“If you expect the battle to be insurmountable,
you’ve met the enemy.
― Khang Kijarro Nguyen
So often in life, we all come across a moment when we give up, when it feels like its impossible to keep up and pointless to keep trying further, whenever you reach that moment, it wouldn’t be too bad to remember this Sydney Test Match. When you feel its insurmountable, remember, a group of men with broken bones & torn muscles refused to give up, they decided to stand up and not buckle down.
There have been many many memorable test matches and many wonderful performances that we have seen, mostly they all involve matches we won. But this draw, this felt so much like a win. Batting 4 sessions in the last innings of a test match is a pretty hard task regardless of the pitch and the opposition. That it was one of the best bowling attacks going around in the world in their own backyard tells you how dogged the team has been.
Since the Test series began, India has missed key players, Rohit was missing in the first two tests, Ishant was missing the whole series, their ace bowler Shami was injured after the first test in Adelaide, their alpha batsman and skipper went on a paternity leave and India was bowled out for 36 in their last innings in Adelaide. It was pretty evident to even hopeless optimists like me that 4-0 was the writing on the wall. The only thing left to see was how the individual skills of players would show up, it was difficult to imagine how this team would manage to put up a respectable show.
In the Test that followed the debacle in Adelaide, this team stood up under the astute leadership of the unflappable Ajinkya Rahane. Ajinkya not only led the team with aplomb but managed to score one of his best Test hundreds if not the best to lead his side to victory. This victory was very surprising to most people, the accolades that followed tell you how much all pundits were surprised by the character shown by this team. Another front line bowler in this match had hobbled off early in his first spell in the second innings and yet the team managed to repay the hosts with an 8 wicket victory to compensate for their 8 wicket loss in Adelaide.
The Sydney test thus began with 3 fast bowlers, 1 who had played 16 Tests, 1 who had played just 1 Test match and the third a debutant. The biggest problem with an inexperienced bowling attack is how will they maintain pressure on the opposition, it can very easily go haywire and once a top line up is not under pressure, it is very difficult to control the proceedings. However, at no point, did India let Australia get on top of them, infact even when runs did come, they managed to keep the hosts in check, on a flat deck, Australia won the toss and batted first. Steve Smith the current Bradman managed a century and yet India managed to bowl out Australia for just 338. Australia had squandered the advantage of the toss, it was a flat wicket.
India’s response in the first innings was something they would like to improve upon, 5 of the top 6 got starts but no one was able to make it into a big one and a lot of credit should also go to the wonderful Australian bowling line up that was relentless and manage to dismiss India cheaply and took a pretty decent lead. The Aussie batsmen then piled on pretty useful runs, however, at no point did Indian bowling crack. The Australians made steady progress without the wheels coming off Indian bowling, which could have been so easy in such a situation. The signs were already here, that this team was not giving up. Eventually when Tim Paine declared with 406 runs ahead, India had to bat out 4 sessions to save the Test match. Their wicket keeper had hurt his left elbow and couldn’t keep wickets, their all rounder had a broken thumb and in all likelihood would not be able to bat.
The last session on day 4 saw two wickets fall before close of play and you wondered whether you should wake up at 4.15am IST and endure a disaster? The wicket was already staying a bit up and down, it seemed futile to wake up. But as hopeless as it sounds, I did wake up.
Just 7 balls had passed and Rahane was out off the 8th ball of the day and I was cursing myself for waking up to witness the agony. From then on though, it seemed like a fairy tale to be honest. I cannot quite comprehend what happened from then on. Surprisingly, India sent the injured Rishabh Pant, the keeper batsman ahead of the regular batsman Hanuma Vihari. Rishabh seemed to be talking a lot to himself and was also seeming in pain with his left elbow, however, once he got in, he went after the bowling in his own fashion. He was helped by two dropped catches. It was a rather nerve wrecking time to be watching, every time he went down the track to Nathan Lyon, my heart would stop. Eventually when on 97, Rishabh was caught going down the track to Nathan Lyon, he missed a century and I survived a heart attack, coz any more dancing down the track and lauching Lyon in the air and I was done.
Once the adventure of Pant was over, it was down to Pujara and Vihari’s defense. However, just as Pant went, so did Pujara and you knew it, that Pant’s innings was the end of it all. You knew how they would now give up and fall like nine pins. When Pujara fell in the 89th over India still had to bat a potential 44-46 overs left to bat. Jadeja had a broken finger and we had 3 genuine no11’s waiting.
Ashwin joined Vihari, who managed to tear his hamstring muscle going for a run which seriously limited his movements. There was no way that one of the best bowling line ups in their own backyard on a 5th day pitch were going to allow India to get away. It was all but over. 45 overs with just 5 wickets left, you had to turn off the tv and go away, you didnt want to stay home and miss office for this did you?
Valiantly though, Ashwin who couldnt sit because of a sore back and Vihari who couldn’t run because of his hamstring tear then began the great blockathon in Sydney, against arguably the best bowling line up in their own backyard. They were hit on the shoulder, fingers, chest, ribs but not their spirits. They managed to block the Aussie enthusiasm, they frustrated them so much, their skipper started sledging, but nothing worked. The two injured warriors refused to fall down, they kept on battling till the opposition grew tired and shook hands with one over to go before the end of the days play. What was even more heartening to see was Jadeja, the guy who had a dislocated thumb, was waiting to come into bat should Ashwin or Vihari be dismissed. Tells you so much about this team who was ready to fight tooth and nail but just not ready to give up.
There was more drama, emotion and exhilaration on this 5th day than there could have been any on many days when a Test is won or lost. It was a draw and yet you felt a lot more joy than a victory. Given the circumstances, given the injuries, given the missing players, this was a top notch effort by the team, there was not one hero in this match but quite a few, this was a team that refused to give in, they refused to bow down, they refused to walk away.
This drawn test match will go down in the annals of Indian Test Cricket history as one of the greatest fight backs, a day when the team would just not give up, when it had all the reasons to give in. However dire the situation, however intimidating a bowling line up this team just was not ready to lose. This is where will won over skill.