Rahane

Drink it in, India, this conquest tastes particularly sweet

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36 and an afternoon of horror. We’re all familiar with what followed next. India has played 544 Tests in its history and on no occasion, save this particular first session in Adelaide, had the country been embarrassed this way.

The fact that Rohit Sharma and Ishant Sharma couldn’t make it to the tour of Australia for the Pink Ball Test was bad enough. That Virat Kohli, India’s best asset, leader and match-winner was set to leave the tour after the first Test was worse. That not a single batsman could register a double-digit figure during the second innings was cataclysmic. Oh wait, but there was more. Mohammad Shami had suffered a fracture on his bowling hand and was out of the tour.

Phew. That’s a lot of calamities to count. And one can only imagine what went through the heads of Ajinkya Rahane, Ravi Shastri and each and every player in the squad ahead of the daunting Boxing Day Test at Melbourne. A defeat against Australia isn’t a badge of shame by any means, no. It was the way India lost that had the potential to do some real psychological damage to the think-tank.

Virat Kohli looked broken, appearing in the post-match interview on that gloomy Saturday. It wasn’t the way he was abysmally run-out in the first innings. It wasn’t the mistimed shot on the Pat Cummins delivery in the second innings. It was the fact that he knew what would follow next. Kohli’s decision to leave the tour to attend the birth of his first child was controversial enough. In an ideal world, it shouldn’t have even been an agenda of discussion on the table, but this is not an ideal world. To abandon his side after one of the darkest days in the history of cricket in India was unforgivable. And so went the narrative.

Also Read: Three Memorable Indian Test victories in the 21st century

Ajinkya Rahane, the man who was supposed to stand in for Virat Kohli during the second Test, didn’t escape criticism either. After all, it was Rahane’s absurd call to take a single which prevented Kohli from getting to his 28th Test century, a ton that would’ve felt just that bit more special given all the noise surrounding the man.

Ahead of the Boxing Day Test, what went through the head of Shubman Gill? He had seen how the duo of Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins had humiliated fellow youngster Prithvi Shaw. To expect this fast-bowling unit to show respect, that too on the pitches of Australia? No chance.

What was Mohammed Siraj thinking when he heard that he’d also join Gill in making his Test debut for his country? Did he have nightmares about his T20I debut and how he had conceded 53 runs in his four-over spell? Or did he think about his father, his last memories, how he couldn’t make it back home to attend his last rites because of COVID-19 restrictions and wanted to make him proud at any cost?

Even before the first ball had been bowled, India suffered one final blow: Ajinkya Rahane lost the toss and was asked to bowl by Tim Paine.

Three and a half days later, and history had been written once again. This time, in golden verses instead of black ink for a change.

To have the guts to persist with the same bowling plan that bore them results at Adelaide might seem inadvertently simple at first sight, but turned out to be genius in face of adversity. There was no one man behind this plan, it wasn’t just Jasprit Bumrah or Ravi Ashwin. It wasn’t merely Virat at Adelaide or Rahane at Melbourne either. It was the entire Indian bowling staff at its very best laying traps for the likes of Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne and they ended up taking the bait.

After the 8-wicket loss at MCG, Smith said that he had ‘allowed’ Ashwin to dominate him a manner that he never afforded to any other spinner. That was a clear sign of Ravichandran Ashwin getting to the head of the man who holds the Aussie batting order together. Twice in the series, Steve Smith fell a victim to Ashwin’s deceit, including a duck in the first innings. Smith rued the fact that he wasn’t more aggressive and didn’t attack Ash enough this time around. However, he had only been on the crease for eight deliveries. Surely not a fitting sample size to examine the conditions and start hammering deliveries, is it?

Mohammed Siraj, making his Test debut picked up five wickets during the match, the first to do so in 7 years. Who was the last one to do it? The man Siraj replaced, Mohammad Shami. The debutant also registered the second-best overseas debutant bowling figures and only the great Lasith Malinga has a better record. Surely, his father must be gleaming with a big, broad smile from up above, with an inflated chest full of pride at his son’s tremendous will and determination. My, oh my, the sheer resilience to overcome personal tragedy by doing what you do best.

But the bowling attack had worked well in Adelaide as well. It was the batting order that crumbled and became fodder for the likes of Hazlewood and Cummins in the previous match. It was just one bad hour, Rahane must have reminded himself and more so, his soldiers. But the nightmares were quick to catch on when India had lost Cheteshwar Pujara and was reeling at 64 for 3. It was the interim skipper then, who decided to stand his ground.

A man known for his calmness, composure and dexterity became the breath of fresh air for a batting side that was gasping to survive. The man known as ‘jinx’ became the same for Australia. He held on and played with grace and finesse against an Aussie bowling unit that had delivered a performance for the ages in just the previous innings. An entire nation stood up and applauded when Rahane played the cut shot that led to his century, an innings to savour for a long, long time

It was fitting then, that Ajinkya Rahane also played the shot that sealed victory for India. He had his fair share of help, however. Debutant Shubman Gill, often remarked to be playing Test cricket in a league as frenzied as the IPL, was in his mettle, facing the daunting challenge of Starc, Cummins and Lyon with grace. Even when Mayank was dismissed cheaply in both innings, Shubman’s defensive play was solid and his strokes, clean and genuine.

He played the hook shot, the pull shot, the square cut to perfection against the number one ranked Test bowler on his debut. The ease with which he played the straight drives against Mitchell Starc was enough to make India dream big.

So drink this in, India, drink it all in. To go from 36 all out to celebrating an 8 wicket victory against the number one ranked Test side in the world at the MCG is no mean feat. There’s no part about the sport that is romanticised more than the struggle and boy did the men in blue dressed in all-white pull off the seemingly unthinkable, the unimaginable. And then there’s the whole absurdity of the time we’re living in, where cricketers are separated from their families for months on end and with virtually zero outside interactions.

To then have the mental strength to come back from the harrowing defeat in the manner that India did, that in itself is the biggest win from this tour.

This will go down in the annals of history for sure, but India has more work to do. There’s Sydney to go to, and then Brisbane. The ghosts of Adelaide have been exorcised and now, Ajinkya Rahane’s men must go hunting.