1–1. To the Gabba. What further damage could this abattoir inflict on a team that has more fallen bodies than left standing. A 2–1 loss in the series would be honourable and already better than expectations. The last stand from the previous test were gone, so were Boom and Jadeja. In a space of three matches, India had lost its top five bowlers, a first-choice batsman and the captain. The absentee list made a stronger team than the playing XI, which seemed to have been somehow cobbled together, drafting in two debutants and one near debutant. Leader of the attack was a veteran of a whopping two Test matches, all on this tour. Australia were playing with one Green and that was the colour of India’s bowling unit. Beyond the cricket, beyond life itself, I began entertaining philosophical questions about the Ship of Theseus. 9 out of 11 have been replaced. Is it the same team? I didn’t think so. Toss. Shattered mirrors. Smith’s hands failed but the understudy raised his, carrying the Australian innings. And just like clockwork, another bowler tumbled in the innings. Teams usually don’t recover from that and India didn’t seem to either when they lost 6 wickets for half the total with all heroes of ANY past win back in the hut. “Surely, it’s over now. Credit to the team for running Australia close for 17 days”. Yet again, they disagreed. And for the first time, I began enjoying the lively cricket without bothering about the result because this exhilarating show could end any time. While Shardul opened the carnival by hooking the world’s best bowler over the rope and Sundar ended it by swatting Lyon over mid-wicket with a shot that would be more at home in a Tamil action flick than a cricket ground, where the hero lands a perfect punch on the villain, while looking the other way. Tossing a cigarette and catching it with his mouth wouldn’t be out of place for Sundar right after that.
Once again, reality struck and the fireworks ended. For all the jubilation, India were behind in runs and the game, and I don’t believe in momentum. Neither did Australia, it seemed. Batsman after batsman came in, scored and kept taking the game away. The only moments with any sort of amusement were Pant’s cover performance of Spiderman theme song and the umpires warning Thakur for bowling 130 k bouncers at Cummins which were deemed more dangerous than Australia’s 140k+ bodyline bowling to Natarajan or Saini. By the time Siraj claimed his maiden fifer, the ask was a tentative 328 from a day and some. Any more and I’d expect a droll draw, any less and I’d gun for a win. This was no man’s land. The curse of clairvoyance! I knew that they will press on for victory and will lose in the process on a fifth day wicket with a crack so big that the bowlers risked falling into it during the follow through. If I were a believer, I’d pray for rain at this point. Give me a draw. You guys are heroes already, the series is drawn and the trophy secure. The Gods listened and washed out rest of the day with more rain forecasted for the next day.
I woke up the next day expecting to go back to sleep with the day’s play washed out. Wrong again. The forecast cleared overnight. Cats, milk, mirrors, all together now. Rohit departed soon. The fortress joined Gill. Every sane person expected India to be dismissed by Tea. So, rain was prayed for again. But the gods were too busy watching themselves. Pujara blocked everything while Gill continued rebelling against good balls. So audacious was his strokeplay that I expected him to take a paper out upon reaching his half century, sayin, “Yea Modiji, talk nah”, in support of his community, protesting back home. Disappointingly, he celebrated it with a dull raise of the bat. Perhaps he’s keeping it for the ton, I reasoned. We shall never know since he fell agonisingly short. Rahane didn’t last long and for the last time in the series, we again had the perfect batsman in the middle. One half of which was bombarded with bodyline and decided to take the blows on the body rather than hang his bat or gloves out and the other half smashed one for a six right after the previous one turned big and beat him square. Neither were good for the heart. With Pujara, I winced every time the ball found flesh and bone while with Pant, I was anxious every ball as if the PM had declared an address to the nation at 8 PM. Through the ebbs and flows though, they survived. Calm and Chaos. Pain and nervousness.
80 overs done. 20 overs, 100 runs and a new ball. They will score now, I reckoned. Wrong. Pujara fell on only the second delivery. So that’s it now, I reconsidered. The chase has turned into a fight for survival. They will shut shop now, surely? Noohohohoho. They are going for it. They wouldn’t even stop to catch their breath. As Pant scooped one off Lyon behind the keeper, Sundar hooked the best bowler in the world and followed it by slashing him over slips. Pandemonium! And then, with 15 needed, in stead of reducing the risk, Sundar decided to up it and was bowled reverse sweeping. Ghosts of Chennai ’99, Adelaide ’14 began rearing their ugly head. “I just can’t take this anymore, my heart isn’t strong enough”, I complained. Pant, blissfully unaware of my health, or even Chennai 99, I suspect, carried on with the craziness and scoring, barely escaping once.
Another wicket did fall but by then, it was pretty much over. A tired yorker was driven through long off and the maverick closed a fabulous chase. In that moment, every piece of bad luck, every injury and every unconventional tactic came together. A victory of discipline and planning over bad luck, injuries and the world’s best bowling attack. A leg side field with tight lines won over Smith’s hands, discipline won over bodyline and the bold call to chase won over conservative thought. Pant and Pujara won over their critics. On the next tour, Pujara will deadbat a tank traveling at the speed of light with his bat while Pant will smash an apple placed on the bowler’s head, hitting the ball blindfolded, while doing a backflip. For now, I have my answer about that Ship of Theseus and the little one has loads of cricketing fairy tales to go to sleep with.