A few minutes after the 36 all-out Adelaide debacle, my friend, with whom I run a cricket-based Twitter handle, sent me a voice message on WhatsApp. We usually discuss cricket over chats or call each other when messaging isn’t enough, but a voice message was a first. Either way, I was in no mood to talk about cricket that day and part of me was glad that he did not call.
I reluctantly listened to his message, and it made my heart heavier. With a broken voice, my friend was trying to make sense of whatever transpired in that one maniacal hour. Was it just brilliant bowling or could the Indian batsmen have shown a little more application? Was it the bio-bubble? Do the players have the mental energy to go through such a difficult tour after being in isolation since the IPL?
Responding with a voice message seemed appropriate and I remember saying “I don’t have a clue”, in an exasperated voice while also acknowledging that this might be it for Team India. There is no coming back from a defeat of this magnitude.
Exactly a month from that ridiculous day, we had tears in our eyes as we video-called each other to congratulate each other on an incredible Indian win. India had beaten Australia at the Gabba, their so-called fortress, and won a second consecutive series in Australia.
It was hard to explain the feeling. India had won tough games before, but this win had an inexplicable undertone to it. “A win for the ages”, said some. “One of the greatest ever test triumphs of this Indian cricket team”, said a few others. “The series was better than the Ashes”, joined in a few Australians. It was all just too much to absorb. India had achieved the impossible.
Over the next couple of days, as the victory and the magnitude of the achievement sunk in, I reminisced back to the sequence of events that led to the win and the state of my mind during those events. The more I thought, the more convinced I was that Team India chose to believe they could win, while all I did was hope that they would.
When the team was embarrassed in under three days by a stunning bowling performance from Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins at Adelaide, they chose to learn from their mistakes and plan on how to win the series. They chose to not let the loss of Virat Kohli, who was the face of their victory in 2018 and the sportsman the Australian media was most focussed on, affect them negatively. Team India chose to believe they could win, while all I did was hope they would.
When Australia won the toss on a decent pitch in Melbourne, expecting to carry on with the momentum of having destroyed their opponents in Adelaide, India responded with a great bowling performance by dismissing them under 200.
“They are a team that’ll go down in an hour, 195 is enough for them,” said one of my Australian friends. I wanted to vehemently disagree but I did not. India re-discovered their batting mojo through their stand-in captain and a late flourish from Ravindra Jadeja put them in good stead. Another amazing bowling performance meant that India won the Melbourne Test comfortably, coming on the back of their lowest total ever. I could have disagreed with my friend when he said India would go down in an hour, but I didn’t. Team India chose to believe they could win, while all I did was hope they would.
When India had to chase a mammoth 407 on the last day in Sydney, after four days of Australian domination, I slept badly having thoughts of a painful capitulation before lunch. They had scored only 244 in the first innings, Jadeja was on meds with a broken finger, and India did not sport a great chasing record on foreign soil. There was literally nothing going for them in the game. The racial incident with Mohammed Siraj, the Rishabh Pant counter-attack that made the chase look almost possible and the dogged resistance from R Ashwin and Hanuma Vihari made the game look like a David and Goliath story by the end of it.
“It was a remarkable escape”, they said. Both Ashwin and Vihari battled through the pain, and a hostile bowling attack to script one of the best-played draws that has been seen in recent history. While I was elated with the result I thought back to my emotions on the night before. Team India chose to believe they could win, while all I did was hope they would.
When India landed in Brisbane to play the series decider, they were up against history. Australia had not been beaten at the Gabba in the last 32 years, they had the number one pace bowling attack at their disposal on a wicket that suited pace, and India was going to field a team with only two of their original first-choice players. If ever a story has been written for a perfect tragic ending, this was supposed to be it.
Tim Paine’s now-infamous words to Ashwin – “Can’t wait for you to get to the Gabba” – were not spoken out of mere frustration. All the statistics and history backed his confidence. Yet, for some reason, India did the impossible. A team of players that were expected to warm the India bench chased 328 on the last day of a deteriorating Gabba track. They took the game deep, they never let the thought of a loss deter their plans, and everyone contributed to making it a near-perfect victory.
The conviction that India would win did not cross my mind until they brought the score down to the last 10 runs. I was going to be happy with a draw because a win wasn’t possible, was it? I was proven wrong again. Team India chose to believe they could win, while all I did was hope they would.
I have had some time to think through why I’d have only hoped for a win while this new, incredible Team India planned and executed it. I belong to the generation of 90s, where winning on away tours, especially in Australia was a distant dream. India did well in the limited-overs formats, but I have seen them battered in the longer format of the game way too many times. I come from a generation where top BCCI administrators themselves predicted the margin of an Indian defeat to Australia even before the tour began.
I come from a generation where India could not chase 120 in Barbados against West Indies. I come from a generation where once Sachin Tendulkar got dismissed the rest of the team pretty much gave up. Yes, we have had our awesome moments, like the famous Kolkata turn around by Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman and the awesome performance by Sachin Tendulkar to win the Chennai Test against England, but they’ve been far too rare for the fan in me to be confident of a win every time we play.
This absolutely unbelievable performance from Team India will help 90s fans like me change this perception. The perception that fears for the loss more than cares for a win. The perception that when our backs are against the wall, we must rely on one saviour to come through for us, else it’s a disaster. This series win has proven every stereotype that I or anyone had for Team India wrong. It does not mean debacles like the one in Adelaide will never happen again, but it does mean that when India’s backs are against the wall, I’ll know that Team India believes they can win, and I will believe it with them.