As the first month of the New Year unwinds, cricket will already be able to look back on 2021 and count India’s tour of Australia an extraordinary testament of how the game can co-exist across formats. Even as another appetizing challenge in the form of Joe Root and England presents itself before India, this time at home, the worthy recall holds merit as it is also the season for the IPL auctions.
India walked away tall and proud of what was expected to be a tough tour down under. Written off after the shock defeat in the Adelaide Test bowled out for thirty-six runs, the criticism could have well been that Indian cricketers had gone into full-blown Twenty20 mode. After all the Indian Premier League season 13 was the only game worthy of an international stature that the Indian cricketers had played before arriving in Australia since the lockdowns in March.
Instead, India showed a clinical finish to the task in Melbourne and still headed into Sydney as the underdogs. But the tag would gain a little more leeway with India showing extraordinary wherewithal to see off time and runs in a match that Australia though they had in a bag.
Australia certainly did not anticipate India to last more than three sessions, especially on the final day. Some of the Australian cricketers even lamented on the pitch’s lack of deterioration. Irrespective of the conditions, India had a job on their hands and after their shock second innings in Adelaide, and chasing over 400 runs, the Twenty20 ghost might have well stayed with them.
But it was not just the expected Cheteshwar Pujara’s wall-like display but the resoluteness that ran through the rank and file that made the draw more absorbing and praiseworthy. Test cricket’s range was on display as Australia went from being firm favourites in the age of Twenty20 to being mere spectators as India showed that even in this modern era, the idea of batting for time is not lost, even when the odds are heavily stacked against them.
Sydney left a few detractors terming the game boring while the overwhelming majority of cricket lovers appreciated the stellar effort of the Indian team to keep fighting and holding off a frustrated Australia even as the list of injuries grew on them.
If Test cricket’s enhanced image was on display in the New Year, the practice of playing Twenty20 over the past decade came to play a role as Rishabh Pant, in particular, switched gears in the final session to bring victory home for India. Even by pure Test cricket batting standards, this would have been a stretch without the Twenty20 thinking and execution coming into play, if India were to prove that their last tour series win was not just a one-off success.
That Pant showed both endurance and aggression, in pacing the innings and timing his onslaught to perfection, he has shown a rare combination of someone who has been traditionally confined to the long format of the game and yet has been able to play the short game to perfection.
Not a few players will have already made themselves hard to ignore for their franchisees and the tease for others as the month of February will see the eager anticipation of cricketers and the strategizing of franchisees as another Twenty20 season of IPL presents itself.
This was of course not Pant’s alone but certainly one of an ability for a team to adapt. India’s range became evident as also, their mettle. Even more importantly, their efforts have kept alive the belief that cricket can only stand to benefit from sustaining all formats of the game.