Cricket

India vs Australia: From impossible to immortal, will we ever see anything like this again?

  • Yash Jha
  • January 19th, 2021
  • 18:43:59 IST

“First, you can never take anything for granted. Second, never, ever, ever underestimate the Indians.”

On the 19th of December, 2020, 36 all out happened.

Then, India lost Virat Kohli, and Mohammed Shami.

Then Umesh Yadav.

Then KL Rahul.

Then Ravindra Jadeja. And R Ashwin. And Jasprit Bumrah. And Hanuma Vihari.

India lost a lot.

And then, exactly a month on from 36, India won.

***

The lineup that India were able to assemble, eventually, for the decider of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2020/21, at Brisbane – Fortress Gabba/Gabbatoir/’Come to Gabba’ et al – was this:

1. Second away Test as an opener
2. Third Test
3. Ridiculed for intent
4. Stand-in captain
5. Recently-dropped opener
6. Ridiculed for mostly everything
7. Debutant, with no FC game in three years
8. 10-ball long Test career
9. Second Test – half of it riddled with injury
10. Third Test – on the back of racial abuse, on the back of losing his father
11. Debutant – potentially ninth-choice fast-bowling option

If you were to make an equivalent Australian XI, considering similar blows and absentees, it could read something like this: David Warner, Marcus Harris, Marnus Labuschagne, Matthew Wade, Joe Burns, Tim Paine, Moises Henriques, Ashton Agar, Sean Abbott, Trent Copeland, Jackson Bird.

Now picture this revised Australian lineup playing a series-decider, against a full-strength India, at Chepauk.

How do you imagine that panning out?

***

The last visiting XI to win a Test at the Gabba read thus: Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Richie Richardson, Carl Hooper, Viv Richards, Gus Logie, Jeff Dujon, Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Patrick Patterson.

When that West Indian team completed their victory, Sachin Tendulkar was a year away from his India debut, Virat Kohli was barely two weeks old, Diego Maradona’s Argentina were world champions, and Steffi Graf had just become the first – and still remains the only – tennis player to achieve the ‘Golden Slam’ (winning all four majors plus the Olympic gold in the same year).

***

Australia is the first country India made a cricket tour to as an independent nation. India’s travels to the distant land, from 1947 right upto 2018, had been the stuff of folklore – even without ever actually winning a series there.

It was a different kind of folklore, though, until that point.

For through the first 70 years of Indian visits to the land Down Under, Indian cricket learned, to quote Christopher Nolan, that there can be no true despair without hope.

Think Brisbane 1968. Think Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide 1977/78. Think Adelaide 1992. Think Sydney 2004. Think Sydney 2008. Think Adelaide 2014.

And then, after seven decades of waiting – seven decades of determination enveloped by disappointment, of dedication covered with dismay – came the Aussie summer of 2018/19.

The promised land had been met.

But, it would be said in its wake, that it would be an achievement asterisked.

Australia didn’t have two of their best players. Australia were a side in transition. Australia were a team inching their way out from their darkest pit.

How about this time, then?

Before the series, India didn’t have their senior-most fast bowler. One game into it, they were without their captain/best batsman, and now deprived of two of their three first-choice pacers. Two games in, they were without three of their four first-choice pacers. By the time the last match arrived, they almost had more candidates for a hospital ward than they did to put out on the park.

For years, Australian tours to India had been billed as their ‘final frontier’. For India, their tours to Australia were more in the realm of the ‘impossible dream’.

Well, as it stands – India have more Test series wins in Australia in the last two years than Australia have in India in the last 50.

Perhaps Mr.(Stephen) King’s take fits more nicely than Mr Nolan’s then: Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.

***

Against Australia, mystically or not, have come some of the most astonishing triumphs in Indian Test history. From Kanpur 1959 to Kolkata 2001, from Melbourne 1981 to Adelaide 2003 to Perth 2008.

They will never be forgotten.

But this summer, this tour, this game… this will never die. This now becomes the reference point. The permanent beacon. The forever sign-board, for any and all Indian travellers, feeling lost and out of sync.

From impossible, on the 19th of December, to immortal, on the 19th of January.

“First, you can never take anything for granted. Second, never, ever, ever underestimate the Indians.”

These words didn’t come out of the Indian camp. They came, in a mark of begrudging respect, from the opposite coach, when Justin Langer spoke to the host broadcasters, Channel 7.

***

“Oh, Covid – you’ve been beaten! You could not stop one of the greatest spectacles you could see in life. You cannot stop sport. You could not have seen anything better than this!”

Who else, but Harsha Bhogle, to illuminate this brightest of all days in the annals of Indian cricket, as Ajinkya Rahane lifted the Border-Gavaskar Trophy – and passed it over to T Natarajan before you knew it.

Yes, there are far greater battles for the country – as indeed the world – to fight.

But for one afternoon, basking in the most glorious glory, a country was happily positive; this was an injection nobody refuted; today, even if briefly so, everyone was united.

We’ve always known this is more than a game for India. Today, we knew, if ever it was in doubt, that this is more than a team.

You know the best part? We knew it, even before they stepped out for what will, for now, be the greatest day of their cricketing lives.

Updated Date: January 19, 2021 18:43:59 IST

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