‘Jasprit Bumrah survives the last ball of the day and it’s stumped on day 02 at the Adelaide Oval’. And, with that, the heartbeat of millions of Team India fans came to normal as the onslaught from the Australian fast bowlers ended for the day.
“Geez, finally, no more heart in mouth moments for the day,” I said to myself as I switched back to my pending work, thinking that hopefully, we will make use of the first innings advantage on what was being tipped as the ‘best batting day’ of the match. Day 03.
There was a sense of optimism, amidst fear of us bottling it again. The fear for the worst wasn’t without reasons. In my 20 years of following this magnificent team, I have seen a plethora of occasions where Team India have squandered all the hard work they’d done in overseas conditions. The nightmares of Durban 2013, Wellington, Auckland 2014, Brisbane 2014, and Galle 2015 galore.
I feared for the worst. Yet, in my mind, the definition of worst was us getting knocked over for 150. I had mentally prepared myself for that, as I put an alarm on my phone with the hope of Team India proving me wrong and finally taking the game by the scruff of its neck and asserting themselves in a dominating position in Australia’s favorite playground: The Pink Ball Test.
But just as I was putting my phone down, it started to ring. It was midnight and to see my cousin’s brother call at this time, sent a chill down my spine. My maternal aunt (Read: Maasi) had not been keeping well for a month now. I picked up the phone fearing for the worst. And, as I said ‘Hello’, his somber voice was enough for me to fathom what has happened.
Maasi had left for her heavenly abode and I didn’t know how to break the news to my mom. I did eventually. Cricket has always been a sense of escape for me. It has helped me overcome a plethora of personal grief. And, I desperately needed it to come to my rescue once again.
Embroiled with personal loss and a sense of fear of how it could get worse the next morning, I struggled to sleep for a better part of the night before eventually dozing off.
Having not slept for the better part of the night, I struggled to wake up even as the alarm repeatedly rang. I eventually woke up at 10:25 AM. The first thing that I usually do, if I wake up late, on a matchday in Australia is open CricBuzz and check the score. As the app started loading, I desperately prayed “Bhagwan! Please no more than 2 wickets, pleaseeeeeeee”
As it finally loaded, I opened my eyes and checked the score. 7/25. Seven wickets for 25 freaking runs ‘No way, No way in hell can this be true’ I said to myself. I quickly got off my bed and went to the washroom to wash my groggy eyes. “Surely, it ain’t true” I shrugged, hoping against hope that there might be some bug in the CricBuzz app.
I nervously logged in to the Sony Liv app. And, yes it wasn’t 7/25. Except, it was 8/26. You can’t hurt someone who has copped with heartbreaks like 54 all-out, 2007 WC exit, etc. But, then when it happens, the facade of immunity whittles away, and you turn into a kid who has just been denied his candy. And, that is what happened to me that fateful morning.
Battling with personal loss, cricket was supposed to be an escape for me that morning. In turn, it turned out to be a nightmare. With tears rolling down, I banged my laptop in disgust and dozed off to sleep again, hoping that it would all vanish when I wake up. Of course, it didn’t. Australia had stormed their way to an eight-wicket win and in doing that, they had also taken out one of our prime fast bowlers, Mohammed Shami.
One of the toughest things that I have encountered in my capacity as a ‘cricket writer’, is balancing my emotions with professionalism every time Team India suffers a defeat.
I was tested to the hilt this time around since it was the mother of all defeats.
Leading into the Boxing Day Test, all I covered was the statements of former cricketers who had prophesied a 0-4 route. Mark Waugh said “India had no hope” while Shane Warne reckoned that the ‘Aussies will smash Team India in Melbourne’.
But, deep down, as I covered these statements, I had a feeling that a turnaround was around the corner. Why did I feel that way? Was it pure emotions overriding logic? After all, India was without Virat Kohli and Mohammed Shami, their new skipper was under humungous pressure, and the scars of 36 all-out were just too much to overcome in such a short span of time.
So, why I was so confident in thinking that Team India scripting a comeback? That’s because the Men in Blue had done the same in the past following a soul-crushing defeat. Remember Durban 2010? Or Perth 2008? Or Eden Gardens 2001? Or Colombo 2015? Or Jo’Burg 2018? Or Nottingham 2018, where no one gave the Men in Blue a chance following their shellacking in the previous Test but they still managed to defy the odds?
How did they do that? That is because Team India is just a reflection of us Indians. And, it’s in our nature to bounce back when our backs are firmly pushed against the walls. I said that on Twitter when everyone, including the fans, was writing off the team. In fact, I even wrote an article where I listed some of our greatest-ever comebacks in overseas conditions.
Write India off at your own peril. Yes everything is against us right now. Kohli not available, Shami, Ishant injured, scars of 36 all-out….but if there is one thing that I have learnt as an Indian fan, its that whenever we have our backs firmly against the walls, we fight back https://t.co/0GhFnPruAP
— Yash Mittal 🇮🇳 (@im_yash2307) December 22, 2020
But, to be honest, deep down I knew that it will be tough this time since the team was without three of its biggest match-winners- Virat, Shami, and Ishant.
26th December 2020. 04:50 AM. As Ajinkya Rahane walked out with Tim Paine and the match-referee for the toss, I prayed to God- ‘Bhagwan, please let us win the toss’.
