Today was all about the cricket. It was the final day of the fourth and final Test match in the current Australia v India series. Australia won the first game in Adelaide an absolute walkover. In their second innings India were dismissed for just 36 runs – their lowest ever innings total in history. After the game, India’s captain and best player Virat Kohli flew home to India to be with his wife for the birth of their first child, leaving the team in the hands of his vice captain. Having suffered a huge loss, and losing their best player, India were behind the 8-ball.
In the second game in Melbourne, India pulled together, recomposed themselves, and… well, demolished Australia. They won handily, levelling the series at 1 game each.
Then in the third match, played in Sydney last week, India were again struggling. They had lost several players due to injury, and were fielding young, inexperienced backups. Australia dominated the first four days, and set India a massive target of 407 runs to win in the final innings. I recounted that last day of play when it happened. To recap: India didn’t score the runs, but they managed to hold on and not get out before the game ran out of time, thus drawing the game. This left the series at 1-1, with a deciding game to come.
The fourth and final game began last Friday, in Brisbane. Australia batted first and scored 369. India the batted, and were looking in danger of falling far short, but managed to scrape together 336 runs, conceding a lead of 33. Australia then added 294 runs in the second innings. This set India a target of 328 to win. This is a big score, and very difficult to get in the last innings of a game, when the pitch is starting to dry out and crumble, and batting becomes more and more difficult.
To put it into perspective, the highest ever successful final innings run chase at Brisbane was 236 runs, scored by Australia against the West Indies in 1951, followed by 219 by Australia v West Indies in 1975, and the remainder are all below 200. A team scoring 328 or more to win a game in the final innings has only happened 18 times anywhere in the world in Test cricket history (since 1877). Furthermore, Australia has been unbeatable in Brisbane for over 3 decades, not losing a game there since 1988.
Furthermore, India had ended play yesterday having scored just 4 of these runs. So to win they needed to score 324 runs in one day. Scoring 300 runs in one day is considered a good scoring rate. 324 is very fast. Doable early in a game when the pitch is new, but extremely difficult on a final day with the pitch wearing out. Australia, for its part, needed to get 10 Indian batsmen out to win. In this game situation, the smart money would be on the bowling team to get the batsmen out and win the game. Anyone betting on India would be betting on wild hope, whereas betting on Australia should be easy money.
Well, I may have set the situation up too well for you, because you can probably guess what happened. This battered, bruised, young, inexperienced, captainless Indian team stuck it out all day. The batsmen stubbornly refused to get out, and slowly accumulated runs. At lunch, one-third of the way through the day, they had added 79 runs, for a total of 83, but lost only one wicket. They had 9 men left, but a mountainous 245 more runs to score. At this stage, I thought the most likely result was a draw, the game ending before either team could force victory.
At the tea break, 2/3 of the way through the day, India were 3 men out for 183 runs. Still 145 runs short. It was looking impossible for either team to have enough time to win. But Rishabh Pant, India’s wicketkeeper, had other ideas. Rather than try to survive and ensure India didn’t lose, he started hitting the ball all around the ground, accelerating the run scoring.
The final hours of the game were a tense, nail-biting whirlwind. Pant was taking crazy risks, hitting the ball in the air, several times just wide of fielders who might have taken a catch. If he got out, the remaining batsmen would be those in the team for their bowling skills, not specialist batsmen, and could not be relied on to survive. Pant was playing with fire. But he was doing it masterfully. Just before the end, two of the other batsmen got out, and India were dangerously exposed to a sudden dramatic failure. If another one got out, it would be up to Pant and an inexperienced, poor batsman to prevent India from losing. But still Pant added runs.
Until with just a few balls remaining in the game, Pant hit the ball through the fielders for the final, winning runs. India had pulled off a miracle victory against all odds. Not only to win this game, but to win the series 2-1.
With several senior players out of the team for various reasons, the burden fell on a group of fresh young players, the next generation of Indian cricketers. They defeated a full strength Australia, always one of the strongest teams in the world and virtually impossible to beat at home. This will be a victory that Indians will remember for many years. And the future success of their team looks in good hands for the next decade or so.
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