“No longer the Gabbatoir. This is history.”
Harsha Bhogle’s tweet, minutes after the 4th Test of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy at the Sydney Cricket Ground in Australia, was a crisp summary of an exhilarating game. India completed a monumental victory, chasing 328 to notch up a second successive 2-1 series victory in Australia. The total was their third-highest fourth-innings chase in Test history and Australia’s first loss at the Gabba in 32 years.
It was also only the second time a team from the subcontinent secured a Test series win in Australia in cricketing history after India itself in 2018/19.
But for just a second, disregard the attractive numbers. Throw the records and the famous victory out of your mind. When you do, you will realize that underneath it all is one man who deserves all the credit in the world for making our dreams a reality.
Rahul Dravid wasn’t with the Indian team at the Gabba, but he was well and truly the ‘Wall’ that offered resistance when the ground shook and darkness seemed to engulf the sky.
Dravid was an enigma on the field. He was the ultimate team player. He had the safest pair of hands, the sleekest pair of wrists, and was a technician beyond comparison. Often overshadowed by the Sachins and the Dhonis, Dravid’s exemplary skill was only overshadowed by his ability to thrive in the most testing situations. He retired without much fanfare, a testament to his simple approach to cricket: giving everything for the team, and maintaining individual dignity and integrity.
When Dravid returned to the Indian cricket fold in 2016 in a coaching capacity, few would have been more jubilant than the thousands of cricket fans across the country. The move payed rewards; under his astute leadership, the Indian under-19 and India 'A' sides flourished. Apart from bringing home the 2018 U-19 World Cup, the squads also saw numerous players with immense quality being earmarked as the future of the national team.
We need to look no further now for that ‘future’. The confirmation of India’s success in Australia on January 19, 2021 saw many of these individuals play-defining roles in an elaborate, four-act play on one of the world’s most difficult stages.
Rishabh Pant, who played for India’s U-19 side at the 2016 World Cup, looked as close as he’s ever been to fulfilling his humongous potential. He ended the series as the third highest run-scorer, despite batting in just five innings. Shubman Gill, vice-captain of the 2018 U-19 WC winning side, restored some stability at the top of the order. The 21-year-old scored a fluent and mature 91 on the final day of the series to help clinch the trophy.
From the India ‘A’ fold, Washington Sundar and Shardul Thakur thrived with both bat and ball, first to bring India back into the fourth Test and then to help them win it. Mohammad Siraj shouldered the responsibility of spearheading a depleted attack against an experienced and extensive Australian batting line-up.
Among the senior players, Hanuma Vihari, India A’s current limited-overs captain, largely underwhelmed, but battled on with a hamstring injury and Dravid-esque determination to save the 3rd Test and keep India in contention for the series. Cheteshwar Pujara, who has never shied away from the influence of the ‘Wall’ on his playing style, played a starring role once again, tiring the Australian quicks out, with the sheer aggregate of time he spent at the crease.
Like no previous encounter
The 2020-21 Border-Gavaskar Trophy was like no other previous encounter between the sides. Yet, in a year compounded with misery due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the anticipation and obstacles that accompany any India-Australia series offered signs of a return to normalcy.
The Indian team faced a barrage of these roadblocks: critics who wrote them off three days into the series, a humiliating defeat that questioned their cricketing ability, a team beleaguered by COVID-19 and injuries and the ugliest of all – racial abuse. But this is an Indian side that swam against the tide, fuelled itself through adversity and displayed spectacular grit and resilience to defy the odds.
If the Test series was a purely psychological contest, Indian fans would celebrate a whitewash. It is only fitting then, that we attribute this success to the man who normalized the importance of patience and resilience in 21st century Test cricket.
A whirlwind month of cricket, that spilled over into a new year, has seen India transition into a new era in its cricketing history. For this important step in the right direction, a massive amount of credit must go to the incredible mentorship of burning potential carried out by Rahul Dravid, the unsung hero who breathed life into the shadows.