Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high

India Captain Ajinkya Rahane.   | Photo Credit: AFP

Where the mind is without fear, the head will definitely be held high.

This is the message from India’s young players. Shubman Gill is 21, as is Washington Sundar; Rishabh Pant is 23. Each played a role in the Brisbane win. They were unhurried, looked the opposition in the eye, and frankly, sucked the confidence out of the finest bowling side in the world. The future is here.

No matter if India missed half-a-dozen players and more, no matter if they had to play to a near-empty stadium; COVID-19 was forgotten, as was that 36 all out in the first Test. No Indian team in nearly nine decades of Tests has faced such odds and triumphed.

Greatest series win

This was the greatest series win in India’s history — greater than the home win against Australia in 2001, and the win there two seasons ago, greater than victories in the West Indies and England in 1971.

No praise can be too high for skipper Ajinkya Rahane’s calm, measured conduct. There is steel in that mild manner; importantly, there is a cricket brain that is one of the finest to have been put at India’s service.

India met aggression with a smile, provocation with a sneer, as if to say, “Is that all you can do?” Australia know how to deal with aggression or diffidence — they simply roll opponents over. But this was something new.

Suddenly the bowlers were running up to check if the batsman (mainly Pujara) was fine after hitting him; a gift to 100-Test man Nathan Lyon from the Indian team was an unexpected gesture. It seemed to confuse him, just as the Indian batting did on the final day. Were they playing for a draw or going for a win? Rahane was clear — the plan was to go for a win and put up shutters only as a last resort.

Take up any challenge

It might have been a lesson learnt on an earlier tour when Virat Kohli led for the first time. At Adelaide, he made two centuries, and on the final day inspired his team to chase 364. India didn’t make it on that occasion, but the attitude lingered; any challenge would be taken up. In the search for wins, the odd game might be lost but that’s a small price for playing attractive, positive cricket that will bring fans back to its greatest format.

Not so long ago, Indian teams landing in Australia and England said, “We have come here to learn.” No longer. Now they go to teach.

It has been a gradual process. Teams don’t change overnight. In nearly four decades of reporting on the game, I have not seen a more resilient, confident, self-aware Indian team. We’ve had tough individuals; this was a tough team.

To come back after that 36 in Adelaide and win at Melbourne was merely the appetizer for Sydney — a resolute draw fashioned by two men, Ashwin and Vihari, playing through injury and fire. In Brisbane, a draw would have sufficed. But this team aims high.

India have now won two successive series in Australia. The Sachin Tendulkar generation that had some of the country’s (and world’s) greatest batsmen and leading bowlers of all time — it was the golden age — didn’t manage to win one. That should put things in perspective.

Ironical situation

Ironically, the successful captain is not guaranteed to lead when the original is available. Nor are the successful performers, especially the fast bowlers, guaranteed a long run. Once the frontline bowlers — Bumrah, Ishant, Shami, Yadav, Ashwin, Jadeja — return, the Sirajs, Sainis, Thakurs, Sundars will have to go to the back of the queue.

Yet — and this is India’s greatest gain — it is a matter of pride that the first eleven were hardly missed. Bowling coach Bharati Arun has ensured that the reserves were at all times fit and honed to slip into the seniors’ shoes. He is one of the heroes of this series win.

As is Pujara. He was the load-bearing wall around whom the batting built its attractive structure. Fourth innings chases require one batsman to frustrate by defence while stroke-players advance by offence at the other end.

Knowing their roles

Every individual in this team knew what his role was and played it well. There was a healthy disrespect for mere records — something Indian players of the past have been accused of paying too much attention to.

Gill, surely the find of the tour, didn’t get into a shell as his century approached; neither did Pant seem to be even aware of the possibility. His 97 in the previous Test had nearly set up a win. That No. 5 slot in the batting line-up is his, whether he keeps wickets or not.

The future, as I said, is here. And it will be exciting to watch the tireless striving stretching its arms towards perfection.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2021 11:02:44 AM |

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