Lokendra Pratap Sahi

Over the years, we had become familiar with ‘Cometh the hour, cometh the man’. Now, courtesy Team India, there is a variation: ‘Cometh the hour, cometh the men’.

Indeed, so many players in an injury-hit squad put their hand up to be counted in the riveting Test series in Australia. Going forward, the experience would surely be life-changing for them.

No wonder those having to write or talk about India’s come-from-behind 2-1 win, under stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane, ran out of accolades.

The quality of prose or the diction could have differed, but every commentator/columnist agreed that the turnaround set a benchmark at a time the world continues to struggle with Covid-19 and the distressing baggage which comes with the virus.

Hardly anybody imagined India would rise from the ashes after the humiliation of 36 (worse than 42 at Lord’s in 1974) in innings No. 2 of the first Test, in Adelaide. That too with regular captain and premier batsman Virat Kohli not available for the remainder of the series.

Yet, India surprised. With Rahane leading from the front, there was a memorable win in Melbourne, a gritty draw in Sydney and what a performance in Brisbane!

Four from the XI which played in Sydney were unfit for Brisbane, leaving Rahane with one of the most inexperienced bowling attacks to try and contain full-strength Australia. Of the quartet, after all, three were bowlers.

It was clear before the toss in Brisbane that India would need more than one hero if the Border-Gavaskar Trophy was to be retained. As in Melbourne and in Sydney, different players did the job at different times.

Well over 300 runs were scored on the last day at a ground where Australia had an awesome reputation. Over 300 against such formidable bowling.

Even a draw would have ensured the Trophy, named after absolute legends, stayed with India. But with gifted Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara (somebody you can perhaps bet your life on) and the convention-defying Rishabh Pant taking it upon themselves to take the Trophy outright, Brisbane saw an incredible finish. More pulsating than a T20 thriller.

Looking back, a study of how Rahane handled the pressure on multiple fronts should be fascinating. Having to regroup the squad after 36 was mightily challenging and, then, losing four players for the deciding Test made the ask more daunting.

At the end of it all, however, there was no jumping or screaming by Rahane. That is just not him. Of course, the stand-in captain was pretty emotional, but his composure through the ups and downs of a demanding series won appreciation too.

In a matter of weeks, Rahane graduated from being a captain, who had not lost a Test, to a leader who did not find Kohli’s shoes too big to fill.

Head coach Ravi Shastri has often come in for criticism, largely because of how he got back the job in 2017, taking the place of widely-admired Anil Kumble. It would, however, be unfair if he did not get any credit for the result.

My personal view is that Shastri is perfect as a mentor, the type to help ignite the fire in a player’s belly. After Adelaide, the stage was ideal for him, no matter what his designation, to make the players look within and raise the bar individually and collectively.

Shastri used to play without fear. Kohli’s approach too is fearless, which explains why both are on the same wave length. Expectedly, not being afraid has rubbed off on the India newcomers.

Naturally, India received praise from the cricket fraternity and beyond. Especially pleasing was the response of titans such as Wasim Akram and big names like Mohammed Hafeez from across the border.

Akram tweeted: “… Have not seen a bold, brave and boisterous Asian team on a tougher tour of Australia… No adversity could stop them… Inspiring for others. Kudos India.”

Hafeez, like Akram a former captain of Pakistan, said: “In International cricket, you need a complete product. India outclassed Australia, even in the absence of main players, because they put their product at the forefront… Speaking as a fan of cricket, mazaa aa gaya the way India played with courage.”

Forget the obvious odds, Rahane and his men (including Mohammed Siraj and Thangarasu Natarajan, who come from the most humble of backgrounds) had to overcome racial abuse and cope with the restrictions on movement. In the circumstances, the win ranks among India’s finest.

Thank you, Team India.