Historic triumph down under proves cathartic

The Asian Age.  | R. Mohan

Sports, Cricket

We had come close enough on the 1985-86 tour only to be denied by the rain in Melbourne and some dubious home umpiring in Sydney.

Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane.

The apprehension that a Test series win in Australia may never come in a lifetime of watching cricket has dissipated. All Indian cricket fans must be feeling a great sense of satisfaction over the first ever victory achieved by Virat Kohli and his band of warriors who put one over the Aussies down under. This is not triumphalism so much as exultation at a rare feat well achieved as no Asian team had previously won a series in the land of the “hard yakka.”

We had come close enough on the 1985-86 tour only to be denied by the rain in Melbourne and some dubious home umpiring in Sydney. While one would have believed that was a good tour, it least mattered to the Aussies as they went on to beat the World Champions of Cricket of 1983 and 1985 in the tri-series finals. At the end of that tour, I was passing through Australian Immigration and Customs to board my flight home when the entire staff on duty stood together in a line and applauded me mockingly. It was the Oz way of celebrating their cricket triumph, their sporting hubris.

As the Indians piled on the runs in Sydney – as they always did whenever VVS Laxman was in the team as he seemed to enjoy his never-ending love affair with the SCG – I knew the big moment had come. There would be no comeback for the Aussies this time, no “getting out of jail” for them even in the rain, which could at best help them draw the Test but could not salvage the series. This seemed more like a moment of catharsis for the sense of hurt and disappointment at not seeing so many opportunities not seized in many a turning point in Test history down under.

Never mind if we believed before the series that Team India would place itself in line for condemnation if it did not manage to beat this particular Australian team whose team and batting leaders had to sit out after the ball tampering scandal. It still takes considerable nous to beat the Oz at home. To sustain hostility over a whole series presents the greatest difficulty. An extraordinary degree of fortitude is called for to be able to take the stress of a full tour of Australia and no Indian team seemed to have had that. None could go the extra mile to be able to stand up and drive the cricketing nails into the coffin.

Kohli’s team was different. Primarily, Team India had the pace bowling attack to act as the battering ram, without which it is not really possible to win not only down under but also in South Africa and England, which are the three countries that have proved to be like final frontiers for various Team India combinations in the last decade. It is the relentlessness of this pace attack, spearheaded by the priceless quick Jasprit Bumrah with the quirky high bowling arm that every new kid on the block tries to imitate these days, that took 50 of the 70 Oz wickets to fall.

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The quicks were consistent right through the series, sticking to a plan of pitching up and not allowing the Oz batsmen to use the cut and pull for positive scoring strokes and did well enough in Perth too where the Indian batting caved in. The current team may pale when compared to the batting lineups that had been down under on previous occasions in the last four decades at least. But it had one great batsman in Kohli and a most disciplined and dedicated one in Cheteswar Pujara, whose anchoring efforts sealed the series for India while fetching him the series award.

The young wicket-keeper has the makings of an Adam Gilchrist. The resemblance in attitude and as wide a range of attacking strokes was noted long ago but not said publicly for fear of being too premature with such judgment calls. He has a safe enough pair of hands too and may have sealed the gloveman’s spot in all formats for a long time to come, once Dhoni chooses to leave the ODI team. The boy is an amazing talent and a bit of a talker too, a quality those behind the stumps must possess to be the dynamo on which any cricket team rolls.

The captain’s paradigm shift in aggressive behavior may have helped too, however ugly it seemed at times when he was overdoing the triumphalism on the field of play. Maybe, this was the tipping point brought about by following the philosophy of war as set out by Sun Tzu, which so fascinated that successful Oz captain Steve Waugh.

To have used the same coin represented the ultimate payback time, even if such behaviour must be condemned by all right-thinking people who can, despite everything, see cricket as just a game at the end of the day.