Around half may mark of the fifth day of the Brisbane test, I texted my whole bunch of social media groups ‘India are going for a once in a lifetime chase and win, I respect that. Won’t be upset if we lose. Rare chance to grab Aussie team by the balls.’ It was important as an impassioned lover of the men in blue, for 38yrs, to keep perspective in place. Sports will have an entity winning or losing, but sports is more about emotion, the instinct, the belief .. to make moments that will last in memory for .. say for another 38yrs. India’s consecutive test series wins at Australia is stuff that fairy tales are made of – The last team to match this feat were mighty West Indies in 1987 & 1992.. around 28yrs ago. Here’s my eight observations from this historic series through the corporate lenses.
1. Finally the batting delivered consistently on the biggest stage
Thanks to a varied world class bowling attack, Virat Kohli’s team have dominated opposition over the last six years, over different formats, only for the batting to flatter to deceive at the key most moments. Two successive ODI World Cup semifinal gettable chases were lost due to 45 mins of bad cricket. Well positioned to win opening test matches in South Africa and England, in recent years, the batsmen faltered when it mattered most. Even at Adelaide 2020, all good work done by the bowlers in getting a crucial first innings lead was undone with 45 mins of ‘throw it all away’ batting. Be it at Sydney or Brisbane, few Indian fans had hope of their much celebrated batsmen saving the respective test matches on day five. Yet it happened and for all means and purposes, Shubhman Gill was man of the last day of this series and Rishabh Pant should have got man of the series award. A friend, Jeffson D’Souza, on dinner table at Bengaluru, told me on eve of the final day of this series, ‘Had the Tendulkars Gangulys played this series, we would have likely been 220 all out in fourth innings of both tests’. With such low confidence levels, built over decades, the current batsmen have given Indian cricket (and fans), a new leash of belief.
Lesson: Routine big stage failures wears the belief down, irrespective of talent. It needs bravado to change historical trends.
2. Rahane De Kohli!
Naturally after the historic improbable win, there has been a lot of debate if Virat Kohli should be reinstated back as the captain or should Rahane continue. For Ajinkya, this series was all about destiny meeting grit. After 36 all out and the shock loss at Adelaide, all punts were on India losing the series 4-0. Had India met with that fate, and very likely Rahane’s series averages would not have been great in that hypothetical situation, it could have been the end of Rahane’s test career, as the scapegoat in chief. But couple of Aussie catch drops at Melbourne, a bravado century and astute on-field captaincy (which is clearly superior to that of Virat’s) meant history has been made. All the six Australian innings that Rahane was in charge the hosts were never let off the hook; and ensured his rookie bowling attack always took wickets in bunches. Let’s not kid ourselves, first day at Brisbane, Aus were 200/3 and on fourth day, Aus were 89/0 (effectively 122/0) and yet India pulled back to unimaginable situations. Virat will, and rightly so, return as captain of the ship; But the voices of Rahane, Ashwin, Bumrah, Pujara, Rohit and even Pant, in the dressing room, will be louder from here on.
Lesson: A good unit is one where hierarchy isn’t followed but respected from within.
3. Astute team selections
The Virat-Shastri led team management have often faced flak with regards to team selection. They have backed data, recent form, gut and instinct – and you can’t fault them for an astounding cricketing run that India has had under them. Even in the two ODI World Cups India exited in semifinals, under them, the team dominated the group stages like never before in history. Faced with an elongated hospital ward and crunched resources, the team management (Rahane-Shastri) still made terrific choices. Just when question marks started on Kuldeep Yadav’s omission, Washington Sundar scored crucial 84 runs and took four important wickets. Shardul Thakur meanwhile scored, just as important, 69 runs and took whopping seven wickets. Shubhman Gill finished series with an average of 51 and lead the charge on final day of the best cricket test match series, the world witnessed since Ashes 2005. Mohd Siraj took 13 wickets, T Natarajan and Navdeep Saini delivered whenever called up. The team management will continue to make selections that may sound ridiculous, on paper, at times. But trust them. The guys have lost just four home tests in over a decade!
Lesson: Respect data, not perceptions.
