Now that the dust is beginning to settle on Team India’s famous win Down Under, it is a good time to sit back and reflect and pick out the unlikely heroes who made the unlikely triumph possible.
When Team India lost the first Test in Adelaide on the back of one forgettable session, almost every critic wrote the team off. After all, regular Team India skipper Virat Kohli was heading back to India on paternity leave for the birth of his first child.
Mohammed Shami, one of Team India’s trump cards with the ball, was also ruled out of the series with a painful injury. And with, Ajinkya Rahane, who was to take charge of the team, battling his indifferent form, it did not help that he had run out his well-set skipper in the first Test.
In that backdrop, things couldn’t have gotten any worse for Team India after the debacle in the first Test. They were cornered, humiliated and crushed. The positive? Team India could only look upwards from the deep hole they had dug themselves into. This was the typical underdog story in the making. But could Team India rise like a phoenix from the ashes?
In hindsight, the first thing the visitors did right after the Adelaide debacle was to pick men they believed could do the job, irrespective of their experience and form. So in came the better batsman Rishabh Pant in place of the better wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha.
With Shami out, India placed their faith in debutant Mohammed Siraj, who was still coming to grips with the loss of his father at the start of the tour. With Prithvi Shaw's lack of foot movement brutally exposed by the Australian bowlers, Team India decided it was time to explore the next best option - Shubman Gill.
Unlikely heroes emerge from the shadows for Team India
During the remainder of the 2020-21 Border-Gavaskar series, a number of unlikely heroes - most of them debutants - emerged to play a significant role in Team India's stunning series win. Let us have a look at a few of them.
The ‘Pant’ that paid off
Bringing in Rishabh Pant came with its own risks. He was never going to be 'safe' behind the stumps. However, Team India were willing to take the punt on the explosive left-hander, looking at the bigger picture.
Pant hadn’t been in great form going into the Border-Gavaskar Trophy although he did blast a hundred in a practice game. He was clearly chosen as the back-up keeper, which is why Wriddhiman Saha took the gloves in Adelaide. By the time India arrived in Melbourne, they were clear they required Pant - the batsman -ahead of Saha - the keeper.
It could have all gone horribly wrong. But the move paid off spectacularly and was perceived as a masterstroke. Despite missing out on the first Test, the maverick 'Spiderman-singing' wicketkeeper-batsman ended the series as Team India’s leading run-getter, scoring 274 runs. with two fifties. at an average of 68.50.
Beyond the numbers, it was Pant’s ‘in-your-face’ attitude that immensely benefited Team India. He nearly pulled off an unlikely win for Team India at the SCG, scoring a brazen 97, before taking the visitors over the line with an equally audacious unbeaten 89 at the Gabba where he also scored the winning runs.
Whatever the 23-year-old Pant does from hereon, his place in Indian cricket folklore is already secure. For all the trolling and criticism he has received, Pant proved he has one more quality beyond raw talent - the stomach for a fight against the very best.
Gill and his will
He may be just 21, but Shubman Gill has been around Indian cricket for a while. Following a memorable U-19 World Cup campaign in 2018, where he was the Man of the Tournament for scoring 372 runs, Gill made his much-awaited Team India debut in an ODI in Hamilton in January 2019.
In an ironic twist of fate, he would end up replacing his 2018 U-19 World Cup captain Prithvi Shaw in the MCG Test. Undaunted by the big stage, Gill scored a confident 45, giving Team India the confidence that they have uncovered someone for the long haul.
By the time he arrived at the Gabba, after notching his maiden Test fifty at the SCG, Gill was quietly confident of taking the next step. He did so with a sublime knock that put Australia on the backfoot on a Day-5 pitch, despite the hosts having a bagful of runs to defend on a supposedly wearing track.
Team India had lost Rohit Sharma early in the chase, and Cheteshwar Pujara was not expected to take on the Australian bowling, as he had a different role to play. With runs only coming from one end, one bad shot from Gill could have turned the tide and forced the visitors to prematurely shut up shop.
However, just like Pant, the risk with Gill paid off well. His defiant 91 laid the foundation for Team India’s historic chase at the Gabba. Although he missed out on a richly-deserving hundred, Pant finished off what Gill had started. That was some teamwork!
The sensation named Siraj
It is a tearjerker of a story. Son of an auto driver, who won a hefty IPL contract and subsequently made it to the Indian team!
After getting selected for the Australia Tests, he lost his father at the very start of the Australia tour but opted to stay back. Although there was no guarantee he would play in any of the Tests, Siraj decided to remain in Australia to try and fulfill his late father’s dream.
An opportunity came knocking when Shami was ruled out of the series after the first Test. Keeping his emotions aside, Siraj needed to live up to expectations, and he made an impact right away at the MCG.
With support from fellow debutant Gill, Siraj scalped top-scorer Marnus Labuschagne for his maiden Test scalp, and there was no looking back from there. The 26-year-old then trapped Cameron Green leg before wicket with a brilliant delivery that nipped back in.
Beyond all the hardwork and resolve, there was some serious talent as well. Having demonstrated his mettle, Siraj’s second-innings show of 3 for 37 surprised few, as he helped set up Team India’s famous Boxing Day counter-punch.
After playing a support act at the SCG, the two-Test old Siraj was suddenly thrust into a leadership role at the Gabba. With both Jasprit Bumrah and Ravichandran Ashwin ruled out, Siraj was the most experienced bowler in a five-pronged bowling attack comprising two debutants.
A person’s trait is best tested when he is thrown in at the deep end. Siraj responded by bringing out his A-game against the very best. The unplayable deliveries he bowled to dismiss Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne, Australia’s two best batsmen in the series, would have made Bumrah and Shami proud.
The five-for at the Gabba was like a fairytale waiting in the wings. Despite Siraj’s heroics, Team India still faced a herculean task if they were to breach Australia’s Gabba fortress, where the hosts hadn't lost a Test since 1988.
However, after experiencing so much turmoil on the tour - from the Adelaide debacle, to racism, to walking out ‘wounded’ but somehow alive from the SCG - nothing seemed impossible and daunting for Team India.
As one meme perfectly encapsulated the enthralling Test series, Team India remained Ajinkya (invincible) despite all the trials and tribulations while Australia, in spite of possessing the best bowling attack and two of the finest modern-day Test batsmen, ended up in extreme ‘Pain’e.