India’s humiliating loss against Australia at Adelaide in the first Test of the series Down Under provided enough ammunition for many former cricketers to write the team’s epitaph. “No chance,” they proclaimed after the second innings scorecard read an embarrassing ‘36 for nine’ (one player was retired hurt), with skipper Virat Kohli scheduled to go on a paternity break thereafter.
Exactly a month since that defeat, they’ve been forced to eat humble pie. India won two of the next three Tests—including at ‘Fortress Gabba’ where the Aussies hadn’t lost a five-day game in 32 years—to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Amid setbacks and a spate of injuries to multiple players, the team displayed its resilient face and the tenacity to win against all odds.
Stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane led from the front—his magnificent 112 in the second Test at Melbourne was instrumental in India levelling the series—with his cool demeanour, while the youngsters raised their hands and stood up to the occasion. From opening batsman Shubman Gill to pacer Mohammed Siraj, they showed the world they are ready for a fight, they are unafraid of challenges, and that a new India has emerged on the cricketing scene.
Here are some of the young architects of India’s win:
Shubman Gill of India celebrates scoring his half century during day five of the 4th Test Match in the series between Australia and India at The Gabba on January 19, 2021 in Brisbane, Australia.Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images
Hailed as one of the most promising talents of Indian cricket, the 21-year-old showed that he belonged to the Test arena with scores of 45 and 35 not out on debut in Melbourne. He scored another half-century in the following Test in Sydney, indicating he had grown in stature within a matter of days. His crowning glory, however, was scoring a mature 91 while chasing 328 for a victory in the second innings at Gabba, Brisbane. Opening against a potent Aussie attack, the right-handed batsman showed no signs of nerves and played gorgeous strokes—both horizontal and with a straight bat—to push the advantage towards India.
Rishabh Pant of India plays a shot during day five of the 4th Test Match in the series between Australia and India at The Gabba on January 19, 2021 in Brisbane, Australia.Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images
Brought into the team after the loss at Adelaide, the 23-year-old was being spoken about for his chatter behind the stumps and his dropped catches in Sydney. The maverick left-handed batsman, however, ensured that he made a mark with the willow with a stroke-filled 97 in the last innings of the third Test. The batsman continued with his form with a match-winning 89 not out at Gabba. His aggression mixed with caution put the Aussies on the back foot. India would do well if he remains consistent and improves his wicket-keeping skills.
Mohammed Siraj of India looks on during day four of the 4th Test Match in the series between Australia and India at The Gabba on January 18, 2021 in Brisbane, Australia.Photo by Albert Perez - CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images
His is one of the most heart-warming tales. The 26-year-old lost his father—an autorickshaw driver in Hyderabad who would keep money aside from his meagre earnings to fulfil his son’s cricketing ambitions—a week after the team landed in Australia. He made his Test debut in Melbourne and the image of him controlling his tears while the national anthem was being played was widely shared on social media. A victim of racial abuse, he let the ball do the talking on the tour. His five-for in the second innings at Gabba not only gave India a chance at victory, but also a fast bowler for the future.
Shardul Thakur of India celebrates the wicket of Tim Paine of Australia during day four of the 4th Test Match in the series between Australia and India at The Gabba on January 18, 2021 in Brisbane, Australia.Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images
Injuries to strike bowlers Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and spinner R Ashwin saw the 29-year-old from Palghar, Maharashtra, being drafted into the team for the last Test. And he made it his own by top-scoring with 67 in the first innings, followed by a four-wicket haul to go with his three wickets when Australia batted first. He shared a crucial 123-run partnership with Washington Sundar for the seventh wicket that took India close to Australia’s total. The pacer had bowled only 10 balls on his debut before he got injured. In his comeback Test at Gabba, he made the Aussies duck and jump with his well-directed bouncers.
Washington Sundar of India bats during day five of the 4th Test Match in the series between Australia and India at The Gabba on January 19, 2021 in Brisbane, Australia.Photo by Albert Perez - CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images
The 21-year-old had a dream debut at Gabba with an impressive all-round performance. The off-spinner took four wickets, including that of Steven Smith, in the match, but it was his contribution with the bat that proved to be vital—the left-handed batsman scored a valuable 62 in the first innings to string a century-plus partnership with Shardul Thakur, and followed that with a cameo of 22 in the second that helped India reach close to its target of 328. In a tweet, former Sri Lankan player Russel Arnold wrote that former India captain Rahul Dravid had told him during the Under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh that Washington was the man to watch out for with the bat, given his temperament.
Thangarasu Natarajan of India bowls during day four of the 4th Test Match in the series between Australia and India at The Gabba on January 18, 2021 in Brisbane, Australia.Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images
The 300th player to represent India in Tests, the 29-year-old took three wickets in the first innings at Gabba, including that of centurion Marnus Labuschagne, to end the tour on a high. After his success in the Indian Premier League for the Sunrisers Hyderabad, the left-arm seamer made his one-day international and T20 debuts during the Australian tour and impressed one and all with his pace and yorkers. Skipper Ajinkya Rahane handed over the trophy to the pacer at the presentation ceremony to acknowledge his contribution to the win, ensuring the newcomer was all smiles.