The win at Lord’s was one to remember for India but it will always come up next best to the triumph at Gabba, which was the start of a new chapter in Indian cricket history, writes Sarah Waris.
“This isn’t your backyard,” quipped Virat Kohli to James Anderson during the fourth day of the second Test at Lord’s in a seemingly nonchalant, unfazed manner. Only, it is. Lord’s is as much Anderson’s as Eden Gardens is VVS Laxman’s, and the England bowler has formed a special bond with the Honours Board at the venue over the years. With seven five-fors, the second-most at the ground after Ian Botham, and an average of 24.57, it was almost amusing to see the India skipper overlook the feats whilst uttering the words he did.
Pompous to some, the response by Kohli was not just an in-the-moment you-have-come-after-my-teammate-so-I-will-have-a-go-at-you incident. After being peppered with some short-pitched bowling by Jasprit Bumrah during the dying stages of day three, Anderson unleashed his aggressive self on the India batters the next day. The verbal duels and the angry stares after sending down deliveries would have silenced rivals so as to not nudge and awaken the tiger, but Kohli is, well, Kohli.
Never far from proving that his side is capable of whipping up aggression when needed, Kohli almost sounded a warning to the cricketing world that had been accustomed to India’s tame defeats overseas. ‘Lions at home, and sheep abroad’ was an adage that never left the side in the early 2000s as they surrendered meekly game-after-game whenever they travelled away from India.
“This isn’t your backyard,” then, was just sent down as a reminder that India were not challengers anymore. Territories will be conquered, fortresses will be breached as Kohli’s men, equipped with an insatiable hunger for success, look to stamp their mark across stadiums. “This isn’t your backyard” was also a belated response to Tim Paine’s stirring invitation to Ravichandran Ashwin, welcoming him to Gabba earlier this year, which had a rather anti-climactic end.
From Gabba to Lord’s, a continuation of an unfinished business
The narratives at Gabba, where India scripted a memorable three-wicket win to seal their second successive series Down Under, and at Lord’s earlier this week were almost identical. Banter from the home team in Australia along with a hostile crowd that made its appearance with cheers after Bumrah was hit on the head by Mark Wood on day five at Lord’s were just some of the challenges the visiting team had to face. There were bodily blows to Cheteshwar Pujara at Gabba, there were intentions of the same from the England bowlers at some point towards the India tail at Lord’s. It was Australia’s fortress, the Lord’s had always been India’s nemesis.
But the magic of the two games lies in the zeal of the Indian team to steal a win from a position where a victory was far down the road and nowhere in sight. If it was unlikely heroes Washington Sundar and Shardul Thakur, then, who ensured India got near the Australian first innings score of 369 with a 123-run stand after India had collapsed to 186-6, it was under-fire Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane at Lord’s, who played out 297 deliveries for 100 runs to blunt out the English attack. Mohammed Siraj and Rishabh Pant had risen to the occasion in Australia, while in England, it was the duo of Bumrah and Mohammed Shami who smacked the nail into the coffin with their unexpected batting heroics.
The Gabba win, though, turned a tide.
Much has been written about the dreamy and glitzy world of sports over the years but no one quite anticipated the struggles of living and winning in a restricted environment. When India toured Australia last December, it was, thus, a series like never before. Wallowing after the lows of 36 all out at Adelaide to celebrating the turnaround at MCG a week later all within a bubble, the players had to adapt to a new normal, all without their skipper Kohli, who had flown back to India for the birth of his child.
Through the next three games, India put on a never-seen-before show despite players biting the injury bug, but the defining moment coming at Gabba, where a team sans Kohli, Shami, Bumrah, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ishant Sharma upstaged a side with David Warner, Steve Smith, Marnus Labuschagne, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon. As Thakur and Sundar and T Natarajan and Shubman Gill and Siraj and Pant battled, and more importantly, won against the big stars, somewhere Indian cricket changed.
From being IPL stars to Australia-conquerors in a matter of a few weeks, it was the unexpected transformation and the constant fearlessness of a young group of players that had made headlines. Unperturbed and thrown into the stormy waters without Kohli, who is known for giving it back to the opponents, the Indians learned to swim whilst never forgetting the lessons of valour their skipper had narrated before he flew back.
Lord’s, thus, wasn’t as surreal: there was Kohli to take on the battle against a side without four key players in Jofra Archer, Chris Woakes, Ben Stokes and Stuart Broad. Rory Burns has five ducks as an opener this year, and the second-highest run-scorer in the ongoing series after Joe Root from England is Jonny Bairstow, with 118 runs to his name. The side is arguably one of the weakest in recent times, with Sunil Gavaskar even terming the current English side as a team of “two and a half men”.
It is not to say that the triumph is any less memorable: it had its moments and it had its drama. It had challenges and had India resolve them with calm minds and a mature approach. But it was the continuation of a story that had first been penned at Brisbane. A never-seen-before tale of bravery and courage with a lesson that India are here to not just win hearts, but battles too.
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