Kolkata: When the legendary Sunil Gavaskar said during a promotional event last November that the absence of skipper Virat Kohli in the last three Tests in Australia will be a ‘‘huge opportunity’’ for Ajinkya Rahane and Chetehswar Pujara to take on the challenge, even he probably didn’t see this windfall coming.
Less than two months down the line, the former Indian captain - not to speak of the legion of Indian fans - will be ecstatic at the way not only these two senior pros but the entire team put their hands up to win the series 2-1 and extend their lease over the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. What’s more, they have breached the Gabba fortress after 32 years - that too with the most unlikely of batting heroes in the shape of the two so-called tailenders Shardul Thakur, Washington Sunder and the much-maligned Rishabh Pant and a bowling line-up with a cumulative experience of four Tests.
The phrase ‘historic win’ has been perhaps the biggest cliche in sport, and India had actually broken a 70-year-old hoodoo when they won the last series Down Under by the same margin - that too against an Australian team sans Steve Smith and David Warner. However, to put their epic chase of a 327-run target on a wearing fifth day wicket in perspective, the mighty West Indians were the last team to beat Australia last at their Brisbane stronghold in 1988.
The 2018-19 series triumph is often attributed to some of the lionhearted performances like Pujara, who batted for a record number of hours to be adjudged the ‘Man of the Series,’ but there were too many ‘heroes’ this time around for anyone to be singled out. Looking down and out after their infamous 36 all out in the first Test at Adelaide, a depleted India picked themselves up under the quiet and efficient leadership of Rahane to win the Melbourne Test in a most dramatic fashion, fought with their backs to the wall to draw it Sydney and then achieve the impossible at the Gabba.
When India started their chase of 327 in the final hour of the fourth day, most of the TV pundits were looking at the need to draw the game and felt that even if India were to go down 2-1 in the series, they would still be able to go back with their heads held high. However, the phrase ‘moral victory’ perhaps has no meaning in contemporary sport, and the likes of Pant, a monk-like Pujara and the majestic Shubhman Gill ran the last leg of a gruelling hurdle.
Even on the eve of the fourth Test, the Indian team management decided to postpone naming their playing XI as they were desperately trying to work on the fitness of pace ace Jasprit Bumrah and Ravi Ashwin. They were eventually replaced by T.Natarajan and Washington Sunder, and not for a moment did the duo look out of place in cricket’s biggest stage.
At this point, it may still be relevant to add this checklist of injuries which India had to grapple with during this demanding series:
Jasprit Bumrah: Abdominal strain
Ravichandran Ashwin: Back spasm
Ravindra Jadeja: Thumb injury
Hanuma Vihari: Hamstring strain
Mohammed Shami: Hand injury
Umesh Yadav: Calf-muscle injury
KL Rahul: Left wrist sprain
Ishant Sharma: Abdominal musle tear (ruled out of tour)
Rohit Sharma: Hamstring injury (joined the tour later)
This possibly will put into perspective about the resilience and character shown by Rahane and his men!