Border Gavaskar Trophy 2020-21: Let'e relive India's famous victory on Australia soil at The Gabba. India beat Australia by 2-1 in four-match Test series in Australia.
"Can’t wait to see you at the Gabba"—Well, Australia’s then captain, or ‘temporary’ captain, if we may say so, Tim Paine, definitely saw Ravichandran Ashwin and the Indians at the Gabba. There was a smirk, a sense of pride and a tinge of ego in Tim Paine’s statement, which was caught on the stump mic when India’s valiant efforts with the bat helped India survive a draw in Sydney in the third Test of the series.
Gabba - Australia’s Pride
The draw in Sydney meant the Border Gavaskar Trophy 2020-21 was hanging in the balance at 1-1, with the decider to be played at The Gabba in Brisbane. It's been two years since India fought for five days straight to earn a victory - a famous victory that breached Australia's 32-year-old fortress, The Gabba! Yes, the same old Gabba, Australia’s pride and prestige, their age-old fortress, which Tim Paine was overconfident of winning when he challenged Ashwin, was flouted by the brave men in blue.
It was the great West Indies side of the 1980s, led by captain ferocious Viv Richards and his deadly, mind-wrecking and legendary bowling attack combination of Malcolm Marshall, Patrick Patterson & a young duo of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, who smeared through the Australian line-up in November 1988 at the Gabba. The monster trio of Marshall, Ambrose & Walsh picked up 19 of the total of 20 Australian wickets in that game to help the West Indies win by nine wickets.
Since then, Australia had played 31 more matches at The Gabba between 1989 and 2020, and won a staggering 24 of those games with 7 drawn ones. But that was the story only upto January 18, 2021.
On January 19, 2021, a down and out Indian team rewrote history in deep saffron, white and dark green fonts after being bowled out for a mere 36 runs in the first match of the series in Adelaide, and henceforth struggling to field a proper eleven with players out due to injury scars, paternity leave, COVID-19 and what not!
An inexperienced playing eleven, led by a determined fighter and true leader, Ajinkya Madhukar Rahane, helped India win their second consecutive Test series in Australia and retain the Border Gavaskar Trophy. The reason why the victory was emphatic and considered India’s one of the best, if not the best, was because, out of the eleven players fielded by India, only two players – Cheteshwar Pujara and Rahane - had played more than 10 Test matches in Australia before. Six players had played fewer than five games in Australia. Three players were playing their first-ever Test match in Australia and two were playing their first-ever red ball game for India, namely, Thangarasu Natarajan and Washington Sundar.
A total of four players were handed their debut caps in the same series. Though the players did not have enough matches behind their backs, they had a heart of steel in their front. Despite being slaughtered for 36 all-out in Adelaide, tortured with pale food and punished with COVID restrictions throughout the tournament, the Indian team refused to give up, as if they had torn the page where it read "give up" in the dictionary. mentored and coached by the ever-fearless Ravi Shastri, who could scare the opponents just by his mere presence.
Shardul & Sundar baffle Australia
After Australia put on 369 in the first innings, courtesy of a brilliant century by Marnus Labuschagne, India were already looking down and out. To add insult to injury, India’s openers yet again failed to provide a good start, and the visitors were left pegged at 62-2 at the end of the second day’s play with Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane at the crease. The first half of day 3 felt as if Indians were missing India, were in a hurry to rush back to India, and were ready to sacrifice the BGT as they were left stranded at 186-6 with all the proper batters back in the hut.
Then came a marathon of a partnership between the two all-rounders, Shardul Thakur and Washington "No-Look" Sundar. The young boys stood their ground and took some blows to the body as the Australian trio of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazelwood and Pat Cummings ensured the Indians smelled the leather at the hard and bouncy Gabba! The vicious blows could only shatter Washi and Shardul's helmets and skin, but the bouncers weren't brave enough to penetrate the defence of the two batters, who were unshattered and unflustered, to say the least.
Washi scored 62, while Shardul scored 67, and the duo netted a 123-run partnership for the seventh wicket. The left-right combo hit the Australian bowlers all around the park, with Shardul playing some unorthodox shots and Washington hitting Nathon Lyon for "no-look" boundaries over mid-wicket, which were the silver lining of India’s first innings. This tormented Australia’s confidence and rhythm as India were eventually bowled out for 336, giving Australia a lead of 33, which could very well have been above 150 if not for Shardul and Washington.
Siraj picks his first of many fifers, followed by Shardul’s four-fer
Australia’s second innings was wrapped up inside 80 overs, thanks to a brilliant spell of fast bowling from Mohammed Siraj, who picked his first-ever wicket in Test cricket, accompanied by India’s sensation with the bat, Shardul Thakur who delivered with four wickets with the ball too. Washington also took a solo wicket as Australia were bowled out for 294- leaving India with 328 to win the game and make history.