The MCG has been a graveyard for bowlers in the past few years. The template for any team at the ‘G has been to bat first and grind the opposition bowlers into the dust and score 400-500 and back your bowlers to get the job done at the backend.
India themselves had followed the same template in 2018 when they won by 137 runs. Anyway, the coin went up, and as soon as the match-referee said ‘It’s Australia who have won the toss’, my heart sank again. You could see the delight on Tim Paine’s face as he said ‘We will bat first’.
I was like ‘Ahh! Here we go again’. But the MCG track proceeded to surprise everyone. Not only did it offered assistance to the seamers, but the moisture underneath also provided sharp turn and bounce.
But more than the conditions, it was the body language of the Indians that indicated that they were switched on to the hilt. They were hurting. They were desperate to make a comeback. They were eager to prove to everyone that the 36 all-out was indeed an aberration and that they wouldn’t let that define them.
And, it was reflected in how Jasprit Bumrah, in the absence of Ishant and Shami, took up the role of the leader of the pace attack; in how Ravi Ashwin once again rose to the occasion; in how skipper Rahane affected the field placements and bowling changes; in how rookie Mohammed Siraj complemented Bumrah, of-course in how they fielded.
Australia was shell-shocked, as were their fans. After all, the Boxing Day Test was supposed to be the occasion where they nailed the final nails in the visitor’s coffin; the Indians were expected to bow down and resign themselves to fate. In contrast, the Ajinkya Rahane-led side rose like a Pheonix. It looked as if the 36 all-out never happened, at least their demeanor reflected that.
Australia was knocked 0ver for 195 but instead of rejoicing, I, just like other Indians, started fearing for the worst again as Mayank Agarwal and Shubman Gill strolled out to bat in the wee hours of the 1st day. Mitchell Starc bowled a ferocious first over and by the time it got over, I was thanking the stars that India were only 0/1 and not 0/6 (Yep! That’s what 36 all-out does to your mindset).
Shubman Gill’s baptism with fire ensured that the Men in Blue went unscathed at stumps. Again, just like the end of the second day’s play in Adelaide, I was relieved. But deep down, the fear of a 36 all-out encore on the second morning gave an unsettling feeling.
“What if it happens again?,” I wondered throughout the night as I waited for the clock to strike 5:00 AM. That feeling started to get on my nerves as Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood steamed in to bowl one jaffa after another.
Eventually, the luck that Gill and Pujara had enjoyed in the first hour ran out as Cummins dismissed both of them in a space of two overs. That unsettling feeling got even stronger. India 3/64. 195 seemed a long long way away.
But then entered Ajinkya Rahane, as if he was saying, ‘Don’t worry guys, I am here’. And, indeed, he was THERE. The calmness that Rahane displayed throughout his innings was in a way, a reflection of a guy not bothered about what was happening around him.
He was in the ‘ZONE’. Like Arjuna, his eyes were firmly hinged on the target. And, the target was getting his team a healthy first-innings lead. And, with the able support of Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant, and Ravindra Jadeja, he did exactly that. Rahane scored a hundred for the ages but just as it looked like he and Jadeja would bat Australia out of the game, tragedy struck. Rahane got run-out and what followed was another typical Indian lower-order procession.
With a middling lead and a possible Steve Smith redemption, hope sunk again. “What if Smith or Marnus ton-up?” The fear was even more bloated considering India’s dismal fourth innings record and the fact that Umesh Yadav pulled up in just his 4th over.
But then India had now been accustomed to losing their key players. The greater the adversity, the better they got. And, it was testified to the hilt when the four men attack reduced the Aussies to 6/99.
But I, just like millions of Indian fans, wasn’t rejoicing yet, for the visitors were yet to nail their biggest challenge– dismissing the lower-order.
‘What if they once again fail to dismiss the tail cheaply?’, the fear increased manyfold when Rishabh Pant dropped a regulation catch of Pat Cummins.
The duo of Cummins and Green slowly but gradually wiped off the lead and by stumps, Australia were 2 runs ahead. Another sleepless night galore for me and for millions of Indian fans as all sorts of nightmarish scenarios clouded their mind.
“What if Cummins and Green take the lead past 150?” “What if we bottle the run-chase again?” However, it was not to be. Not this time. Certainly, not in back-to-back matches. The Indians were driven to get it right this time around. And, they did that with disdain Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj, and Ravichandran Ashwin mopped up the tail, ensuring that the visitors needed just 70 runs to clinch the Test.
The target of 70 was 34 runs more than what India had managed in the second innings of the Adelaide Test. And, when Mayank Agarwal and Cheteshwar Pujara got dismissed in quick succession with the score reading 2/19, the memories of December 19th started clouding the mind again.
“Surely lightning can’t strike twice, or can it?,” I thought. But Ajinkya Rahane’s disdainful pull off Pat Cummins in the same over that Pujara was dismissed put rest to all those doubts.
This was Rahane’s Test. No way, it was going to end in heartbreak. And just over 30 minutes later, the nightmares of that freakish afternoon in Adelaide were exorcised as Rahane knocked fittingly off the winning runs.
Cricket had once again come to my rescue. It always does.