The best Indian test cricket team ever? That can be discussed. In the 2000s, India had an impregnable batting order with a machine room consisting of two of the four highest test run scorers in history and a duet offense in the top five wicket-takers ever for spinners.
It’s an argument for another day. A better question. Are these tourists Down Under Indias’ toughest team ever? Perhaps this isn’t even worth the talking heads given India’s incredible fight in the four-match test series, which amounts to the Brisbane decider starting Friday.
Plagued by injuries and limited to the challenges of ever-changing bubble protocols, India has raised an inspiring back to the wall in Australia’s difficult terrain. They were utterly humiliated in the first test and embarrassed by counting just 36 in their lowest ever score and then losing Virat Kohli’s talisman for the rest of the series after the captain returned home for the birth of his first child.
Against all odds, India comfortably won the Boxing Day test and then dodged defeat in an all-ages draw in Sydney, made all the more impressive by weathering the ugly specter of crowd racism in the background. India has never been so brave or better.
Can they gather the energy for one last hurray? It will be very difficult, as there are hardly any players left in India. Star-fast Jasprit Bumrah is an unlikely starter, meaning India has no frontline attack, while main all-rounder Ravindra Jaedja has been ruled out.
In addition to the difficulty, an undermanned India will attempt to conjure up the impossible defeat of Australia in its Gabba fort. The hosts haven’t lost a Test there since Kohli was just a few weeks old in 1988 when the then unstoppable West Indies won by 9 wickets.
Overall the Australian Test summer opener, the Brisbane Test is formidable terrain for Australia, enjoying the pace and resilience of the Gabba field. Amid its steamy surroundings and rowdy patriotic backing from the sun-drenched supporters in the stands, Australia traditionally overwhelms under-heated touring teams here.
Part of the Gabba is called the Vulture Street and a nod to an adjacent street, but has an eerie connotation to visitors. Through decades of continued success, Australia hovers ominously over meek opponents here and it always feels like a schedule loss for touring parties. It’s no surprise that Australian players are constantly lobbying their administrators to schedule Gabba tests, even as the ground has aged and dropped in the pecking order.
Perth, who bragged about its beautiful new stadium, competed for this Test, but the wishes of Australian players were granted. There is ongoing unrest amid the COVID-19 pandemic closing borders around Australia, meaning Gabba Tests status was unknown just a few days ago.
But here we are. And the pressure is on Australia, which must win the match to reclaim the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. But they have to do more than that. Maybe an even more difficult task awaits to prove that they are nice.
In the aftermath of the thrilling Sydney final, Australia was widely criticized for reverting to the kind of machoism and bravado that the team chased for its cheating story nearly three years ago.
Captain Tim Paine has one torrent of criticism for his mistreatment on the field of Ravichandran Ashwin, who became an unexpected hero for India on Day 5. The rude remarks were picked up by the television’s straw microphone and covered a poor performance by the wicket-keeper, who was sloppy with the gloves and captain’s imagination.
To his credit, Paine stood before the media the next morning and apologized. For such a pivotal figure in Australia’s turnaround after the Newlands debacle, Paine fell back on the bullying Australian cricketer stereotype through petty insults befitting the schoolyard. Obviously, it was poor judgment for the normally gentle Paine.
With the victory slipping, a frustrated Paine couldn’t help it. What he said was certainly quite tame amid once hallowed crickets line of sleds but was nevertheless unsportsmanlike and most of all brought back memories of the ugly Australian cricketer who is said to have died out from the likes of Paine and coach Justin Langer.
At least it tarnished Paine, who had received a lot of credit for helping Australia become nice again. In many ways, he was the hero of the acclaimed docu-series The Test, which aired in the early stages of the pandemic.
The accumulation of the predictable neighborhoods on social media may have been an exaggeration, but there are no doubt old wounds from the Australian cheat saga, which will take a generation to heal properly. Even a feel-good documentary or cliché slogans aren’t enough to convince those who had the proverbial knife in the back.
It also presented an opportunity for critics and Australia still has enough to sink the boots. And they especially liked Steve Smith, who was again accused of cheating after scratches on the fold during checkout. The former captain was banned for 12 months for his role in the Sandpaper scandal, but quickly regained his status as the world’s best Test batsman.
There is no law against Smith’s actions and it seemed harmless enough due to the maestros’ compulsion for batting practice. Hell famous shadow bat everywhere, whether in his hotel room or, apparently, even at the crease when he’s not hitting.
It was a storm in a teacup, but underscored once again how shaky trust is and that mindless actions can undo regained credibility in an instant.
Again, India and Australia – the most intriguing and blustery match of crickets – have set off fireworks both on and off the field.
Don’t expect a tame ending in Brisbane.
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