With India closing out Day 4 at four for no loss, they needed a mammoth 324 further runs to win on the final day’s play. A fifth-day Gabba pitch that would help the fast bowlers with odd and even bounce from time to time, combined with sharp turn and bounce for Australia's veteran spinner, Nathan Lyon who was already licking his lips as the day began. The confidence, or rather overconfidence, in Australia's walk back to the pavilion on the fourth day of play reminded Indians of the famous 2001-02 Kolkata Test, in which the Australians prepared to go home and begin smoking cigars after winning the series, before India's warriors, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, sprayed a fire extinguisher on their cigars and egos, handing India a famous victory.
Rock-Solid Pujara and Counter-Attacking Shubman rattle Australia
On the fifth day, Australia walked out to the field with their bowlers ready to wrap things up quickly. Indian opener and the then stand-in vice-captain Rohit Sharma, didn’t disappoint the Aussie quicks either, as India were reduced to 18-1 in the ninth over of the fourth innings.
Be that as it may, Shubman Gill, who was playing just his sixth international Test innings, was looking like a man on a mission. On the other end was India’s "Wall" for the last 10 years, Cheteshwar Pujara. Shubman's counter-attacking innings and short arm pull-jab towards midwicket were like music to the ears of cricket fans. While Pujara was battling out the Australian bowlers in the way only Pujara could. They both stitched together a crucial 114-run partnership that, to put it mildly, exhausted the Australian bowlers.
Shubman briskly missed out on his maiden century as the U-19 World Cup 2018 star was dismissed for 91. But on the other end, from brutal head knocks to nasty blows on the body and fingers, Pujara stood like a rock against the intimidating Aussie bowlers, who tried every possible strategy to take down India’s number 3 on the final day.
At least three times, the India physio had to rush out to the middle to check on Pujara, who was constantly taking body blows from the Aussie pacers to ensure his end stayed safe. Pujara continued to defy the Australian bowlers. Pujara was hit on the body or the helmet 14 times in the entire series, making it a record for body blows received by a batter in a single series.
Rishabh Pant played the innings of his life
When India skipper Rahane got out after playing a few shots for 24, India’s intention was pretty clear: India wanted a win, nothing more, nothing less. The man who walked after Rahane’s wicket not only brought smiles to billions in India, but gave his side a reliable, counter-attacking and fearless Test wicketkeeper batter, Rishabh Rajendra Pant.
Then, at 23 years old, Rishabh Pant put on a brave display of batting at the Gabba. While the Australians were hitting Pujara on the body, Pant was hitting Nathan Lyon. Yes, with the bat, hitting his deliveries far and wide into the stands. Nathan Lyon was darting the balls into the rough in order to spin the ball away from the left-hander. Pant, on the other hand, was not in the mood to fall victim to the age-old fifth-day Test match strategy. Anything full, Rishabh would tonk the ball down the ground; anything short, Pant would rock back and cut towards the backward point; anything on the legs, Pant would just whip it towards midwicket. And for good deliveries, Pant would just put his hitting instincts away and leave respectfully. That was the beauty of that innings.
While India’s physio was kept busy treating Pujara, Pant ensured that Australia’s ball boys were busy picking up the ball from the boundary ropes. Pujara eventually extended his marathon innings beyond four hours before being dismissed for 56 (211 balls) in the final session, dismissed LBW by Pat Cummins. But not before he collected 61 runs with India’s player of the match, Rishabh Pant.
The Last Hour
When Pujara was dismissed, India still needed exactly 100 runs to win the match and the series, but being four down, not many still favoured India. Australia were looking to sneak into India’s lower order with this opportunity. Rishabh was running out of partners and overs as India needed another 60 odd runs with just 15 overs of play left in the game.
It was then that the wicketkeeper-batter switched on the T20 mode as he smothered the "shirt and pants" of Australian bowlers in typical Indian fashion. Australia did succeed briefly, as they picked up three wickets in the next 16 overs. Josh Hazlewood dismissed Shardul to bring in some late drama, but by the time he got out, India needed just three runs to win with just four overs to spare.
On the final ball of the 97th over, the tall right-arm pacer Hazlewood steamed in and delivered a full delivery tailing away from Pant who took it on the full and hit it towards long-off. Pant sprinted for a double, Saini ran for his life with an injured groin, but the ball crawled over the boundary.
The Indian players on the boundary ropes jumped and rejoiced in sheer happiness. They marched onto the field to hug their Player of the Match, Mr. Rishabh Pant, who blistered a brave 89 not-out, which dismantled Australia’s fortress after 32 years. This was the same Rishabh Pant who wasn't even India's first-choice wicketkeeper batter and was a back-up to Wriddhiman Saha, before being drafted into the eleven following the humiliating 36-run defeat in the series opener.
The Indian players were shedding tears of joy, and each drop of tear reminded Indian fans of the struggle, the injury scars and the battle they fought from being 36-all out to retain the Border Gavaskar Trophy for the second time in two years.
Well, Indians definitely "saw" Tim Paine at the Gabba, with the trophy in the Indian territory, as he was left in "pain", and that’s putting it mildly to say the least.
Statistical Snapshot of Gabba Test 2021
With this run chase, India also broke a 69-year-old record for the biggest run chase at the ground, set by the very own Australians, who scored 236 for seven to beat the West Indies in 1951.
India recorded the third-highest successful run chase against Australia in Australia.