“The most dangerous moment comes with victory.” This famous quote of Napoleon Bonaparte is synonymous with the ongoing cricket battle between India and Australia. The four-match Test series, currently level at 1-1, is at a very crucial stage where both the sides have had success and many worrying issues as well. India, having been humbled and embarrassed after being bowled out for just 36 runs in the first Test, showed resilience and remarkable tenacity to turn the tables on the Australians in the second Test match. Both sides are now at a stage where the ‘moment of victory’ puts them at a precarious and dangerous stage.
India will need to keep their winning momentum intact, whereas Australia will need to forget their dismal performance in the second Test match. They have to remind themselves of the wonderful moments of the first Test match.
The beauty of Test cricket is at its peak and the third Test match, to be held in Sydney from January 7, should be a rocking affair. Both India and Australia look evenly poised and well matched. The bowlers of both sides have had the upper-hand and gritty batting has been the differential factor for a change. Maybe the long stretch of lockdown regulations and the lack of cricket have had an effect on the form and fitness of the batters more than that of the bowlers. One area of the game which has gone down significantly has been catching. India was the major defaulter in the first Test whereas Australia were butter-fingered in the second.
The Indian team’s revival from hitting rock bottom could be one of the most astonishing performances by any side in the history of the game. A dejected, destroyed and depleted Indian team, without Mohammed Shami, one of their main bowlers and their most trusted batsman and captain in Virat Kohli, looked to be a side ready for slaughter. A team that had none of their batsmen reach a double figure in the second innings of the first Test was a bunch that needed a complete change of attitude and approach.
The team’s success can be attributed to the work behind the scenes by the support staff as well as players, who highlighted the new found confident attitude of the present day Indian. One was sceptical as to whether this Indian side had that inherent character to get up and fight after having suffered a knock-out punch. For them to do so was a grand moment for Indian cricket.
The Indian think tank needs to be complimented for bringing in four new players in Ravindra Jadeja, Rishabh Pant and debutants Shubman Gill and Mohammed Siraj. For all of them, sitting on the bench during the first Test match and watching their colleagues being humiliated by the opponents must have been an agonising experience. Each one was unable to do anything about it at that time, but must have been mentally charged to take revenge. I remember having a similar feeling when I was in the reserves and felt helpless when the Indian side was in same state at that time as well.
One wondered as to whether, without the forceful, aggressive and over-powering attitude of Virat Kohli, India would be able to stand up to the Australian side. The mantle of leadership was also a point of concern as it was being handed over to Ajinkya Rahane, a quiet, calculating and an entirely different individual. Successful people, as they say, always have two things on their lips: ‘silence and a smile’, and Rahane seems to fall into that category. He follows and practices the Vedanta philosophy of life.
‘A silent killer’ is another expression that is associated with Rahane. His innings are generally full of deft placements and conventional strokes that opponents, at times, barely realise the runs he notches up effortlessly. This he showcased brilliantly by scoring another century on the famous MCG. His knock laid the foundation stone of India’s victory and his captaincy turned out to be the burial ground for the Australians. The calmness and teamwork through collective wisdom was for all to see. India needed a quiet, mature approach and captain Rahane truly epitomised it. The captaincy style of Kohli has its positive points as well, especially when the Indian side is playing at its best. However, for India, the team in the last few years depended so much on their superstar that they needed to stand up without him as well.
India may lose the next Test match or the series, but the win in Melbourne has brought respectability and confidence that could make them into a forceful unit to face any adversaries in the future. This could be the turning point in their quest to becoming the champion side of the first World Test Championship.
Rahane, the certified black-belt practitioner, has broken the back of the Australian batting and bowling unit. If they can subdue Steve Smith a little longer, only David Warner remains a threat amongst the Australian batters, if he plays. The return of Rohit Sharma and the inclusion of KL Rahul would make the Indian batting even stronger and whether Navdeep Saini or T Natrajan is played, the bowling is now a settled line-up.
When the two top sides in the cricket world vie for supremacy, cricket is the winner. Australia or India, the battle has just begun!