India vs Australia 2020-21: Triumph of spirit

Of late, test cricket has suffered from this dreary dominance where all the top teams appear to have mastered the home conditions but consistently struggle when they travel.

India vs Australia 2020-21: Triumph of spirit

New Delhi | Tarun Gupta: The deluge of write-ups on Indian cricket team’s victory in Australia would have indicated by now to even a casual observer the magnitude of achievement. This test series win is the pinnacle of success in the oldest format of the most popular sport in our country.

Sports aficionados across the world love to watch a good contest. Nothing seems to generate more ennui than a drab lopsided match where one side pummels the other. Of late, test cricket has suffered from this dreary dominance where all the top teams appear to have mastered the home conditions but consistently struggle when they travel. It perhaps required as much gumption as talent to reverse this pattern. The current Indian team demonstrated both in abundance.

For the record, this was as thrilling an encounter as one could recall. Till almost the last few minutes of the two-month tour, all three results were possible. More than pink balls and night play, we need such contests to inject longevity into test cricket.

What really is the scale of this victory? To put in perspective, I am tempted to juxtapose it with the 1983 world cup. It might seem sacrilegious for anything to be spoken of in the same breath. 1983 world cup win was a watershed moment in our lives that changed the way sports was approached in this country. This test series win, bearing in mind the circumstances and manner, might be as seminal.

As a cricket team, we have had world-class players since quite early on. In the last fifty years our team has comprised the most effective spin bowlers. From the seventies to the late eighties, we had in the legendary Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev, arguably the finest batsman and fast bowling all rounder of their generation. From late nineties till the end of the first decade of the new millennium, we boasted of possibly the best batting line up with the great Sachin Tendulkar in the vanguard. Despite substantive individual brilliance, the scorecard did not show us winners as often as we should have. A succinct explanation for the seeming anomaly would be that cricket is a team sport where individual skill, while essential is often not sufficient.

The specialty of this win lies in its being different. We saw that whole is bigger than sum total of parts. A team that was bruised after being bowled out for the lowest ever score of 36 loosing the first test within 3 days. A squad that lost more than half its frontline players to injuries and the superstar and genius batsman captain to paternity leave. A callow bowling unit composed almost entirely of debutantes. Well wounded and down we were, out we certainly weren’t. To launch a counter attack, to orchestrate an insurmountable come back from a seemingly impossible situation against the most formidable opponents in their own back yard! Wasn’t it a folklore script?

We have achieved tremendous success in test cricket in the past too. Yet those were more results of individual genius that catapulted the protagonists to exalted status. We won in Australia in 2018-19 as well, but at that time they were without Steve Smith and David Warner and Labushagne hadn’t become the batsman he has. This time Australia had all their arsenal whereas we were playing our second 11. The idea of bench strength couldn’t have found a better manifestation.

Who do we credit this success to?

The phlegmatic Rahane who took over the reins from a shambolic state and led with as much passion and displayed so much more poise than his illustrious predecessor. Was it his hundred in the second test that turned things around? 

The resilient Pujara who played almost 1000 balls in the series thereby shielding the other batsmen and tiring the bowlers. He took body blows without wincing and showed that what he may seem to lack in charisma is more than compensated by technique and temperament, the cornerstones of test cricket.

 Was it the tenacity of the more seasoned Ashwin and Jadeja who rose to the occasion in the earlier games or Bumrah’s penetrative bowling who has in just few years emerged as a spearhead?

What about the grit and unquestionable ability of the debutantes Shubham Gill, Siraj, Shardul Thakur and Washington Sundar? One wonders who could have written their script?

Of course no encomium can do justice to the man of the hour, Rishabh Pant. Does his prodigious talent need any further validation?

I have consumed 200 words just naming the contributors of this enormous win. Paucity of space precludes further expounding or even mentioning so many more, less celebrated but as important. This is how a team win should be. A marked departure from the proverbial star culture historically associated with the Indian cricket team.

One of the most profound aphorisms you would come across – ‘if youth knew, if age could.’ This youthful team knew. On display was skill, focus and pluck. They were aware of the difference between reaching the brink of success and crossing the finishing line. Wasn’t that our perpetual Achilles heel? It is a rarefied combination of young body and maturity that belied the stereotypical impetuosity of youthful exuberance.

We have more frontiers to conquer. Our performance in SENA countries needs to be consistent so as to affirm our status as the number one test team. It seems only a matter of time before this team achieves all that we have yearned for. Till then savor this moment. It doesn’t happen every day. It is for such emotions that you play a sport or watch or follow it or read, and we write about.   

(Disclaimer: The above article has been written by Tarun Gupta)

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