It was meant to be raining, the game already decided. Instead, the Gabba lay spread open to the dwindling Brisbane sun. The fortress was slowly uncurling its iron-fisted grip over opposition teams as Team India batted aggressively towards a record-breaking total.
Test cricket is a game of noise. Of the delicate chatter of the spread-out crowd. Of the hum; a collective wall of sound constituting of crushing plastic alcohol cups, blowing horns and other instruments, and the varied conversations about the game being played out in the middle. Of the claps that cheer in a striding bowler. Then, the distinctive crunch of their delivery action, and the way they slide on the crease. If you’re lucky, you get the crack of wood on willow, or the delicate flick of an edge.
Australian crowds, and specifically those who fill the Gabba, have a certain noise. Usually the first test of an Australian summer, the Brisbane-ites create a louder and more excited bubble of noise. As the days peter out and their beloved Aussies tend to sail to a comfortable first-up win, the sound subsides into relaxed pleasure. Expectant delight.
As the fifth day continued to push until the last rays of sun crashed onto the horizon, the Gabba noise shifted completely. There was no laid-back barrage of victorious chanting. Tension spread over the field, and focused on the epicentre of a deteriorating pitch.
It was on this strip of earth that, four days previously, David Warner and Marcus Harris ran out to. There was no idea of a rain break, just fresh optimism that Australia would clinch the Border-Gavaskar trophy, and with it the number one test ranking, with an easy win at their fortress. They hadn’t lost at the Gabba since Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of England. It wasn’t expected to change.
The end result shouldn’t come as such a shock for home punters. India did their best to foreshadow their punchy and fighting intentions when they swiftly removed both openers within the first hour of play. The collective test wickets between their bowling attack didn’t surpass twenty; an extreme of their trend that included random bowlers replacing injured stars and weaving webs around Australia’s vaunted batsmen. It was in direct opposition to Australia’s bowlers, who, after sweeping through a Kohli-led India in the first test, got the all clear for the entire series despite their later wilting.
Even when making runs, the home side lacked the air of superiority that normally had them standing straighter in Brisbane. In Sydney it seemed like the travelling party refused to step foot near the Gabba; now, they were embracing the juicy wicket with open arms. Mohammed Siraj let his hair down (in both ways) as the leader of the attack, graduating from new kid on the block to kingpin in a remarkably short amount of time. Their rigid lines and incessant pressure meant Australia never looked comfortable, not even when playing on their beloved Gabba deck.
It was only Marnus Labuschagne who truly rode his luck. His 108 was necessary, but also not close to fluent. Characteristic of his series, Labuschagne adapted his game and tried to actively fight India’s straight-bowling plans. It meant streaky chances were offered and put down. It also ended in another test ton in front of his home crowd. You roll with the punches.
It’s a similar method taken by Rishabh Pant. In Sydney he entered a game-saving, bat-for-a-draw scenario lying in peril, and took the long handle for a whirlwind knock. What it did was inspire a player who thinks differently, who always considers victory. When the situation was replicated in Brisbane, he took the same approach with a slither more patience. This time, he wouldn’t give away his wicket.
But don’t get me too far ahead of this rollercoaster. Labuschagne’s first innings knock seemingly lay the foundations for an Aussie lead. When they also turned around to steadily remove India’s makeshift top five, the sense of superiority reigned supreme over the smaller Brisbane crowd. It took longer than expected, but all was good. Australia were going to win.
That is, until Washington Sundar and Shardul Thakur commenced batting together. Without Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja in those spots, many expected Australia’s bowlers to make easier work of India’s lower orders. If they had paid enough attention to the previous tests, this notion would’ve been scolded. The pair spent an overcast afternoon negating Cummins and co. They also scored at a reasonable pace, and soon both had posted maiden half-centuries.
It was on this evening that the game changed again. Another twist added, an L-bend added into the intricate piping of a test match. Hazlewood may have eventually finished proceedings with a five-wicket haul, but India had drawn to within 33 runs of Australia’s total. They had also taken time out of the game. When tantrum-like storms dumped rain over the Gabba during Australia’s second innings, the partnership appeared to have left the series at a stalemate.
