Analysis by Shivaji Sengupta
Against immense odds, the Indian cricket team has won a massive series win over the World No 1, Australia. This win, I dare say, reflects what India is today: young, confident, with a never say die spirit. Under Ravi Shastri and Virat Kohli, and with the other brash erstwhile captain, Sourav Ganguly, BCCI president, the team of today is almost unrecognizable to my old eyes.
Last week, India defeated Australia in Australia. Unlike the first World Cup or the first series win in England, this victory by the Indian team is not a first. We had won in 2018-19 in Australia by the same margin: two Tests to one. So then why is this victory such a big deal?
Big deal because India played the last three Tests so severely depleted that for the fourth Test in Brisbane, they had hardly 11 physically fit players to take the field against the No. 1 side in the world. Pacer Mohammad Shami injured himself in the very first match. Virat Kohli left on paternity. Opener Rohit Sharma didn’t participate until the third Test. Umesh Yadav, another experienced and first-rate pace bowler, retired hurt half-way through the 2nd Test. Then, K.L. Rahul, an excellent batsman, got hurt during a practice session and was forced to return to India. Then, R. Jadeja, India’s best all-rounder, Ravichandran Ashwin, best spinner, and Jaspreet Bumrah, India’s best fast bowler on current form, all got injured and were non-starters for the Fourth Test.
These injuries meant that in the 4th Test, which could decide the series that stood at 1-1, India were forced to field players who were not even in the original team. Natarajan, a left-arm pace bowler, and Washington Sundar were brought along to give the 16 team members practice. They were “blooded in” for the fourth Test or else India would have been forced to abdicate and concede the series. Thus, as India and Australia lined up for the last Test match, the home team had four of the best bowlers in the world with literally over a thousand Test wickets between them, compared to India’s bowlers with all of thirteen!
And what about the batsmen? Shubman Gill, 21-year-old, was playing in his third Test. He ended up with one of the top aggregates in the team. Rishabh Pant, still relatively inexperienced, forged out the historic win after Gill and Pujara gave India a terrific start.
The series win has now catapulted India to the top of the World Test Championship table. The top two qualify for the final at the Lord’s cricket ground in London in June. Apart from India, New Zealand and Australia are in the running. England is on the outside looking in.
Most importantly, it is not even India’s win that is significant. It is the winning mentality that these youngsters, second-string notwithstanding, have developed. I come from another generation when despite cricketers like the Nawab of Pataudi, the famous spin quartet of Prasanna, Chandrasekhar, Bishan Singh Bedi and Venkataraghavan, our mindset was not to lose. A draw was as good as a win. That has completely changed. Even in this last Test match at the Gabba in Brisbane, India were in a position where a draw would have earned them the series “rubber,” and a decent shot at the WTC final. At one stage, they were in a precarious position: Australia 396, India 186-6. From that point onward, the second-eleven Indians put up an unbelievable fight, eking out a victory over the mighty – and stunned Australian team.