Indian summer! Gabba streak ends with classic Test win

Indian summer! Gabba streak ends with classic Test win

Indian summer! Gabba streak ends with classic Test win

Written by Staff Writer

19 Jan, 2021 | 7:55 pm

Cricket Australia; Australia’s famous stranglehold at Brisbane fortress overcome as Pant, Pujara and Gill combine to complete one of their country’s most remarkable Test and series victories

India’s most gruelling overseas Test tour was crowned with perhaps their most famous Test win as they overcame unimaginable odds and a more-fancied opponent in a win for the ages at the Gabba.

Set 328 to win on a day-five pitch against one of the best all-round attacks Australia has fielded in modern times, India stormed to a three-wicket win with three overs to spare amid lengthening shadows and emotional celebrations as a socially distanced crowd of 5,624 fans danced and sang in triumph.

With an hour to play, in which a minimum of 15 overs were to be bowled, all four possible results were in play with India 69 runs from victory with six wickets available.

But despite the loss of Mayank Agarwal soon after the break, Rishabh Pant rose to the challenge – just as all 20 India players to represent their country in the four-Test Vodafone Series have done since they were humbled for 36 in the first match – to lead the triumphant charge with an unbeaten 89 from 138 deliveries.

After rookie Shubman Gill and veteran Cheteshwar Pujara had blunted Australia’s attack in the first half of an epic day, Pant delivered the knockout punches in a partnership with debutant Washington Sundar that yielded 53 runs from just 55 balls.

Fittingly, Pant sealed India’s historic win with a boundary to long-off, prompting every member of the touring party to sprint to the centre of the Gabba to embrace the latest in what this tour has shown to be a litany of heroes.

The entire squad then set out on a euphoric victory lap, flags waving and faces beaming.

Several Australia players slumped to the turf in exhaustion and disappointment at their inability to once more bowl out their rivals in a full final day, despite the lionhearted effort of Pat Cummins who sent down the morning’s first over and a further 23 after that at a cost of 55 runs and with four of the five wickets to fall.

As it transpired, the injuries that forced India to re-cast their Test team for the final match with players who had been brought to Australia for the preceding limited-overs campaign proved a blessing as the visitors belted 70 runs from the last 12 overs to secure history.

It was India’s first Test victory at the Gabba in their seventh visit since 1947-48, and the first time Australia has been beaten at what was flagged as their ‘fortress’ since 1988.

Pant will be rightly celebrated as the man who delivered India one of its proudest wins, but it was equally built on the bravery and brilliance of those who batted before him.

Pujara’s end-of-innings statistics will show he batted five hours and faced 211 balls in scoring 56, but those who witnessed his courage and concentration while being pummelled on the hands, arms, chest and head will know it can’t be captured in an array of digits and dots.

The 32-year-old – top-scorer and hero in India’s first-ever Test series win in Australia two summers ago – was hit so many times by Australia’s fast bowlers a towel would have been tossed from the India camp had it been a prize-fight.

At one stage it seemed Pujara had smashed the first knuckle on the index finger of his right hand when a ball from Josh Hazlewood leapt from the wearing pitch.

Pujara reeled from the crease in agony and sought medical attention, but the most worrying sting was landed in Hazlewood’s next over after the intervention of a passing butterfly riled the Australia quick.

Hazlewood was forced to abort his run-up when Pujara justifiably withdrew as the winged insect fluttered in front of his face, and was then met by a fearsome bouncer that thudded into the grille of the batter’s protective helmet and led to the second standing-count of his innings.

He and Pant carried India to within 100 runs of a win that would have ranked among Test cricket’s greatest given the personnel at their disposal and the factors in their face, before the arrival of the second new ball – Australia’s last hope of snatching a win – brought a final twist.

Cummins’ second delivery with it swung through Pujara’s defence and into his back pad, and the batter’s call for a review failed to save him despite showing the ball clipping his leg bail by little more than its fresh coat of lacquer.

Six overs later, the ball after Australia unsuccessfully reviewed for a catch behind off Mayank Agarwal, Cummins left no doubt when Agarwal drilled a catch to extra cover that Matthew Wade clutched above his head in triumph.

But still Pant refused to draw the shutters, even though he remained the sole recognised batter atop a line of Test cricket novices, led by the impressively irrepressible Sundar (22 from 29 balls).

After Brisbane was awash with overnight rain, day five had dawned with a scattering of cloud that was further dissipated throughout the afternoon but for a brief sun shower as Pujara departed.

And for the second time in eight days, the assignment facing Australia’s bowlers was straightforward.

