If you are a 1990s kid, you know what this day means. Countless times we have woken up halfway through sleep, to watch India’s overseas tours and countless times we have all been disappointed. For some reason even after all the disappointments over and over, we have somehow managed to hold on, to be optimistic, and to believe. And today, the wait has ended.
India have finally managed to pull off a series victory down-under. And under Virat Kohli’s captaincy, it was India who absolutely bossed and dominated the series for most parts of it (other than the exception of the Perth test). As we bask in the joy and glory of the first series win on Australian soil, let’s take a look at into the key moments that went on to define this series win.
Special Mention: Rain and bad light
As Harsha Bhogle would tweet amidst the wait on the 5th day of the SCG test, this series would perhaps set the record for the most amount of time lost for the least amount of rain. More than once in the series, though there was no rain and the pitch and outfield were in perfect conditions play didn’t happen due to bad natural light. Players and fans alike lashed out at the umpires for stopping play which probably robbed India of a deserving 3-1 victory in the series.
However, that fact remains that the rule stipulates the same and that the umpires are bound by the rules. The incident did, therefore, raise a lot of questions and concerns regarding the rules that govern the game and how it was doing more harm than good to the game format that has been losing support and following of late.
#1 Pujara’s 100 at the Adelaide.
On the first day of the series as India batted first after winning the toss and the trio of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, and Josh Hazlewood steamed in with the new cherry in hand, we all felt that sense of deja vu - of having seen this happen over and over again, right in front of our eyes. A feeling that transcended generations of Indian fans.
It felt like a repeat of the familiar script as India crumbled to 41/4. But then India’s new wall stood up. And en-route his way to a brilliant hundred, he formed a few very vital partnerships. First with Rohit Sharma, and then with Rishabh Pant and Ravi Ashwin. Pujara stood at the crease determined to not let history repeat itself.
And it was not just the defence that we so often associate with him that was impressive, it was also the array of shorts that he unfurled once he started batting with the long tail. A relatively unknown facet of Pujara’s batting, the shots he played took the Aussies by surprise before he finally fell for a commendable 123(246) followed by an equally important 71(204) in the 2nd innings that laid the foundation for India to go 1-0 up in the series.
The innings was significant in not just the fact that it allowed India to win the first Test match, but also it provided the Indian team and its fans that this team is unlike the earlier ones. The initial collapse meant nothing and that they could come back and win the match from any situation. The innings in many ways was a stepping stone for India’s victory in the series later on.
#2 Kohli & Shastri get it wrong again- First London, then Perth
India were firm favourites going into the 2nd Test. Whatever apprehensions were made about India being incapable of facing the fearsome Aussie pace bowling trio were now dispersed into thin air. However, just like in Lord's earlier in the year against the Englishmen, the team management got carried away and went in with the wrong 11 for the match.
At Lord’s, India went in with an extra spinner on the seam-friendly track after they misread the pitch. Perth was the absolute opposite. India chose to go in with 4 front line pacers on a track where Nathan Lyon took 8 wickets and bagged the man of the match award.
The selection raised serious questions about Ravi Shastri and his tactical abilities to assist the team with pundits across the globe calling for his head as the Indian coach. It was fair to say, India would have achieved a different result in the game if they had Ravindra Jadeja’s all-round abilities or Kuldeep Yadav’s guile to their assistance in the game.
#3 The Indian Pace Bowling Trio
It won’t be wrong to say that this is the most complete pace bowling unit India have had. Yes, in the past they have had some really skillful bowlers including Kapil Dev, Javagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan, Irfan Pathan, Ashish Nehra, and Sreesanth amongst others. But this was perhaps the best attack that performed as a team.
The Indian pace attack, so far, has been a languid dream studded with plated with the immense talent and capability of one individual (Kapil, Srinath, Zaheer) or studded with the occasional brilliance of a spell (Ishant Sharma in Perth, Sreesanth at Johannesburg).
But here we had a trio that hunted as a pack. Kohli did not need an enforcer because they were all equally capable. For the major parts of it, the Indian skipper just kept tossing the ball around to his three pacers, rotating them in short spells of 4-5 overs irrespective of whether or not wickets were achieved. The fact that he could do this in Australian conditions was a tactical testimony to their brilliance.
