Within two hours of India registering one of the greatest ever Test series win, Ravichandran Ashwin put out a humorous tweet reminding one and all about the daunting task that the Ajinkya Rahane-led side had in their hands.
Alongside the picture of the winning team, Ashwin also posted a snapshot of a newspaper clipping that included quotes from the great Michael Clarke, Ricky Ponting, Mark Waugh, and the others. They had said different things but meant the same, that India after losing the Adelaide Test in which they registered their lowest ever Test score of 36 to go 1-0 down in the series, were destined for a clean sweep at the hands of the Aussies.
LHS ( not = ) RHS !
India tour of OZ 2020/21
Humbled by all the love and support we have received over the last 4 weeks!🙏 pic.twitter.com/nmjC3znglx
— Ashwin 🇮🇳 (@ashwinravi99) January 19, 2021
The ultimate result, however, was quite different. Eventually, it was India, who in Ponting's words had "no one to pick them up" after the Adelaide loss, winning the Test series 2-1 with a historic victory at the fortress Gabba where the Australians had not lost in the last 32 years.
Looking back it appears the likes of Clarke and Ponting got a bit carried away after Australia skittled India for 36 in Adelaide. But those guys are still experts who earn their money through their analysis on broadcast channels. They have their reputations at stake every time they say something, so all that came out from their mouths couldn't just have been a result of an adrenaline rush.
It appears more to be a case of an assessment made on the basis of past performances. After all, generally considered poor travelers, India had never managed to win a Test series coming from behind outside the subcontinent. The only time they did it outside of India was in Sri Lanka in 2015. Australia are a different beast.
Team 'New India' not ready to give an inch
The fact that India so successfully managed to bounce back after the 36-all out debacle in the first Test in a series being played Down Under inside a bio-bubble still seems surreal. But the added dimension that the series was won in the absence of batting stalwart Virat Kohli and with an evergrowing injury list that rendered indispensables Ravindra Jadeja, Jasprit Bumrah, and Ashwin unavailable for the series-decider in Brisbane, makes the result a fairytale of fairytales.
In the Gabba Test, the combined experience of the Indian bowling attack, which comprised of Mohammed Siraj, Thangarasu Natarajan, Shardul Thakur, Navdeep Saini, and Washington Sundar, stood at four matches. Then there was a makeshift middle-order consisting of opener Mayank Agarwal while Shubman Gill, who made this debut on the same tour, opened the innings.
Better players and better Indian teams have graced the field of play in cricket but never braver. What the experts failed to account for in their assessment was the guts of the Team 'New India' to go for the glory. They showed over the course of the series that they would not even give an inch. If there's one thing you can put down the victory to it is the team's fighting spirit, for which no task is insurmountable.
While the likes of Rahane, Pujara, Siraj, Pant, and Gill collect the accolades for making the impossible possible, it's also important to acknowledge the role of the men who operate in the background. And no one deserves more credit here than coach Ravi Shastri.
Often seen as the "yes man" to captain Virat Kohli, Shastri has been the favourite of meme makers, mostly when India are on the losing side. Away from social media, the former India player has also coped with a lot of criticism in the press and many times for valid reasons.
The Kohli-Shastri era has been littered with bizarre team selections and at times poor management. The middle-order muddle which the duo created became such a big mess that it eventually sank the Indian ship in the 2019 ODI World Cup. But we must also not forget the great man-manager that Shastri is.
It was for the very same reason that Kohli pushed for Shastri's selection as India coach after he could not come to terms with Anil Kumble's "overbearing" coaching methodology.
Success is the product of a process. Things don't happen overnight, you have to create an environment where one can be fearless. You have to work on forging a mentality that can withstand all the adversities. And it's one thing that is guaranteed with Shastri, he never gave an inch as a player and would never allow his players to do otherwise.
He began his career as an out-and-out bowler, batting at No 10, only to later open for India in 26 innings, scoring at 44.04. He once took BCCI to court for not allowing him to play in a series in North America. In an era, where following everything that seniors asked for was the norm, Shastri stuck out for standing his ground. It's only natural that the former India cricketer has passed on the qualities to his pupils.
You get a glimpse of his impact on the mentality of the Indian team when Kohli speaks about how Shastri's advice made him more "fearless" or Shardul Thakur shares how Shastri inspired him to play the match-winning gritty knock at the Gabba.
Shastri has never had any qualms in admitting that Kohli is the "boss" but as Shastri said, in March last year, his role "is to prepare the guys in the best possible way to be able to go out there and play brave, positive, fearless cricket.”
And brave, positive and fearless his players were at Melbourne, Sydney, and then Brisbane. So despite all their fallacies, we must credit Shatri and Kohli for instilling unflinching resolve and self-belief among the Indian players.
Bharat Arun's brilliance and Rahul Dravid's guidance
It would be a crime if bowling coach Bharat Arun is not mentioned while applauding the management which developed boys into men. Arun's excellent work with the pacers has been well documented and acknowledged.
Often considered the Achilles heel of Team India in the past, Arun has transformed the Indian bowling attack into one of the most fearsome in the world. The performances of the reserve fast bowlers like Mohammed Siraj, Navdeep Saini, and Thakur have only elevated Arun's reputation.
Subsequently, can we take a moment to appreciate Rahul Dravid for his hard work with the young crop of Indian cricketers? Almost every other unlikely hero from the Test series Down Under — Gill, Pant, Siraj Sundar, and Thakur — has learned the tricks to make the transition to the senior level from the National Cricket Academy head.
The spate of injuries unraveled India's bench strength and with every new adversity, India got a new hero, highlighting their talent riches.
When India were leaving for the South African tour in 2017, Shastri had mentioned that the next 18 months would define the Indian team's legacy. Those 18 months were largely a disappointment except for the maiden series win in Australia which also came with an asterisk attached (No Steven Smith and David Warner). The biggest issues in those 18 months were India's inability to finish off games after getting into dominating positions. This also once prompted Shastri to ask his players to toughen up mentally. A little late but Shastri and Co have managed to inculcate the desired mental toughness and India have achieved a special Test triumph that will define their legacy.
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