Gabba Has Fallen—Road to India’s Historic Win Down Under
Every cricket game is an occasion in India. Millions of eyes are glued to the TV set, as eleven men represent the country in a sport that has brought people of this wildly diverse country for decades. Prayers to multiple gods, nearly empty streets and sounds of celebrations are sewn into every single cricket game. Wins send people into wild ecstasy, while losses cover a mournful veil over the entire country.
A fortnight ago, India made history by winning the final Test at the Gabba and retaining the Border-Gavaskar trophy. A team riddled with injuries, written off by the media, and mocked by multiple cricket pundits after the humiliating defeat at Adelaide, scripted a comeback for the ages with a second-string squad, showing resilience, bravery and skill.
“Can you imagine this Indian batting lineup without Virat Kohli for the next two Test matches? They are in deep trouble.” – Michael Clarke
The test match at Adelaide seemed evenly poised until the third day, where India looked to set a huge target for Australia to chase. However, the famous Australian quartet and the Kookaburra pink ball had other ideas. The juggernaut of Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood had the Indian batsmen on strings. They were fast, accurate, and ruthless, as they sliced through the Indian batting order like a hot knife through butter and picked nine wickets in the opening hour.
Every ball seemed to zip through the corridor of uncertainty, finding the edges and the Australian fielders. India, a team that boasted some of the most experienced batsmen in the game, had no answers to the barrage of deliveries being hurled at them. Not one player could muster up a double-digit score, as India came crashing down while putting up a meagre 36, the lowest ever score in Indian cricketing history. A game set to go down to the wire ended in overwhelming humiliation, and fate hammered the final nail in the coffin as Mohammed Shami copped a nasty blow on his right arm off a Pat Cummins bouncer, that ended the Australia tour for him. India would have to survive for the following three tests without yet another one of their key bowlers, a theme that would continue for the rest of the series.
A mentally fragile Indian side took the field in the fourth innings, with no real hope of defending a mere 90 runs against a batting lineup with big names like Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne. Australia comfortably won the match by eight wickets with Joe Burns, the severely criticised Australian opener scoring a half-century, effectively adding insult to the injury.
The usual fight in Virat Kohli’s eyes seemed lost in the post-match presentation. The Indian captain looked dazed, perhaps unable to accept that the team he had nurtured, the group which he was so immensely proud of, had suffered such a humiliating defeat. With Kohli, arguably India’s best batsman leaving for India, most Indian fans’ hopes of winning in Australia were doused. Most were left with the sight of a humiliating whitewash by the Australians taking shape in the horizon.
“Wear this 36 like a badge on your sleeves, and you will be a great team”.- Ravi Shastri after the first test.
The disastrous outing on the Adelaide Oval had opened up fresh wounds, literally. With Shami being ruled out due to the nasty bouncer in the previous test and Kohli out on paternity leave, Indian cricket team knew that they had to step up, and fast. For the famed Boxing Day match at the Melbourne Cricket ground, India announced four team changes. Ravindra Jadeja came back into the team after suffering a hamstring injury, for Kohli. Twenty-one-year old Shubman Gill came in for Prithvi Shaw, Rishabh Pant took over keeping duties from Saha, and Mohammad Siraj was called on for Shami.
In the 50th over, Labuschagne, who seemed to have taken a liking to the pitch, fell to some intelligent bowling sketched out by the debutant, Siraj. The wicket was at a crucial juncture and opened the floodgates, as the entire Australian batting side was wiped out for 195 in 73 overs. Siraj, who received news of his father’s demise while he was in Australia, chose against returning to India and decided to honour his father’s wishes and ‘make his country proud’. He was offered immense support by the team and symbolised the resilience that would eventually characterise this Indian team, a group that fought as one and never backed down.
However, the batting line up that had to retort with a promising start provided by young Gill, Ajinkya Rahane, who was made captain of the team, stitched up a brilliant century, burying the doubts the Indian batting line’s ability. This put India in a powerful position, and it was up to a severely inexperienced bowling line up to give India an honest opportunity to win the match.
The world expected the Indian bowlers to choke and lose the advantage they held. However, this was a team that sought redemption. Every single bowler bowled to their strengths, complementing their teammates’ abilities. Australia faced a single, united and absolutely ruthless bowling unit. India ripped through the Australian batting line-up with some clever spin bowling and accurate pace bowling, restricting Australia for 200 and virtually sealing the game on day 4.
After a comfortable chase, India sent out a clear message—“We may be down, but we’re not out yet.”
“Can’t wait to get you to the Gabba, Ash.” -Tim Paine, Australian captain.
The series stood level at 1-1. India had the momentum. Australia had the home ground advantage and a full-strength squad. After the incredible fight, India had shown in the second test, and the third test result was up in the air. Australia, a seasoned team full of experienced campaigners, were no pushovers. They had worked their way up from the pits of the ball-tampering scandal and were bolstered by Steve Smith and David Warner’s addition. On a rainy first day, Australia asserted their dominance with Labuschagne and Smith taking the Indian bowlers to the cleaners. Injury woes never seemed to end. Ravindra Jadeja was ruled out for the rest of the test series with a hit to the left thumb, as India stumbled through their first innings. A large target loomed, and a win seemed well out of reach.
The equation on day five—India needed 309 runs to win, Australia needs eight wickets. It was a textbook day five for this potent bowling attack, who knew they had an excellent chance of dismissing the Indians before the sun went down. Early wickets gave them a spring in their step, as they ran in with intent, looking for a wicket with every single delivery.