Statistical testimonies followed when they beat the great South African and Windies counterparts across different years to latch on to the record of most Test wickets by a pace trio in a calendar year.
But besides all the stats and records, that 6-wicket spell from Jasprit Bumrah at the MCG and that hostile spell that had the Aussies ducking and missing at Perth while they themselves had to rely on Nathan Lyon’s spin was the defining moment.
#4 The Banter ft Rishabh Pant and Tim Paine
The India vs Australia series was always expected to have some banter and sledging. However, what was unexpected was the way it was done. The series, courtesy of the controversial stump mic did give us certain noteworthy moments in the game.
While there were was the occasional cringe-worthy moments like the spat between Jadeja and Ishant that raised serious questions regarding broadcasting ethics and the use of stump mic, the series also gave us a lot of enjoyable moments like the banter between Kohli and Paine at Adelaide where Kohli reminded Paine of the risk involved if he messes up and Paine, in turn, calling Kohli a big head.
Lyon went on to ask Pujara if he wasn’t bored yet, Paine and Rohit Sharma were involved in the give and take for IPL contracts and six hitting abilities, while Pant reminded the entire Australian team that there was only one Pujara.
But the best of all has to be the banter between Pant and Paine which actually went on to become the identity of the young Pant when he met the Australian PM, to him actually babysitting Paine’s Kids. The incident reportedly gave Bonnie Paine 35000 extra followers on Instagram overnight.
This was, in many ways, the most light-hearted amongst the lot. But it did a great deal for Australia in proving that they were capable of playing within the lines despite being incited. And Paine keeping things on the field and going on to accept that he wished he played like Pant in his 20s spoke volumes about him being the right choice to lead the Australian team through this tumultuous phase.
#5 The rise of Pat Cummins
Pat Cummins was easily the pick to the Australian players. While he was undoubtedly their best bowler in the series, he also contributed to that stunning run-out of Pujara in the first innings of the first Test and as many pundits opine, he was also perhaps their best batsman at least in terms of attitude.
He kept frustrating the Indian batting line up with his nagging lines and starting with Kohli’s wicket in the first innings of the series, the Kohli- Cummins battle went on to be the major combat attraction of the series.
Pat Cummins is probably Australia’s reminiscent from its glorious past. He is someone who just refuses to give up and keeps running in and pounding away with all his might. As Shane Warne would go on to comment, Cummins proved to be the all-rounder that Australia were searching for in Mitchell Marsh, and strictly going by current ratings, he should probably go on to captain Australia in the future.
#6 Australia’s Obsession with the 30s
Through the course of the series, India flew in an opener who scored two 70s and one 40 in three innings in which he played since his arrival. A young keeper was blooded and he lived up to his promise by showing steady growth that culminated in a magnificent century in the last test match at Sydney.
Virat Kolhi lived up to this hype by scoring a century and still ending the series as a relatively pale one for him. Pujara resurrected the Indian number 3 position with his tireless batting, and an Indian number 8 came and took out his sword for celebrations as he scored a wonderful 81.
But around all these, the Australian counterparts seem to have stumbled upon a strange obsession with the 30s. Most batsmen seemed to get their eye in, score a 30, and then for some reason give their wicket away. It was in all probability an event that can be half-attributed to the Indian relentlessness with the ball. But the failure of the Aussie batsmen to handle sustained pressure and fight their own mental battles was a key moment in the series.
#7 Pujara at the MCG
The Boxing Day Test match is the biggest annual cricket event that happens in Australia and could probably rival most other contemporaries. Over 72 thousand people turned up at the iconic MCG for the third Test and as India opted to bat first on what was an average wicket, Pujara made the Aussies bowlers toil.
They were kept on the field for over 200 overs in which Pujara by himself went on to face over 50 overs. The Aussies had cricket balls at hand. But even if they had lightning bolts or fire balls that day, they would probably have been blunted as well.
Pujara grinded the Aussies into submission. Not by flamboyance or audacity, but with a good old-fashioned Test match defence. He put miles into the legs of the Australian bowlers. They steamed in, pounded the pitch, and hurled bouncers at him. And then, they tried witchcraft and wizardry. But he blunted it all. Pujara’s innings epitomised Test match batting at its best and brought back memories of the legendary Rahul Dravid. It was, by all means, the most telling, impactful, and defining moment of the series.