At Sydney, they began day five requiring eight India wickets from a minimum of 98 overs with a 308-run buffer separating them from defeat.

They claimed half of the wickets they needed while India pulled out of the run chase midway through the day to claim a draw that came dressed as a moral victory.

Today, it was a minimum of 98.1 overs to claim all 10 India batters – a breakthrough every 10 overs (or just under) – on a pitch that looked decidedly more battle-scarred than the one in Sydney.

Yet the script stubbornly refused to be rewritten.

Armed with an essentially new ball, Australia began as they had foreshadowed the previous evening – patiently landing the ball in ‘good areas’, trusting the pitch’s deterioration to aid their cause and reassuring themselves another India batting miracle was long-odds to materialise.

Just as happened in Sydney, the day’s first breakthrough arrived early when opener Rohit Sharma pushed forward to a delivery from Cummins that landed in that “good area” and Tim Paine pouched a neat catch diving to his right.

It was a not dissimilar chance to the one Paine put down off Hanuma Vihari late in the game at the SCG and thereby sent a strong message to his team that history was not about to repeat.

But it soon sent out an unmistakable echo that throbbed in the ears of Australia’s overworked bowlers.

The immovable object (Pujara) had forged an alliance with the irresistible talent (Gill) and nothing Australia tried could separate them.

Runs were not an issue for most of the morning.

Cummins sent down five consecutive maidens either side of Rohit’s wicket, and Pujara was typically stolid in facing 22 deliveries before posting his first run.

However, when Cameron Green – who Steve Smith had earmarked after day four as a potential game-changer on the cracked Gabba pitch – entered the attack, Gill revealed his team had not abandoned thoughts of chasing down the victory target.

A sweetly-struck drive to the cover boundary was followed immediately by a back-foot punch through the same area that yielded three runs as the target narrowed to 284 at the day’s first drinks break.

It was Cummins’ return to the bowling crease shortly before lunch that heralded a change in tactics.

Former Australia captain Ricky Ponting had criticised Australia’s lack of aggression when bowling at India’s inexperienced tailenders last Sunday, but from the moment Cummins landed the first ball of his new spell on Pujara’s left bicep the rules of engagement were clear.

In his next over, Cummins thundered a bouncer into the back of Pujara’s protective helmet and then saw short balls thud into the implacable batter’s back and brush the shirt fabric on his chest as it whistled through to Paine.

Gill had watched his senior partner absorb the relentless punishment from the sanctuary of the non-striker’s end, having reached the second half-century of his already blossoming Test career during the battle.

But in the over prior to lunch, Gill’s watchfulness gave way to youthful exuberance as he clubbed Starc for six over third man despite the presence of a fielder on the boundary awaiting precisely that stroke.

The assault on Pujara’s person was stepped up after lunch, as the patience Australia had preached was replaced by frustration and the “good area” was recalibrated to be the upper torso of India’s obdurate batting lynchpin.

Pujara wore each blow with a stare of steely intent while Gill free-wheeled his way towards what loomed as the most exciting Test century by a young visiting batter in Australia since Sachin Tendulkar mesmerised with an unbeaten 148 as an 18-year-old at the SCG in 1992.

A series of pulls, upper-cuts and back-foot drives in Starc’s first spell after lunch brought Gill three boundaries and his second six as he surged into the 90s, seemingly destined to append an exclamation point to his team’s fabled tour.

Nine runs from that milestone, he was tempted to drive at a ball that Lyon tossed wide of off-stump and which failed to spin with the resultant edge clasped by Smith at slip.

Gill’s removal briefly raised debate that India might elevate Pant in the batting order, given it was his similarly breezy 97 from 118 balls on the final day at Sydney that saw the tourists tracking for victory until they opted for safety.

And while that speculation was quashed when Ajinkya Rahane strode to the middle instead, the normally measured stand-in skipper quickly adopted Pant’s persona.

In a flurry of attacking shots, including a dance down the pitch to Lyon that brought a towering six over mid-wicket, Rahane rattled on 24 runs from 22 balls faced before an ambitious ramp over the slips cordon against Cummins brought his undoing.

After Pujara’s dismissal and Pant’s counter-punching, India entered the final hour with a buffer of six wickets to save the game and retain the Trophy while needing a further 69 runs from the last 15 overs to seal the series in style.

The equation staring at Australia was hauntingly familiar and decidedly daunting – take those six wickets from 90 deliveries, which would seem a fanciful assignment in a regular hour of Test cricket.

But this had proved anything but a regular series, by every criteria.

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