19/04/2024

Team India celebrates retaining the Border - Gavaskar Trophy after a famous victory at the Gabba. Image Source: cricket.com.au

It was only fitting that a Test Series that gripped us right from ball one went right down to the last 20 minutes of the final day of the series. With so many twists and turns and battered bodies along the way. And in a game they had no right to even get close in at the start of play on Day 1, it was  India who emerged on top with a very special piece of Cricket history. Winning and retaining the Border – Gavaskar Trophy for the third time in a row.

The celebrations will be sweet. The post mortems will be fierce. The Inner Sanctum looks at the Top 6 talking points to emerge from another crazy 5 days at the Gabba.

India’s patchwork XI shines:

Only 2 players played all 4 tests. 20 players used overall. 3 of them weren’t even selected in the Test squad to come over here in the first place. It was the most unlikely Test XI you could have imagined from this Indian team when the sheet was submitted at the toss on Friday.

Yet, much like they have all series, this gritty Indian team took the fight right up to their Australian opponents as they continued to land blows all the way through, as they have all series. 

The batting lineup remained somewhat intact with Gill, Pujara, Sharma, Rahane, and Pant holding the fort in the top order. The musical chairs and performance of the ever-changing bowling attack that has been the story of this final Test match. Just 4 Test matches and 13 wickets of experience between the 5 Indian bowlers picked with Mohamed Siraj, a 3 test veteran himself leading the attack of Navdeep Saini, Shardul Thakur, T Natarajan, and Washington Sundar.

After wickets with the ball in the first innings, the combination of Washington Sundar and Shardul Thakur, one on debut and one in his second test match, got India back in the game with their efforts with the bat, with a partnership of 123 frustrating the Australian bowlers as they managed to whittle the first-innings deficit down to 33 when a massive lead for the Australians was on the cards.

Then as Warner and Harris threatened to take the game away from the tourists, they struck back by taking wickets, thwarting any real big push by the Australians for quick declaration runs.

For a touring team that has been battered, bruised, homesick and isolated, with a selected team that was the furthest thing from they thought they would be picking at the start of the tour. It speaks to the depth, talent, and remarkable system that has been built in Indian Cricket.

Rishabh Pant raises his bat in celebration as a despondent Josh Hazelwood looks on. Image Source: cricket.com.au

Fortress Gabba breached as India create history:

Following its historic collapse of 36 a mere 31 days prior in Adelaide and an injury list seemingly getting longer by the day, not many would have predicted India to bounce back in such an emphatic fashion as it did. 

Undoubtedly buoyed by its ability to salvage a famous Test draw in Sydney, though traveling to the ‘Gabba, a venue at which Australia had not lost since 1988, and missing four of its first-choice players due to injury, India headed into the match as clear underdogs.

But in the end, the title of underdog didn’t matter, India romping home on the final day off the back of knocks of 91 from opener Shubman Gill and 89* from ‘keeper-batsman Rishabh Pant to chase 328 in the fourth innings and seal a series victory. The victory highlighted the resilience and mettle of the Indian squad, which despite the inexperience and injury issues, and under no expectations to perform, delivered in spades to win the final Test of the series and secure the most famous of test match and series victories.

Australian Quicks sucked in short: 

In many ways, the Australian fast bowlers’ performance in the first innings at the ‘Gabba was a carbon copy of their efforts in the second innings of the previous Test. Having restricted India to 6/186 in its first innings with the top six batsmen all dismissed, the trio of quicks would have been confident of their ability to wrap the innings up quickly. However, it was the unlikely partnership of debutant Washington Sundar and comparative one-game veteran Shardul Thakur with the bat that put the Aussie quicks to the sword, adding 123 runs for the seventh wicket to strengthen the tourists’ first-innings total. 

Similar to the third Test in Sydney, where the Aussie bowlers failed to break the sixth-wicket partnership of the battle-wounded Hanuma Vihari and Ravichandran Ashwin, the bowlers’ lack of ability to break the partnership relinquished a strong position for the hosts, and in retrospect, enabled a match-winning performance.

it takes something special to break the wall:

Cheteshwar Pujara has been a thorn in many opposition sides. Not less again being the itch that continues to linger around and irritate the Australian bowlers. 

In 2018/19 Pujara occupied 1,258 deliveries as he scored big hundreds and ground the Australian bowlers into the dirt. While he didn’t make the big centuries as he did the last tour, he still faced 928 deliveries and despite a sluggish start, proved an immovable force for the Australian bowlers to dismiss as the series wore on.

While the Australian bowlers did manage to claim his wicket twice in all 4 Test matches, it took an absolute gem of a delivery to do so on each occasion. While India has and used their strike weapons and stroke players with the bat, the temperament that Pujara continues to exude on the Test arena is the perfect tonic for this Indian team.

As he batted away on the fith day through the sessions and through the barrages of short balls. Getting pinned on the crease and hit all over his body. All in the name of winning a test match for his country and allowing his teammates to get the team over the line after laying the foundation himself.

Rishabh Pant couldn’t do what he does what he did at both the SCG and the Gabba without the patience and watchfulness of Pujara and India don’t get the chance to bunker down for a draw or to go for the win if Pujara doesn’t play the way he plays. As much as white-ball cricket may slowly infiltrate test cricket, there is still a place for old school test match batting and playing each ball on its merits.

Siraj cements his place:

Opposition teams and players come on test tours to Australia wanting to enhance their reputations and standing in not only Australia but World Cricket. Mohamed Siraj has done just that on his first tour Down Under. Overcoming much adversity off the field, to come into the lineup after the humiliation in Adelaide and lead the wicket-takers tally for the tourists.

A veteran of just 3 test matches and tasked with the job of leading the most inexperienced attack on Australia’s happy hunting ground. It was an almighty challenge but just like every step up he has faced this summer, he has handled it with aplomb. 

From spare bowler on tour to the leader of the attack, was duly rewarded with his maiden 5 wicket haul in the second innings, this first of many in what will be a long test career.

What now for Matthew Wade and the middle order?:

Retained in favor of Travis Head following the second Test, Matthew Wade seems to have given the selectors more headaches than he’s alleviated. Given the nod over the South Australian due to his seniority to high-level cricket, as well as his temperament, Wade showed minimal signs of these characteristics in his four middle-order hits. 

Rash decision-making and unnecessary strokeplay saw the end of Wade in the first innings of the fourth Test, throwing away a solid start which saw him reach 45 on a batting-friendly pitch. Similarly, Wade’s dismissal in Australia’s second innings, getting strangled chasing a ball down the leg side, falling for a duck while each of the other top eight batsmen reached or passed 25, Wade had no impact on the innings with Australia looking to build an unassailable lead. 

Having been retained for his ability to convert solid starts, but failing to have an impact when needed, it appears that selecting Wade over Travis Head was not the right call. With Australia needing to win its upcoming Test series against South Africa to reach the World Test Championship Final, do the selectors opt for Wade’s experience over Head again? Or does his lack of impact when it mattered on home soil seal his fate? Based on his recent performances, many would suggest that Wade’s days in Test cricket are now numbered.

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