India's Ravichandran Ashwin bowls to Australia's Marnus Labuschagne during play on Day 1 of the Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on December 26, 2020. (Image: AP Photo/Asanka Brendon Ratnayake)
The prophecy of the result by former greats ahead of an important Test series is now a normal ritual. So much so that, it is just about filling in the blank space of the sports pages in the media for the buildup of a high profile series. Yet, it is worth revisiting some of the important predictions post the Adelaide Test. Former England captain Michael Vaughan who is also hyperactive on Twitter said 4-0 in favour of Australia, Australia’s greatest-ever Captain Ricky Ponting prevision of 3-1 before the series and corrected himself to clean sweep after India’s Adelaide annihilation. His former team-mate Mark Waugh and another former captain Michael Clarke had no hesitation in stating 4-0 before the start of the Border-Gavaskar trophy.
This business of foretelling was brought to prominence by the former Australian pacer and one of the greatest ever of the game Glenn McGrath who used to routinely predict about the result of an Ashes series and more often than not used to be vindicated at the end of the series. Curiously, McGrath didn’t say anything specific in terms of the scoreline of the series but he too didn’t expect much from this Indian team which was going to miss Virat Kohli for the most part of the series.
“Kohli is worth two players; one, as a batsman and two, as the captain, setting the field with his energy and attitude. Australia would want to dominate the series and level the ledger,” said McGrath. And, if somebody had told him that not only Kohli but Mohammed Shami too would be going back to India (because of injury) and that Umesh Yadav woudn’t be able to bowl in the second innings of the Melbourne Test, his forecasting for the series wouldn’t have been any different from what his former teammates had opined.
The background comments give you the sense that how hopeless this Indian team looked before the Boxing Day Test. And adding insult to the injury was the misfortune of losing the toss when India had picked two spinners in the playing XI and were asked to bowl first in the first morning of the Test. Yet, Ajinkya Rahane and his mates turned the tables in such a mind-boggling fashion which has never been witnessed in Indian cricket.
It still seems so unreal that India comprehensively defeated Australia by 8 wickets after being bundled out for 36 (their lowest-ever total in Test history) just a week back. Given the adversarial circumstances, it can be argued that MCG win was the best ever by an Indian team on foreign soil.
No Indian team had bounced back from such horrors in past
Purely from a statistical point of view, no Indian team in past had won a Test match after being bundled out for less than 50 in an innings in the previous game. It is almost impossible to move on and start afresh. In fact, in the history of Test cricket just three teams (England vs. Australia, Sydney 1887, England vs. West Indies, Bridgetown 1994 and Australia vs. South Africa Johannesburg 2011) had managed to make an instant comeback in the very next Test after such mauling.
Splendid win came under a stand-in captain
Like the first match for a player, a first win by any team is always special, not necessarily it should be the finest. India won its first-ever Test in New Zealand in 1968, registered first Test wins in West Indies and in England in 1971 which are also historic series wins in the annals of Indian cricket. Yet, both the teams were led by a regular and an established captain like Tiger Pataudi and Ajit Wadekar. Critics might argue how about the 2004 Multan Test win against Pakistan which came under the stand-in captain Rahul Dravid (as Sourav Ganguly was unfit)? Indeed, that was as good as Rahane’s side effort at the MCG but the current victory edges out Multan win because...
MCG win came without the mightiest batsman of the era
We don’t have to stress what Kohli means to this Indian team and the thought of regulation captain’s absence would hurt India’s chances was a very obvious conclusion by the experts. Apart from that if you look at Kohli’s numbers in Australia, it can demoralise any side and especially the one which is already witnessing a severe decline in Cheteshwar Pujara’s performance (who was the architect of the last win in Australia). The only Test win abroad which comes remotely closer to the current triumph is the one against Sri Lanka in Kandy (2001) when India chased 264 because of Dravid-Ganguly show as Sachin Tendulkar was missing in that series. And, yet the class of MCG outclasses the Kandy win because...
India was missing three of its first-choice bowlers
Ganguly didn’t have the services of either Anil Kumble or Javagal Srinath (two of the champion bowlers of that era) but Rahane was missing Ishant Sharma (the most experienced and most successful fast bowler of the current generation), Bhuvneshwar Kumar (one of the craftiest pacers) even before the series begun and lost Mohammed Shami like Kohli after the Adelaide Test. If that wasn’t bad enough, Rahane lost the services of another experienced pacer Umesh Yadav in the second innings of the Test match in Melbourne.
Last but not least…
This win was achieved against one of the finest bowling attacks of all-time and not just one of the most lethal Australian attacks of all time. And, if you think that this was Shubman Gill’s first Test, Mayank Agarwal struggling like Pujara (both heroes of last historic series win in Australia) and batting looking so vulnerable that India picked Rishabh Pant, the wicketkeeper for his batting ability (by gambling not to pick a safer and better wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha for this match), you get a sense of how forlorn this team looked at the start of the match. And, yet, they played like a champion outfit. From 1968 till 2020, if you closely look at India’s previous 51 test wins abroad, rarely did an opponent played with their best bowling attack. Barring the English attack of 1971 (John Snow, Raymond Illingworth and Derek Underwood) none comes even remotely closer to the current Australian attack. The 1976 Port of Spain (403 target) was achieved against an attack which had just one young Michael Holding, the 1980 Melbourne win came against Dennis Lillee and Len Pascoe, even the Kandy 2001 had just Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vass.
India’s win in 2006 in Johannesburg Test against the likes of Dale Steyn, Makhaya Ntini, Shaun Pollock and Jack Kallis and the wins in Adelaide and Melbourne in 2018 Australia series (the same attack as the current one of Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon) were definitely against one of the best attacks of all time but then those Indian sides were neither trailing 0-1 in the Test series nor were they missing the services of the biggest match winners with bat and ball.
Simply put, the win at the MCG in 2020 will be remembered as the best ever overseas win which came against unlikeliest of situations by some of the unimaginable heroes.