The euphoric mood is still prevalent. About a week after India’s truly remarkable series triumph in Australia the stories in the media and the discussions at homes, offices and clubs still very much centre on various aspects about how the coup `Down Under’ was pulled off. The central theme remains the same as to how the turnabout was made following the disastrous Winter of 36 at Adelaide and how it was scripted by young and inexperienced players who were brought in as a desperate measure as the side was beset by withdrawals and injuries to the established stars. The never-say-die spirit of the team epitomized by youth who had nothing to lose and everything to gain, with no high reputations at stake and only reputations to build upon and how they played with absolute freedom even though they were pitted against formidable opposition has been the refrain.
The greatest Test series victory ever in the history of Indian cricket was the immediate reaction. A week later after the emotions have cooled off a bit it is still difficult not to agree with this view. Given the background of the Adelaide debacle and the rather bizarre circumstances that followed in every Test thereafter this performance must take pride of place in the history of Indian Test cricket. Sure there have been great triumphs along the way both at home and away. Also historic maiden series wins in New Zealand (1968), West Indies (1971), England (1971), Pakistan (2004) and Australia (2019) have their merits as they were breakthrough victories but then the just concluded contest has an aura all its own.
As I have pointed out in an earlier column it is not the first time that a side bowled out for 36 has come back to win a Test series. In the first Test of the 1902 Ashes contest Australia were also bowled out for the same total but the rain-affected match ended in a draw. Rain also ruined the second Test which was drawn but Australia won the next two matches to retain the Ashes before England gained a consolation win in the final Test. But on that occasion Australia was at full strength throughout the series and that is what makes the triumph of this Indian side unique.
Just consider these names – Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. Now substitute their names with Mohammed Siraj, Navdeep Saini, T Natarajan, Shardul Thakur and Washington Sundar. The first quintet was the established and vastly experienced bowling line-up but by the time the fourth Test commenced the second quintet were on duty. A most inexperienced attack up against the likes of David Warner, Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith vividly portrays the odds the Indians were up against. Surely no team in Test history has had to metaphorically transform itself to this extent.
While the rookie bowlers have predictably come in for a lot of praise there have been plaudits for the batsmen too and rightly so. The absence of Virat Kohli meant there had to be tweaking in the batting order and Rohit Sharma was not available until the third Test. Cheteshwar Pujara was not without his critics who felt his batting was too laborious, an approach that allowed the Australian bowlers to dictate terms. Then there was the problem of Hanuma Vihari and Mayank Agarwal who seemed to be fighting for one spot. And then of course there was Rishabh Pant whose work with the gloves came in for a lot of criticism putting him under pressure to come good with the bat.
And yet everything fell into place and all these problems were solved during the series with strategy and tactics too playing a part – something that has come through following various interviews with the players and the coaches. Yes, thinking and planning helped as also the fact that the Indians were more focused. By sledging and incessant chatter the Aussies lost their focus. They reckoned this constituted mind games in which they are pioneers. But this kind of approach can also affect concentration and this is what Tim Paine more than anyone else discovered.
(Partab Ramchand is a veteran sports journalist, the views expressed here are personal).