Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Final Frontier

Image result for india vs australia7th January, 2019: Sydney –a rained out day and not a ball bowled. Yet, it would go down as a red letter day in the annals of Indian cricket. India had finally conquered Australia, the first ever Asian team to do so. It has taken 71 years of toil but we finally did it. 

Yes, this was the weakest Australian team that I can recall. But it still had a world-class bowling attack which needed a special blunting down by Pujara. And for their batting lineup, missing Warner & Smith, while not a single one of them would walk in to any of the other Test teams, they were a collective pest, scoring 20s & 30s, stitching together little partnerships down to the No. 11. Yet, we did beat them in their own backyard. Something none of the Indian (or Pakstani or Sri Lankan or Bangladeshi) teams had ever done. 

Our fast bowlers outgunned their counterparts, our batsmen were better at survival and blunting attacks and our wicket-keeper gave it back as good as he got on the sledging front. A 2-1 victory doesn’t really reflect the gulf between the two teams, thanks to the washed out last day in Sydney. 

While I do not believe in Ravi Shastri’s hyperbole about this being bigger than 1983 or 2011, it certainly is special. After all every India fan carries mental scars of multiple maulings received in Australia over the years. Personally, I recall horror details from the many tours of Australia. 
  • 1991-92 – when we were thrashed 4-Nil with a Ravi Shastri double century, which included walloping of the debutante Shane Warne, in Sydney nearly winning us the game. Then there was Sachin Tendulkar’s coming of the age kind 100 at Perth. But we were smashed in every other game. 
  • 1999-2000 – A 3-nil thrashing, which was the actual prediction of the Mr. Niranjan Shah, the then BCCI secretary. The highlight of the series was a VVS Laxman 163. It didn’t affect the result in one bit but it was the first sign of the torment that VVS would unleash on the Aussies. This became part of the 16-game winning streak for Australia, which ended in Eden Gardens at the bats of Laxman and Dravid. The tide had started to turn. 
  • 2003-04 - we won in Adelaide, squandered a start in Melbourne and just could not close it out in Sydney. A 1-1 draw was certainly not a fair reflection of the series. But we had tasted a Test victory in Australia and it only served to whet the appetite further. Now we wanted a series victory. 
  • 2007-08 – Lost 2-1 after not being able to hold on for a few more minutes in the bad tempered, “monkeygate” scandalized Sydney Test, but outgunned Australia in Perth. The series may have been lost, but we took solace in Captain Kumble’s famous declaration – “Only one team was playing cricket” and we could keep replaying videos of Ishant Sharma making Ponting hop around. 
  • 2011-12 – 4-nil smashing as this proved to be one tour too many for the golden generation of Indian batting. Dravid & Laxman retired and we wondered if we could ever win another Test in the country, let alone a series. There was a little matter of a certain Virat Kohli getting a maiden Test hundred. 
  • 2014-15 – A 2-nil loss with two draws. Another era ended for Indian Team as Dhoni retired from Tests and Kohli took over and hammered centuries at will. There was a different approach which shunned safety first for a crack at chasing a 4th innings target of 360 odd on the final day. We still lost. (nothing new about that) 
With this perspective, a series victory in Australia is special. How many days we have woken up on cold wintry mornings to check the score, only to see a position of relative strength at stumps on the previous day having been brutally taken away. A collapse triggered at the hands of a McDermott, Reid, McGrath, Lee, Gillespie, Johnson, Starc or a quickfire knock from the likes of Boon, Slater, Ponting, Hayden, Clarke, Gilchrist or being blocked out of the game by a Geoff Marsh, Steve Waugh, Mark Taylor, Healy. Many times our tail was simple blasted out while their tail wagged all day (this still happens!) and sometimes we ran into the likes of Steve Bucknor! And having to listen to the gloating & condescending Aussie commentary as well. 

Life certainly hasn't been easy Down Under. And that’s why this win is such a momentous one. 

Australia isn’t really the Final Frontier. South Africa awaits (I know, we have two more frontiers popping up – Ireland and Afghanistan). But winning a Test series in Australia certainly does feel like having conquered the Final Frontier!

Nishant Kumar for DieHard Cricket Fans
Follow Nishant on Twitter @NishantSKumar

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