Rishabh Pant, who was promoted to number 5, had other plans. With Pujara being steady as a rock at the other end, Pant did something that generations of batsmen from the subcontinent were yet to do. He took the Australian bowlers head-on, in their own den. He stepped down the pitch and sent the ball deep into the stands instead of defending his wicket. With the fiery hot Pant and the Ice cold Pujara on either end of the pitch, the yin-yang of this batting combination hurled the Aussies into disarray.
As fate would have it, Pant eventually succumbed three runs short of an iconic century. Everything seemed to fall apart when the rock-solid Pujara walked back into the pavilion after a gritty stay on the pitch. Australia needed 5 wickets more to close up shop, and before them stood one batsman and the Indian tail. To add to the misery of the Indians, Hanuma Vihari had pulled his hamstring moments earlier in the game, Jadeja needed assistance with his banana peel, owing to the finger injury. On the other side, Ravi Ashwin was on the pitch after reports that his back barely allowed him to stand up that morning.
Hanuma Vihari and R Ashwin, both battling their injuries believed when an entire nation had lost hope. They decided that they would outlast the best pace attack in the world for forty-three overs. The images of Vihari limping on the pitch, struggling to walk but determined to reach the other end and retain strike to face the menacing fast bowlers, and of Ashwin taking blows to his body, wincing in pain and still managing to rile up Tim Paine with befitting replies to his sledging, have been etched into the memories of all Indian cricket fans for eternity.
The pair braved a plethora of close calls, a world of pain, and the expectations of more than a billion people to see India through to stumps without the loss of another wicket. On their way to scripting history, Vihari and Ashwin survived 259 balls as India forced a draw and made Australia retreat to their fortress, the Gabbatoir, for one last stand.
“This for me is a representation of the new India where we want to take on challenges and move forward with optimism and positivity and make sure we are up and ready for any challenge that comes our way.” -Virat Kohli.
Playing at the Gabba for an away side has not ended favourably for a cricketing side that isn’t Australia for over three decades. An Indian side playing a bowling unit with a total experience of 3 tests, definitely seemed on the back foot—rain on the cards. The grit shown by the side after a humiliating defeat in the first test was appreciated, but surely, the miracles had to stop at some point.
A ton from Labuschangne and an early injury to Saini seemed to set the swansong up. A majestic effort from the two-match old Mohammed Siraj restricted Australia to 369 runs. However, the Indian batsmen looked like they were following a script that Indian fans were used to. Six down with over 170 runs to chase down. Resistance by the Indians stood in Sundar’s form and a one test match old Shardul. “Surely it ends here”, was the sentiment around the game, as the Australian pace attack steamed in, hoping to clear up the Indian tail as fast as they could. But this group of rookies had made their minds up. They were playing to make history, not repeat it.
Washington Sundar and Shardul Thakur stitched up a match-saving 123 run partnership for the seventh wicket, and their message was loud and clear – “This is a new Team India.” The sheer stubbornness and grit the pair displayed lit up the fire of hope in all Indian fans. Two youngsters stood tall against a pace attack that had over a thousand scalps. The sheer audacity of the pair to take this bowling attack on in their fortress, threw the game’s narrative out of balance. Maybe, just maybe, this team could pull off a miracle.
With the slim lead, Australia posted a total of 328 runs for the Indian contingent to chase, all thanks to Mohammad Siraj. All the sacrifices Siraj had made to play this series paid off, as he took his maiden five-for. All three tests old, Siraj shouldered the burden of leading the bowling attack flawlessly. Being racially abused by the Australian crowd at the SCG, Siraj demonstrated the best form of “let your work do your talking” and dedicated his maiden five-for to his late father. Four days into the game, all three results were on the table for the taking.
The Indian batsmen faced an uphill task. The highest chase at the Gabba was 236 by Australia. 328? India was touted to draw by most of the punditry team, as India would retain the Border Gavaskar trophy with a draw. The batsmen had to bat out of their skins to chase this mammoth total down on the last day of play.
The Indians, as they had showcased throughout the series, seemed to have other ideas. Shubman Gill put the hosts on the backfoot with some beautiful strokes. With Pujara refusing to budge from the pitch, Gill played fearlessly, smashing Mitchell Starc for 20 runs in an over on his way to a match-defining knock of 91. Pujara stood tall against countless bouncers, copping numerous blows to his body. He drained the famed Australian pace trio, physically and mentally. When Pujara finally fell, it was up to a 23-year-old boy to guide India to victory.
In what was undoubtedly the best knock of his career, Rishabh Pant overcame an elbow injury to score a fabulous 89. The Australians had no answers to his fearless batting. He swept, scooped, and slashed. When the whole world predicted India to play it safe and defend their way to a draw, Pant symbolised the young Indian team, who had only one word in their heads—Win. As Pant’s last hit sent the ball to the boundary at long-off, the Indian side rushed out to celebrate and thronged the architect of the great breach of fortress Gabba. This was a side that stood tall when it was denied of its limbs and managed to win under nearly impossible circumstances.
This series marked the dawn of a new era in Indian Cricket. An Indian side that is fearless. They could’ve gone for the draw—but they believed in themselves when no one else did, and in the end, that is what made all the difference.
Every generation of cricket fans has had a few matches or series to remember fondly. A performance that they consider themselves lucky to have witnessed. The previous generation had the 2001 Test win against Australia at Eden Gardens, the 2003 Test win at Adelaide, and the Perth test of 2008 to name a few.
For our generation, every minute of this series will hold a place in the pedestal. We will narrate the tale of 2021—when a group of rookies who had a monumental task of saving the face of Indian cricket, achieved the impossible and defeated Australia at a ground where they felt invincible. When a group of boys, barely a few test matches old, made the world stand up and take notice of them, as they walked around the Gabbatoir with the tricolour raised high in the air.
(Featured Image Credits: Yahoo!)