But Brisbane, unaware that its rampant record was still under siege, dismissed its clouds and defied all meteorologists. The home team received enough time to bat on, yet didn’t take the opportunity. Only Smith excelled, posting 55 off only 74 balls. When he fell, so did the intent. Strike rates collapsed, and the all-important run rate returned to the below-par trough it had resided in all series long. Except this time, it was Siraj and his clan of fresh eyed bowlers who were restricting some of the world’s best bats.
Following a period of intense hardship and multi-faceted turmoil (a horrific cocktail of potential crowd abuse and family loss was dumped upon him whilst away), Siraj finally received his crowning moment. A maiden five-wicket haul to savour. One of persistence, passion and brilliance. The emotion was lost on no one; only the Indian selectors weren’t completely rapt by his effort, instead choosing to scratch their heads and begin a pro’s and con’s list on Siraj, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav before they hosted England in February.
But the Gabba test wasn’t solely about celebrating Siraj. Nathan Lyon was in the midst of his 100th test, but was gaining no sympathy. With the match poised for his taking, on a day five pitch that was wearing and crumbling, many presumed Australia still had a chance of atoning for their snail-paced day four efforts and taking the series. India had one final surprise up their sleeve.
The first whack of shock came from Shubman Gill. Alongside Siraj, the 21-year-old was also the major positive from the hospital ward full of injuries India had throughout the series. His innocent approach to whacking cuts and back foot drives off the world’s biggest snarling bowlers had only caused the frowns to deepen for the home side. On the final day of a whirlwind series, Gill twirled his cleanskin bat on the way to one last frustration. His 91 set the tone for the day, and summed up the oozing class that dribbled off his bat every time he classily stroked a boundary.
Gill may have been brilliant, but the real star was Rishabh Pant. Now is the time he enters the narrative, trudging to the crease early in the afternoon. With Pujara channelling his inner wall to withstand nearly ten painful strikes on the arm, ribs and head, Pant benefited from his offering. When one suffers, the other flourishes. It created an awkwardly beautiful partnership – one of contrasts, yet ultimately effective.
Pujara held out long enough to meet the second new ball, where he finally vacated the series courtesy of a feisty Cummins spell. It was this late afternoon where Cummins entered the fray as Australia’s soul fighter in this heavyweight battle. As time passed, runs were amassed and wickets fell, it was Cummins who stood in the way of India meeting the doors of illustrious history. It would take some lusty hitting to break past the spirited Aussie.
Needing around five an over in the final act, it was Pant who controlled the game. Lyon would consistently beat his edge or cause a ball to jut out of the rough, but the young keeper-batsman refused to relinquish his wicket. To say it was Gilchrist or Dhoni like was unfair – this was the sort of innings that makes a name come to life and form its own meaning. It was full of bravery; when Lyon passed his advancing bat, only to spin past Paine too, Pant responded by shimmying down next delivery and slamming all demons of a spinning deck into the emptying Gabba stands.
When Cummins continued to hit wonderful areas with the new ball, Pant didn’t shy away from a hoick to mid-wicket, or a hook shot towards awaiting fielders. It was his brazenness in the heart of Australian cricket that inspired such a win. When Sundar joined in with some wild swings that found boundaries, India received the luck they so richly deserved in the finest of hours. The cricket gods shone upon them, and Pant bunted the winning runs to cause a new sound to erupt over the Gabba.
Gone was the hearty cheers of drunk middle-aged Aussie men. Balding, beer gut flopping out of t-shirts while they chided at the opposition for even daring to take on their team at the Gabba. Instead, the passion of India’s supporters rose the decibel levels. It wasn’t a ring of expectation, but a concentrated shriek of anxiety, fear, hurt and silent hope being released after a long few months.
Australia may have been left reeling, but Team India had gone through hell and back to produce their finest moment in test history. And by their reactions, it was all worthwhile to experience that evening at the Gabba, where they came, saw and conquered. The record had been broken, and it felt right; a mammoth effort had done it. Now, India could leave with a section of Australia’s soul, and put it on display in front of their proud nation.
Well done India – you deserve this one.
From, an Australian cricket fan in awe.
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