Despite all the odds, India managed to draw the Sydney test, winning praise all over.(Image: AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
Traditionally, Australia begins their summer of Test cricket in the last week of November and if it involves a major opponent, the venue usually is The Gabba in Brisbane.
On the last tour of Australia, Virat Kohli refused (not directly though) to play a match in Brisbane and somehow the BCCI managed to persuade the Cricket Australia and the tradition was abandoned for the four-match series which the visitors went on to win by a margin of 2-1.
Despite, India dominating the series in 2018-19, the Australians and especially captain Tim Paine continued to believe that it was the absence of Brisbane in the itinerary that gave India a huge advantage and perhaps Kohli’s team managed a ‘great escape’ by not appearing at the Gabba.
So much so that the moment Australia won against Pakistan (a comprehensive win by an innings and five runs) in November 2019, in Brisbane, Paine didn’t lose a second to remind Kohli and maybe his own board that he desperately wanted India to start the four match series at the Gabba as well in 2020-21.
“Yeah, well, we’ll be certainly trying. We’ll have to run that by Virat,” Paine has said then. “We’ll get an answer from him at some stage I’m sure. This is where we like to start our summer, and it has been for a long, long time except for last summer,” Paine added.
“So as I said, we’ll ask Virat. See if we can get his permission to play here. And maybe even get a pink-ball test if he’s in a good mood.”
Why there is so much fuss regarding Brisbane?
Paine’s wish was of course not granted this time either as the first Test of the current series wasn’t scheduled in Brisbane. However, Paine and Australia in hind-sight would now be happier to play the final Test of a very competitive series in Brisbane starting January 15.
In case, you are still wondering why there is so much fuss regarding this venue then just go through some of the mind-boggling facts. Kohli wasn’t even a month old when the Australians last time lost a Gabba Test which was way back in 1988 against West Indies. For 31 consecutive matches, Australia has been unbeaten in Brisabne and is on a seven-match winning streak at this ground. Kohli is of course not here, but stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane can perhaps think that if not a win at least a draw will be as good as a win since they will come back without being defeated from back-to-back Test series in Australia only for the first time.
Forget winning, even a draw at the Gabba is as good as a win!
However, even a draw is not easy to achieve since the last draw at the venue was against South Africa in 2012. And, the host would not be shying away from reminding Rahane and company that India have played six Tests at the Gabba and have lost all the matches except the one in 2003 which ended in draw.
Of course, India can also taunt the host that despite the misfortune of losing several players due to injuries and most dominant batsman and captain Kohli (due to the birth of his daughter) for whole tour except just one match, India hasn’t only managed to hold its own despite overwhelming odds, but they have stunningly risen to the occasion like a few teams have managed in the history of the game, especially Down Under.
Possibility of the biggest series win in Test history?
“Now at the final stages (of the series), I think India have got it in them to win this series. Again, a last little push, where they will face issues, they have several injury concerns, but the Indian bench strength has to believe that they can do it, they need to give one last effort and they can win the series,” said former Pakistan captain Shoaib Akhtar in his YouTube video.
More often than not you may not agree with Akhtar’s views all the time but on this occasion, he has summed up the importance of the result in the Brisbane which. “If from this point onwards, India goes on to win this series, then that will be a big big victory. According to me, it will be the biggest series win in Test history.”
Australia is not used to go in the final Test of a home series with the shoreline level. Last time, it happened in 2012 against South Africa in Perth when both the teams came without a win (0-0 was the score line).
Or is it all the makings of an anti-climax?
“It is a peculiarity of the formulation of sport - be it series, championship or tournament - that the pointy end often is also the most blunt, when the fatigue of long competition is at its greatest. The fourth Test has all the makings of an anti-climax. After a riveting series, so much is expected of this finale that it is bound to disappoint,” wrote the venerable Greg Baum in the Sydney Morning Herald ahead of the game.
And, that is one fear most Indian fans may have. What if India capitulates? Frankly, regardless of the result, India can still be very proud of the way this team has fought so valiantly which effectively is ‘India A’ and not an established Test team which was No.1 not too many months ago.
Can anyone imagine how at the beginning of the series a playing XI without the likes of KL Rahul, Kohli, Hanuma Vihari, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma would have looked like? India has never missed so many match-winners in a single series.
And if one may add, we don’t know if Jasprit Bumrah and R Ashwin are certain to feature in Brisbane as yet since for the first time in this series India refused to reveal their playing XI on the eve of the game.
'Gabbatoir' edge will be enough to win the Border-Gavaskar trophy?
The host are under immense pressure due to the poor conducts of some its most high-profile names like Steve Smith and captain Paine. The local media and fans are baffled that one of the finest and versatile attacks of all time couldn’t conquer India in Sydney despite everything seemingly in their favour.
Yet, once again, the host can take some encouragement from the fact that Australia’s streak in Brisbane is fast closing the gap on the longest single-venue domination in Test history. Only Pakistan (at the National Cricket Stadium in Karachi) had a better record (they went undefeated between 1955 and 2000 for 34 matches!) as far as invincibility at one particular venue is concerned.
The last five regular captains Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Steve Smith and the current captain Paine haven’t witnessed a defeat on this ground and a staggering record of 24 wins and seven draws in three decades can overwhelm anyone even before a ball could be bowled.
However, the big question is that the weight of history and a formidable reputation for dominance in Brisbane will be enough to counter the resurgence of the Rahane-led team after the humiliation it suffered in Adelaide in the pink-ball Test? Not really.
Even the usually very supportive local media is not backing their team unflinchingly. “Without Virat Kohli and their frontline quicks, India were given no chance, but a group of Invisibles is on the verge of becoming the Incredibles,” said the leading newspaper The Australian.
The venue which will decide the winner of the Border-Gavaskar trophy is often referred to by locals as the 'Gabbatoir' for the propensity of opposition teams to be metaphorically slaughtered.
“Previous Indian teams might have buckled by now under this accumulation of deadweight of accident, incident and insult. This one were written off early. Yet somehow they have kept their dignity and their shape. Somehow, they have stayed true to their mission. Batting or bowling, they've been hard to budge. More broadly, nothing has distracted them. In a country that other visiting teams find is always in their faces, they've carried themselves as if unsurprised and unfazed by anything,” wrote Baum in his column.
However, it is the punch line at the end by the veteran writer which gives hope to another cracker of a game in Brisbane. “It ought to be no contest. But that's what we thought after 36 all out.”