Thrill & skill, a treat for aficionados
What an incredible Test match concluded at the SCG on Monday! The records will show a draw as well as an incredibly slow crawl from Hanuma Vihari, but the resolve and skill the youngster showed in the face of injury to save his team from a defeat was truly memorable. He may notch big scores in the future, but his vigil on Monday afternoon will always be a special memory for the young man.
Shane Warne tweeted later in the evening that it was ‘The Great Escape’. A fan answered, ‘For whom?’ and while I did laugh at it being a clever line, there were moments in that final day when one did think an Indian win was possible.
My natural inclination is to start with the masterstroke of sending Rishabh Pant in when the third wicket fell. From what followed it seemed like the Australians were surprised by his promotion and the way he played. Pant’s injury in the first innings seemed pretty serious when it took place, and it was great courage from the youngster to come out all guns blazing to launch a counter-attack that surprised the opposition.
Pant is always under a great deal of scrutiny when he plays, which makes his innings all the more special. That partnership was easy on the eye and Pant constructed his innings well, rode his luck with flair and laid the foundation of what might have been an incredible run chase. It was heartbreaking to see him miss out on a century that he deserved, and if he had stayed on for a few more overs, things might have been very different.
From an Australian point of view, getting just three wickets on the final day must be a very disappointing statistic. The ball had kept low on the third day and the general feeling was that the pitch would be very difficult to bat on, on the final day. It’s interesting to note that fewer wickets fell on each day as the match progressed (if one excludes the rain-affected first day). Clearly this is counter to the trajectory of a normal Test match and there must have been something in the pitch that helped it hold firm till the last session of the match. Possibly the rain and moisture on the first day held it together, making it a rather nice surface to bat on during the last two days.
That does not take away, however, from the skill and technique of Pujara and Pant. The former was due in this Test match and it took two incredible balls, particularly the one from Josh Hazlewood in the second innings, to dismiss him.
From the Australian point of view, perhaps a different approach that attacked the wickets in the post-tea session might have reaped richer dividends. The positive for Australia from this Test would be the improved batting performance. Steve Smith, like Pujara, showed that you do not lose class with a couple of indifferent innings. The bowling too was in good form, even though the last day would be disappointing for the bowlers who toiled through the day with hardly anything to show for their efforts.
The sour note that was struck in this Test match was in the form of racial abuse against the Indians. This is something that saddens every cricket lover, and it is upsetting when a handful of misguided individuals give a whole city a bad name. This Indian cricket team has a lot of goodwill and their players are very popular in Australia. I hope the incident is the last one we have to witness because cricket has been so high-quality that it is only fair to focus on the Tests.
The series is truly alive as we proceed into the final Test. This was a Test for the true cricket aficionado. Those who don’t normally watch Tests would not be able to grasp the grit and spirit shown by Ravichandran Ashwin and Vihari for 50 overs. It is that fight and resistance that will remain not only with the Indian team but also with those who saw that incredible last day.
This Test was a microcosm for the series so far. The first day or two was all about the Australians, which echoes the Adelaide result. The Indians staged an amazing comeback in the last four sessions like they did in Melbourne, and the parity of the two teams was reflected in the draw at Sydney. As we head to Brisbane, two bruised but spirited sides face off for one last duel.