THE best Test Series I have seen ….

Have been watching Cricket judiciously since 1984. I cannot recall feeling more happy or elated during any series over the past 36 years. The series win in 2018-19 (Australia) had brought tears to my eyes (No kidding!). But this, man, it is surreal! On Dec 19th, 2020 (Saturday), which Indian fan would have thought the series would end like this? Not me, definitely. Recency effect is there, but still, I would say that this is the best Test series I have ever seen (or followed). So many ups and downs. Australians tried their best, for sure. But it was all “heart” and “fight” from India. Led by a calm Captain, who has taken stoical look to another level (from MS Dhoni). He was looking as if he was watching his kid play in the park, when the crazy last 1hr was going on. In terms of: (1) Tension and drama (2) Spread-out performances (Pujara was a clear standout in 2018-19, for e.g.) (3) End result (India wins 2-1) (4) Shifting momentum by the day and many a times, by the session (5) The turnaround by India (From “36”) (6) The closeness of the overall series (When the last 1hr started, all 3 results were still possible!)

When India won in Australia in 2018-19, one of the asterisks was that Steve Smith and David Warner (their top 2 batsmen) were not there. What about now? We are talking about a full-strength Australian team. In 2018-19, India became the 1st Asian team to win a Test series in Australia. Now, India has done it twice. Please note how Australia had thrashed Pakistan and New Zealand (World’s No:1 Test team) in Australia recently.

As those who read my posts through the day must have noticed, Draw was the goal I was thinking of (Because, considering the circumstances, it would have been a “Win” to retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy). Obviously, Pant and Sundar thought otherwise. I am of course very glad they did, but even if we went through it again, I am not sure I would have picked “Go for Win” (as a fan). I personally prefer “1-1” to “Try for 2-1 and lose 1-2”. Conservative, huh?

These are the aspects India had to overcome:

#Brisbane: This is Brisbane we are talking about! “Australian Fortress”. Remember Paine’s sledge to Ashwin @Sydney: “Can’t wait to see you at Gabba” 😊 India’s best performance so far in Brisbane has been a draw. Every other game has been a loss. It is unbelievable that India has won the series at Gabba.

#Full-strength Australian team: The only slightly amiss item for Aussies was that Warner was not 100%. Other than that, it was a full-strength Australian team. Smith, Warner, Labuschagne, Cummins, Hazelwood, Starc, Lyon Etc.

#Short-pitch barrage from a fearsome fast bowling unit: The shortest of them, Pat Cummins, is 6’4”! Josh and Mitchell are 6’5”-6’6”. If anyone is physically equipped to throw down a bouncer barrage, it is them.

#The BEST bowling lineup in the World: Cummins (No:1), Hazelwood (No:5) and Starc (No:8) is one fearsome bowling attack. Throw in Nathan Lyon (No:18), they are formidable. In comparison, India’s highest ranked bowler is Ashwin (No:9). Bumrah is No:10. And they did not play.

#Home advantage for Australia: This is their conditions! Their backyard! Talk about a steal …

#2nd-string Indian team: From India’s primary Test team, India did not have: Kohli, Bumrah, Shami, Ishant, Vihari & Ashwin. 6 players!

Quick word about the Top Performers on Day-5:

Rishabh Pant: He is crazy! He singlehandedly caused heart flutters all over India. A performance no Indian Cricket fan will ever forget. Honored to have followed it live. When it comes off, it looks all great. But some of his wild shots could have been curbed a bit (“match awareness”), IMO. Could have chosen slightly less riskier options, considering the ultra-thin batting after him. Still, overall, a great performance. Now it is up to the selectors to build his confidence. I hope the selectors tell him: “Rishabh, you have proven to us that you have something which cannot be taught. Guts! You will be our go-to keeper, in India and overseas, unless you start giving a long series of poor performances. Do not worry about your place in the team”. WHY? Because he is still only 23! Give him training support (Camps with Ian Healy? Mark Boucher?) and let him be. Like with Pujara, BCCI and fans should leave him alone. He is what he is. Take it or leave it. I say, “Take it!”. Let us forget Saha, who is 36 and is a “walking injury” and is way inferior in batting (w.r.t. Pant). Pant has to be handled delicately. Kohli’s chop-and-change policy will kill Pant’s confidence.

Pat Cummins: What a bowler! Charging in over after over … He bowled 24 overs (!!!) at extreme pace today. In every over, he had at least 2-3 balls which threatened a “Wicket” or a “Retired Hurt”. No wonder he is World No:1.

Shubman Gill: As Ian Bishop famously said about Carlos Brathwaite (T20 World Cup Finals, 2016), “Remember the name … Carlos”, let us remember the name Shubman Gill. It was clear to every Cricket fan that Gill’s talents were a super fit for Test Cricket. And so it has been proven, in very tough circumstances, against the best bowling one can face nowadays. Now, will BCCI and Indian Management handle him with care? Let us wait and see. His 91 was just beautiful to watch. His backfoot punch is majestic! What a pity he missed out on a 100.

Cheteshwar Pujara: What can one say? He did not score 56. He scored a double-century (balls) and triple-century (minutes). His dour defense allowed the stroke-players (Gill, Rahane & Pant) to bat around him without excessive fear of a loss. Amongst all the euphoria, let us not forget the fact that several times Pant was inches away from getting out (E.g. Paine stumping chance). We all would have been singing a different tune if India had lost. Pujara, as usual, was a solid rock. Like, Pant, he is what he is. He is a very valuable commodity in Indian Test Team. Whenever BCCI or Indian Management or Indian fans have tried to “change” a player, they have ended up confusing the player and making him lose the aspect that made him good in the 1st place. Not everyone need to bat like a Kohli or Gill. Test Cricket also needs batsmen whom bowlers fear, not for their strokes, for how tough they are to get out. With Tests nowadays barely going over 3 days (let alone 4), it is not like Pujara is wasting unavailable time. He tires out bowlers and allow others (and himself, later on in most of his innings) to make merry. Pujara provides a nice complement to a batting line-up filled with strokeplayers. He is also an excellent slip fielder, by the way. We should leave him alone, I think. Let him be. I must admit, I too get frustrated with his slowness sometimes, but good or bad, that is who he is. It is up to BCCI and selectors to decide if he is deemed valuable to the Indian Test Team or not. (Hint: He will be one of the 1st guys picked in Indian Test Team).

(Mayank Agarwal, who had a shining 2018-19 tour to Australia, batted like a cat on a hot tin roof. He looked like getting out almost every single ball. Has totally lost his confidence. What a pity)

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