly, the only time India looked like winning the series was in the last hour of the last test. It was that sort of a series! All in all, I still cannot believe it. So, maybe playing the last day highlight show-reel in loop will do the trick. Savour this and enjoy- for moments like this happen once in a generation.