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India’s brave fight to save a draw in the Sydney Test after an equally impressive win in Melbourne was a triumph of mental strength comparable to the technical prowess of one of the stars on the SCG field.
And seasoned cricket journalist Robert Crash Craddock believes the visitors’ remarkable display is unparalleled in recent Australia history, calling the Indian side the mentally strongest team he has seen on our shores.
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Robert Crash Craddock told me Fox Crickets Follow-On podcast: I have to say this Indian team is probably the mentally toughest team I’ve ever seen come to Australia.
Because they have lost almost an entire team, they have lost eight players, they have lost all three throws, their captains have gone home, they have injured players in the game, broken bones, tense muscles.
To drive that and produce the feat they did in Sydney, frankly, if Melbourne was their biggest offshore win I think Sydney was their biggest offshore draw.
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Behind the mental toughness lies the role of the Indian Premier League, according to Craddock. He argues that the nation is finally reaping the benefits of bringing in experienced stars from other countries to guide the development of Indian youth more than a decade after the competition was established.
I think India has redefined itself as a cricket country, Craddock said. It’s their mindset.
In 2008, when the IPL started, we all said India will grow this generation of players who are used to sitting on the bus with AB de Villiers, and Glenn McGrath and Faf du Plessis, and they will learn from them; and it took me a while to get through, but you can see.
They are not afraid of anyone. They look Australia in the eye and stare down. They play the ball and not the man, and I like that about them.
You can’t scare them and in some ways that’s even more intimidating than Virat Kohli’s swaggering Ajinkya Rahane’s quiet confidence, of Ravi Ashwin, of any number of fighters on that team.
Rahane was a kind of revelation in this series, with his captain and leadership in the absence of Kohlis, who garnered widespread praise in India and from the global cricket community.
But as the Australians and Tim Paine in particular became increasingly aggressive in their sledge and stance on the field as the Sydney Test climaxed, the Indians were almost always an image of calm focus.
Craddock believes the mentality troubled Australians even more than if the Indians were as brash as the hosts.
I always thought if you were going to beat Australia in Australia you would always need a John McEnroe as captain, a real Virat Kohli, a (Faf) du Plessis, a Graeme Smith, a Douglas Jardine, a Ray Illingworth who was a little Australian in their mannerisms, kind of a puffer on the chest, kind of a thing from my gun.
But how wrong I was. They don’t have McEnroe, they have Bjrn Borg, the icy Rahane. He’s intimidating because you don’t know what he’s thinking.
In short, Sydney was a triumph of serenity over swagger, Craddock said.
That serenity is epitomized by Jasprit Bumrah, who has had to watch his teammates drop crucial catches so many times this series, only to see how far too often his fantastic bowling goes unrewarded.
He and the whole team have picked themselves up after every setback, kept fighting and did so with a smile.
Craddock says: They are different from any teams I have seen coming to Australia. I know the story; when teams go up against Australia they go out, they don’t come back. You do not recover with an Australian team, because you launch players with broken limbs.
It’s just unbelievable. I have to give them 11/10, they are quite remarkable.