"Can't wait to get you to the Gabba, Ash, tell you what… ooh, ooh" are words and calls Tim Paine
surely regrets. They are bound to him, forever a lesson in hubris. He's no bad bloke and this was tame stuff, frankly, but the game has a habit of nailing every step outside its perceived moral parameters.
Paine was giving it to R Ashwin
while the Indian was hanging on for dear life in Sydney
on the last day of the third Test. Standing up to the stumps to Nathan Lyon
's offspinners brought the Australian captain within range of the stump microphone and from there we heard everything. He later apologised
for the bad language but understandably didn't mention the suggestion that Ashwin - and doubtless India too - would be cut apart at the Gabbatoir because that was what he meant, and surely believed. Generally it is a mistake to tempt fate, especially in public when standing up to the stumps. Today, all across the great southern land, the knives are out. A defeat like this needs its scapegoat. It's a pity, for Paine has done much to set Australian cricket straight since you know what
in Cape Town a while back.
But India won, and gloriously. Tuesday's three-wicket triumph over Australia that secured the series 2-1 in favour of the tourists is already referred to as "a win for the ages", "the greatest series victory ever" and "the greatest moment in Indian Test history"
, which is a big call and takes us back to 1952, when the Indians finally conquered their own inhibitions by beating England in Madras
for their first win after 20 years and 24 Test matches of trying.
Winning a series at home in one thing; winning away quite another. Winning in Australia is just bloody hard; winning at the Gabba leaves you bloodier still. Not that many can remember, it has been 32 years after all
. The pitch suits the Australian way, the weather conditions melt most opponents. Ask a cricketer who has won down under and he will rate it right up there. Find one who has triumphed at the Gabba and the grin will run from ear to ear. It is difficult to explain why but it is like every single damn thing goes against you in Australia, which, of course, it only does because the Aussies are winning and in this game you make your own luck. Australians hunt as a pack, without mercy. They taunt, they swagger, they play darn good cricket, and then they arrive in Brisbane and turn it up so loud, it becomes unbearable. Alastair Cook quietened them down with a match-saving double-hundred back in 2010-11
, and now Rishabh Pant
has silenced them. What an innings that was!
The greatest compliment the Aussies can be paid is that everyone outside Australia seems pleased. The cliché has the rest of the world hating them but the game is set deep in Australian souls and we envy that. Right now, social media is in overdrive, WhatsApp groups are on gloat alert. Ask any Test player where they most want to win and they will say Australia. You know you are good if you do, and you know the legacy will last. In this instance, you might reasonably say the Australians - Pat Cummins excepted - did not bowl at their best, and Lyon would argue that the DRS failed to rule in his favour. Or you could say that India played brilliantly and made their own luck, which is what happened. Yes, India played brilliantly.
Pant has been given a remarkable cricketing talent; Shubman Gill
- who played the most thrilling innings - an incredible eye. Gill is slim and athletic, Pant stocky-strong: they are the shape of man and bat as if on an adventure in a world that is theirs for the taking. But they cannot take it alone, they need another who reads the map. Come the lunch break on Monday, Cheteshwar Pujara
had faced 90 balls for eight runs; that is 15 overs of his own, soaked up to the value of 8. In the last over before lunch, Gill upper-cut a ball from Mitchell Starc for six. That is 75% of Pujara's 15-over haul in a single hit - good dovetailing by very different men of equal nerve and ambition.
The morning's cricket was raw, demonstrably not for the faint-hearted. From head to toe, Pujara took a physical pounding, and when Fox Sports produced a graphic of the strike points to his body, it was as if an inaccurate shooter had finished his day's work without the bullet once hitting the exact target he was aiming at. There was something in this because Pujara, though hurt, was unbeaten at tea too. In fact, this remained the case until delivery number 211, the second with the second new ball, trapped him in front and was confirmed on review - Cummins the bowler, of course. By then Gill and Ajinkya Rahane
had gone too, another 100 were needed, and history told us, the homesters would move in for the kill in defence of Fortress Gabba.
Pant took them on, relishing the power of his bat swing. Twice he was beaten by Lyon's extravagant amount of spin - the first of them when way out his ground after a mighty swish - but rather than retreat, he advanced again to wallop the next one into the bleachers at long-on. Soon after, two cover-drives had fans out of their seats, while a set of slog-sweeps against Lyon brought dressing-room delirium. Washington Sundar
added to the mayhem, hooking Cummins high into the stands - "Washington Sundar!!!" screamed the commentator, "43 from 43 now!!"
Honestly, you couldn't take your eyes off this stuff. What had been a calculation, a chase born of "get to tea and see where we are because the draw will do", had become an assault. The hunters were now the hunted and their options were fast running out. Pant seized the moment and resolved to forge on, fearless to the end when a punch-drive down the ground brought victory. In the dugout, Rahane, India's captain in the absence of Virat Kohli, had spent a couple of hours in the same seat, tugging matter-of-factly upon his beard, while alongside him Jasprit Bumrah giggled nervously at the reality unfolding before his eyes. Now Rahane rose to his feet and looked on in wonder as younger men charged to the middle and into the arms of the stocky one who had brought them, and India itself, this extraordinary moment.
The facts are that a four-match Test series between two evenly matched sides had gone to the wire late on the final afternoon, which is only good for the ongoing promotion of Test match cricket. "New" India had been well represented by cricketers who happily look their opponent in the eye for a long as the opponent looks in theirs. The 36 disaster in Adelaide
had been immediately dealt with by Rahane, whose hundred a week later in Melbourne
was a thing of beauty and great courage.
The many injuries and absences gave opportunity to a wide array of Indian talent that confirms the idea of India being able to put two good teams on the park, much as Australia were able to do in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Twitter threw its many handles behind Rahul Dravid
, who has responsibility for the development of the best young cricketers in the land. One cannot think of a better man.
In the aftermath, Justin Langer
pointed out that cricket should never be taken for granted. He added that the "tough" Indians should never be underestimated and that their comeback from Adelaide was nothing short of remarkable. He said that Pant's amazing innings reminded him of Ben Stokes at Headingley in 2019
. "It was an incredible Test series and in the end there is always a winner and loser. India deserve full credit. They have been outstanding but we have learnt lessons from it." Wise and kind words from the Australian coach at a time when cricket's most generously spirited face is needed.
Certainly, Indian cricket is having a moment. The Australians played their part too, and the frenzy that has followed does justice to the game we care about so deeply and love most. Meanwhile, in Sri Lanka, Joe Root made 228, and after a game fightback by the Sri Lankans, England cruised to victory by seven wickets
. Perhaps winning away from home isn't so difficult after all. Perhaps it is all about the quality of the players and the manner in which they go about their business.
Within the blink of an eye, England will be in India, in Chennai - once Madras, of course - where India first won a Test match all those years ago. If that series can bring us just a little of the magic we have seen these past weeks in Australia, well, what's not to like?