There was a moment in the game when either team could have opted to play for keeps. Ironically the team that was accused of being boring and of not pushing for a win made the impossible possible.
Team India’s astounding win in the dying moments of the fifth and final day of the fourth Border-Gavaskar Trophy was not only phenomenally but also, noteworthy from the point of proving a point. After all, while India batted away hours and deliveries to fashion a draw that Australia were not expecting – hence, their poor behaviour, the myth that they lacked the intent was done away with this shocking victory.
The grim faces of the Australian cricket team at the end of the match told the story. They had clearly not banked on India pushing for a win, even when at lunch, India were only one down. Perhaps lulled into a false sense of security after the manner in which the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara and Hanuma Vihari and even Ravichandran Ashwin were accused of slowing down the game and not really showing intent while they pushed back against the Australia’s misplaced aggression at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
This was a pile on the pressure for Australia. Not only could they not stop India from standing their ground in Sydney, they were given a rude awakening as India sprinted in the final overs to show the fallacy of Australia to not show enough intent or aggression to pick up the wickets to create problems for team India.
Tim Paine went from being a poor spectacle in the third Test in Sydney to being exposed in the fourth Test with many accusing him of playing defensive tactics instead of putting India under pressure like in Sydney to push for a draw. Australia seemed the outright favourites to win the match, anticipating weather on the fifth day and also, India’s daunting task of having to bat out the overs of a day back-to-back after their Sydney Houdini act which would have had an effect of attrition on the team India, injuries notwithstanding.
It could be argued that this match was Australia’s for the taking. But where they did falter was not showing enough intent and perhaps settling into a complacency thinking India would cave. Instead, the bats that spoke all morning, in defence and score making, were quietly building on the intent the stand-in Indian captain, Ajinkya Rahane, spoke about which was keeping wickets in hand, keeping the runs on the scoreboard and not looking to pump up the pressure until within touching distance. A sublime approach from a sublime cricketer. And it paid dividends.
Instead, India’s intent was all too evident, not losing wickets, holding on and then cashing in when there were runs for the taking. The positive intent from Shubman Gill and Rishabh Pant and the dogged the resistance of Pujara and Rahane and others ensured that India were constantly playing the balancing act of pushing and standing their turf, confusing the Australian wolf pack and not being prepared, defensive as they were though they were in the position for a win if any, were mute spectators when India took the hard work of the morning, the steady ticking of the scoreboard and the wickets in hand to the bank to cash in on their hard work.
Australia should have been buoyed and keen to preserve their proud 32-year history. Yet the intent from the other team told its own story, and thus were allowed to rewrite history on their own terms.