What a Test match. What a comeback; what character; and what a stunning victory. I refer to none other than India's famous Test victory over Australia in the Boxing Day Test at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) which ended on Tuesday.
India dug deep in search of a positive attitude and resilient character and dear me, did they find it! This display will undoubtedly serve as a catalyst not only for our sportsmen and women in cricket but in sport as a whole. Here was a team humiliated and chastised after being dismissed for 36 runs in the second innings of the first test against the Aussies with Pat Cummings (4 for 21) and Josh Hazelwood (5 for 8) being the main destroyers. Not one batsman got into double figures and to rub salt into their deep and open wounds, last man Mohammed Shami having been struck on the forearm by Cummings had to retire hurt. It was a sorry sight but one had to admit, it was quality fast bowling from a lethal Australian team starting with the first ball from Mitchell Starc.
When you look back at a couple of the dismissals, the Indian batsmen (whose technique is arguably one of the best in the world), followed some deliveries outside the line of the off-stump but take nothing away from the Australian bowlers - they were ruthless. So just how does a team bounce back from that hammering? The adversity continued for the Indians as skipper Virat Kohli, arguably the best batsman in the world left to head back to India for the birth of his first child. The tireless and outstanding seamer Shami, who was struck that fierce blow while batting, was not going to be considered for the second test so the odds were stacked against them to survive this second test far less win it.
Kohli did say before he flew out from Australia that he has full confidence in his squad that they will come back stronger than ever in the test and so it proved. Led by stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane, who was absolutely brilliant with the bat but also tactically, was excellent. He knew when to attack, when to defend and was largely proactive in his leadership. Together with some of the senior players like Ravi Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah and Ravindra Jadeja, they carefully plotted the downfall of a very good Australian team.
Most importantly, they made some telling changes to their team from the first test, both enforced and tactical ones. In addition to the experience of Jadeja, they included young 23-year-old hard-hitting wicketkeeper/batsman Rishabh Pant at the expense of Wriddhiman Saha. But the two most telling changes were two youngsters - batsman Shubman Gill instead of the experienced KL Rahul and fast bowler Mohammed Siraj in place of the injured Shami.
Gill, who is poised to be the next great batsman the Indians will produce, did not light up the Australian tour before this test match. He played in the 2 tour matches against Australia A and had scores of 43, 65, 0 and 29.
His only game during the ODIs he scored 33 while Rahul had 2 half-centuries in 6 innings - one in the ODIs and one in his 3 T20 innings. One would have thought that with his experience and his relatively good form, he would be an automatic choice for the second test match. But the Indian selectors took a chance with the youngsters; something I have been clamouring the West Indies selectors to do.
On the other hand, Siraj, whose father passed away a week after the Indian team landed in Australia, was thrown in at the deep end as he only picked up 5 wickets in the two warm-up games against the Aussies A team but he delivered in the test. Despite his emotional pain, he was evidently motivated, bowled fast and swung the ball. How many of you noticed all the while Bumrah kept talking to him and that experience must have helped the young man.
The most notable aspect of this Indian team and their victory was the attitude and character they displayed and it is something coach Phil Simmons has to instil in his charges.
Too often we see a West Indies team in dire straits and the coach asking the players to show some backbone so he needs no other example than this Indian team. With the Bangladesh tour looming and most of the senior players opting out, some younger players will be exposed to judge not only their ability but their mental attitude as one can possess all the ability in the world but if the attitude is not right, then West Indies cricket will continue to head nowhere fast.
The West Indies has much to be hopeful about for ODI and T20 games as the leadership is good. Once the team can balance the experienced players with youngsters, they will be on the right track. I too have a lot of faith in coach Simmons and I believe he is the right man to turn West Indies cricket around but subpar performance must no longer be accepted.
A reader reached out to me and asked what I thought about India being bowled out for 36 and how would I have felt if it were the West Indies? I said to him that it is one of those events in sport that you just cannot explain. It is just like Brazil losing 7-1 to Germany in the semi-final of the 2014 World Cup. Barcelona being hammered 8-2, or even Liverpool losing 7-2. How do you explain those results? What is important is how teams like them bounce back just as India did. With David Warner expected to return for Australia and Rohit Sharma for India in the third test scheduled to start on January 7th (6th January at 7:30 PM T&T time), it should be another cracking display of test cricket.
Before closing, let me offer congratulations to Trinidad and Tobago cricketers Kieron Pollard and Anisa Mohammed who have both been included in the ICC team of the decade. Pollard was selected on the T20 team while Mohammed was selected in the women's ODI team. What an honour for them both and thoroughly deserved as they are two hard-working individuals who thrive on success.
As this is my final column for 2020, allow me to wish you a bright and prosperous New Year and as we say good riddance to 2020, let us look forward to many sporting successes both individually and for the country in 2021. Happy New Year!
The views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of any organisation of which he is a stakeholder.