Mutiny in the Freedom Trophy
The man had raised his hand. The hand instructed, rather demanded, endurance from another man whom he had not selected in the first two Tests. The hand symbolized patience. It symbolized calmness. It symbolized survival. It symbolized everything the man is not primarily known for. The man was Virat Kohli.
Kohli had just lost the series as a captain in a long time. He was staring at a whitewash. He was fighting to salvage the pride. This was his chance. This was a war. The first to flinch would die. He was not going to flinch. He could not afford to flinch. He didn't. Not when it was clear that he was dealt a bad pitch or when he was denied few crucial overs at the end of third day’s play. Not when his team-mates were taking the blows to the body. And certainly not when it looked like Elgar and Amla would take the match away. He was leading a mutiny. He wasn't bothered about casualties.
He was laughing. He had just scored his first run after 53 deliveries. His last two attempts at a run were disasters. He was surviving. He was protecting the team-mates. He was taking the blows on their behalf. His first full-blown drive had come after facing 160 deliveries. He had faced almost 40% of his team’s deliveries in the first innings. He was not saving a Test match. He was setting it up. On the fourth evening, he was laughing again. He had won. He was Cheteshwar Pujara.
Pujara was ridiculed for not showing the intent. He was ridiculed for the brain-fade run outs. When this was not enough, he was thrown his away stats at his face. But he had the bigger picture in mind. He knew the true meaning of intent. He had the last laugh.
He roared. His roar is second only to that of Kohli. Amla had fallen. India had an opening. It was increasingly becoming hard to see this happening. But then it happened. It happened to a guy who was awake when the daemons in the pitch were sleeping. He was putting himself to work when everyone else was expecting the pitch to work for them. He was not ready to give an inch when others were erring in yards. And then he struck to initiate a mighty collapse. He was Ishant Sharma.
Unlike his world-class action, Ishant’s stats are abysmal. He is a rare breed indeed. At Johannesburg though, he was bowling his best version at the time when the pitch had ceased to be helpful. He was prodding and beating the batsmen incessantly at under 2 runs per over. Once the breakthrough was made, he cleared the way for others to complete the procession. His roar will be remembered and so will be his selfless service.
He was hit on the elbow. He was hurried by a quicker one that bounced a little too much. He did not so much as shrugged. He did not show any pain. He gently signalled to physio – to stay put. And then he continued the pursuit of what he is born for – to win test matches for India. He was Ajinkya Rahane.
This was a tough innings for Rahane. He was selected after somebody had failed. He was not the first choice. It must have stung. After all, he was the major architect of the famous Lord’s victory - India's last notable overseas success. He could have made this about himself. Only he didn’t. This was not about him. There was a Test to be won. And win he did.
He is unassuming. He is gritty. He is a work-horse. He bowls, he bats, and he fields. He does everything nonchalantly. He knows his limitations but isn’t bound by them. No one calls him an all-rounder and yet his impact on the match is no less. He scored more than every Indian except Kohli at Johannesburg. His series average is as good as Amla - at Home. Critics would call him a bowler who can bat. And bat he does. He is Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
This was a win in a dead rubber. Let's not lose the sight of that. South Africa have the series and rightly so. But this win symbolizes much more. It scrapes a few labels put on Indian Cricket. This team was supposed to be a pushover who crumbles at the first opportunity. This team was not supposed to take 20 wickets without a spinner. It was ill-equipped to play the conditions they were presented with. And it had little history of bouncing back when already down and out in a Test series. But this team did all this. It revolted. It fought back. It salvaged the pride.
This will be remembered. India has delivered its first blow. Can they go for the kill in the ODIs?