4. Whom to drop?
The argument with the Kuldeep Yadav omission was that in his last test match, couple of years ago, he had picked a fiver at Sydney. Sadly or happily (depending on your perspective) this is the new normal. Mohd Siraj may not get selected for the next test match. Shardul Thakur will likely be omitted. Washington Sundar’s place is in doubt. Gill may sit out the next test as Rohit and Mayank have mind-boggling home series numbers. Or even Pant can sit out; as India’s best wicketkeeper Saha will likely start in spin friendly tracks! Thanks to the team management grooming methods, stalwarts like Rahul Dravid and NCA honing skills in the background, BCCI’s robust domestic structure, IPL’s big stage exposure and regular A tours to measure one’s development under testing circumstances, India’s talent pool of two dozen odd players have never looked more formidable. Now we are a cricketing unit, independent of star power or absentees. Star performers of the previous matches, will get dropped. This is the new normal. And what a normalcy to be in, for a fan of Indian cricket.
Lesson: The best unit is one which recognises and grooms employees to their full potential.
5. Strike gold when you get the hammer
For the majority, life is a tale of missed opportunities. For the chosen ones, life is all about grabbing the small opportunities as if your life depended on it. On eve of the Aus series, Rishabh Pant looked unfit during IPL 2020; T. Natarajan had never played for India; Shardul Thakur waited two years to bowl a full spell in a test match; Mohd Siraj lost his father; and likes of Shubhman Gill, Navdeep Saini and Washington Sundar were hoping for test match debuts. The nobodys become somebodys to Mr Dependables within a span of a month. All they did was grab every opportunity, every occasion, be it a side tour match or an extended stay as net bowler. They believed in themselves and waited for their turn. And when that came, they made it count. They are now aware, the day they flounder, the Devdutt Padikkals and Kartik Tyagis are eagerly awaiting for that one chance.
Lesson: Time and tide wait for none.
6. Well finished is fully wrapped up
Well begun is half done is passé. India started their Australian sojourn with two ODI losses whilst staring at Steven Smith scoring consecutive tons. India were sloppy with their on field catching till well into the middle of the tour (read Adelaide test match). After that epic (!) 36 all out, the team management decided (Rahane interview reveal) that they won’t discuss that horror hour and move on. Yet India’s report card over the three formats read ODI 1-2 loss, T20 2-1 win, Tests historic 2-1 win. They finished every format on a high and didn’t seem too much weighed down by past mistakes. Tomorrow is another day, and well finished is fully wrapped up!
Lesson: Do not mull too much over bad days, if you finish well, no one remembers how you started.
7. Always keep your hand up
Washington Sundar last played a first class game in 2017, thanks to shortsightedness of the Tamil Nadu selectors. On landing back home from Australia, Sundar has given an interview announcing he is ready to play at any position in the test match lineup and can even open the batting. He is aiming for the stars now. As told before, this is the new normal. There are two dozen players willing to do a lot just be part of this playing XI. Cheteshwar Pujara’s batting average of 33 this series, ranks eighth amongst Indian players. Clearly the runs were not flowing in for him. Yet he batted and hung around for 928 balls in this test series… ranked numero uno amongst all players who batted this series.
Lesson: Keep hanging on the field even when things aren’t going for you. And when outside the field, keep upgrading your skills and keep announcing your eagerness to do more for your unit.
8. Awestruck in love
As a die hard fan, I can’t wait for the Indian team to get on field again. Passing each day, counting the days – awaiting them to jog on to the turf, taking the guard, marking the run up. It is romanticism at another level. I don’t want the upcoming test matches vs the English team to get over in three days.. I want to see more and more of our team. Let the matches go to the fifth day. Let there be drama, twists and turns. Let our players hearten and shine. Almost like the wait for a lover. I want her to come not just for the coffee and holding hands. I want her to stay long. To pick up silly fights, so then I can cajole her, write a poem with her, observe her make up in detail, touch her hair lightly, hear her nag, turn away face in anger, or see her chatter on, and on. I want her to come sooner and stay around longer. Maybe even ask her, is Hardik Pandya selected as pure batsman, on?
Lesson: Always enjoy a long, arduous battle, irrespective of result. Test match cricket rocks!
Come soon, my team in blue and let the games begin!