This writer had argued after the Melbourne Test victory (December 26-30, 2020) that it was the greatest overseas win in red-ball cricket. By the same set of arguments, the heroic saving of the Sydney Test (in the first week of January 2021) was perhaps the greatest ever draw in the annals of Indian cricket.
On both occasions, simple reason was that never ever a severely depleted Indian team had performed as outstandingly as they did after losing several first-choice players. This accomplishment was itself good enough to hail Ajinkya Rahane (stand-in captain for Virat Kohli) and his mates as one of the finest to tour Australia or any country outside India.
So, when the Indian team landed in Brisbane, no one perhaps (except of course the Indian team!) was thinking about a win (as no team had managed it in 33 years at the Gabba and never ever an Asian team). Even a match and series draw would have been a victory. Just like the result of the Sydney Test.
Never has one pulled off a feat like this
However, this Indian team stunned everyone by achieving something which only three teams (England, West Indies and South Africa) in the history of Test cricket have done before on Australian soil- that is back-to-back series wins. In fact, India went a step further by defeating Australia consecutively in three Test series (the last series at home was won by India in 2017).
The Indian writers can be accused of getting carried away by the magnitude of this kind of feat, but certainly not the Australian pundits. “About this Indian team, it can truly be said that nothing changed from first Test to fourth except nearly all the names and the results. Never before can such a callow team have played such knowing cricket away from home. Never has one pulled off a feat like this,” wrote Greg Baum in the Sydney Morning Herald.
The hosts can be hostile, local fans can be boorish and even racist (as India frequently discovered this in the series), former cricketers can be menacing (remember all those 4-0 whitewash predictions from Shane Warne to Ricky Ponting after the humiliation in Adelaide?), but the true observers of the sports know and have complete admiration for the fighting spirit of this “New India”.
Gideon Haigh has been a journalist for almost four decades and has covered cricket across the globe and has also published more than 40 books. Writing in The Australian, Haigh’s prose will win your heart in the same way as did the valour of Cheteshwar Pujara or the flair of Rishabh Pant. “India began the last day of this extraordinary Test series needing only a draw to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. So they did not chase the 324 runs they needed so much as stalk them, gradually and stealthily,” wrote Haigh.
The enormity of the win
The enormity of India’s win can be understood from some staggering numbers. Only on three occasions prior to this series, a team had managed to win a Test series in Australia after losing the first game. Not only the Australian possessed one of the most versatile and skillful bowling attacks, they also had two of the all-time top 5 batting averages ever in Test history in Marnus Labuschagne at No. 2 behind Don Bradman, (62 in 18 Tests) and Steven Smith (61.85 in 77 Tests).
Compare this with the Indian bowling attack for the Gabba Test. Even Labuschagne (who hardly bowls) had more Test wickets than the entire Indian attack! And of course, the most famous and now historical of all that is Australia’s unbeaten streak (31 Tests, winning 24 and drawing seven) also came to a halt in this match and in this series.
India too created history by chasing 328, which is their third highest target, successfully in the fourth innings of a Test. And, if you think that, in the last 90 years only one team has managed to chase more than the Indians (414 by South Africa in 2008/09) in Australia, you get some idea of this monumental achievement.
Moreover, only the finest teams in history (Don Bradman's Invincibles’ 404 against England at Leeds in 1948 and Clive Lloyd’s all conquering side scored 344 against England at Lord's in 1984) have managed to score 325+ in a Test match on the last day.
When the dust settles down...
When the dust settles down, maybe a truer assessment can be made of this win. This may be regarded as a better series victory than the last one in Australia (when India became the first Asian team to win a Test series on Australian soil).
Many experts are already hailing this as good as the 2001 win (India famously came back from 0-1 trailing and follow-on in Kolkata). But, that is a thought for another day.
Meanwhile, just enjoy the smile of Rahane and his boys as the Australians are doing too. “Thanks Ajinkya Rahane for that smile. It embodied the spirit of the series. The commentary boxes were reverberating all day with rasping calls for nastiness and aggression from Australia, and Rahane just smiled. And won." There is no shame in borrowing the words of a fine Australian writer like Baum to conclude a piece where one is struggling to put appropriate words to make sense of what India team has achieved.