There are winners and losers in sport all around the year. Medals and trophies appreciating sporting excellence are handed out every other day in some part of the world or other. Words are written about those achievements to preserve the memories. Yet often, it is not mere victory or defeat, but the triumph of will that inspires the best of sports writing.
India’s defiant effort at Sydney Cricket Ground was not a win. It is one of those things that writes easily into a cricket joke: “hey, remember the time when 22 players (not quite, if you make concessions for the injured Indians) fought for five days in a cricket match and in the end there was no winner? How crazy is that?” But it is true: the events in Sydney from January 7 to 11, 2021 had drama that matched the best of wins or the worst of defeats.
Here’s a selection of articles from around the web that do a stellar job in reliving the moments of epic battle we witnessed the third Test between Australia and India:
Prithi Ashwin, having witnessed her husband Ashwin Ravinchandran go through the wringer at SCG a day after barely being able to sit or walk due to his back issues, perfectly sums the emotional rollercoaster of being the family member of an athlete competing at the highest level. She writes for The Indian Express.
Try as I did, I couldn’t relax as the overs ticked by. Ashwin seemed more relaxed than me. The usual Ashwin mannerisms had begun to come through. He was helping his partner. When one can do that in that situation, thinking beyond oneself, it means they were in control of their emotions. I heard him tell Hanuma, “Pathu Pathu ball, adulaaam” (We will play 10 balls each). It felt good to hear his voice. The same stump microphone would later bring up other voices, which weren’t that good! When Tim Paine started talking, my worry wasn’t what he was saying but that Ashwin was talking back. Something he hadn’t done until then. ‘Was he losing focus or is the back pain irritating him that he is reacting? What if something happens now? Don’t do it, Ash. Don’t talk back,’ I thought— The Indian Express
Prem Panicker writes in a blog titled Of boys, and burning decks:
Thighs, ribs, upper arm, shoulder – if you took [Ashwin’s] shirt off, you could see the story of his 128-ball defiance tattooed on his skin in shades of blue and purple. He stood there, and took it all, and survived it all. When a desperate Paine tried to rattle him with abuse, he gave back better than he got. Always one to insist on fair play, he pointedly walked away each time the keeper and slips chattered as he got into his stance. When the Australians turned to Nathan Lyon, he put on a masterclass in the art of defending to spin – full stretch forward, angled bat in front of pad, the ball meeting the bat just beneath the eyeline… The ball that spun found the middle. The ball bowled straight through with the arm found the middle. Every variation Lyon tried, Ashwin met with the middle of his bat and, in the process, demonstrated the subtle art of reading spin out of the hand.— prempanicker.wordpress.com
Bharat Sundaresan writes in Cricbuzz, having not just witnessed the epic from Sydney but also following the events in the net sessions that offered plenty more insight:
It was a 25-minute net session on the sidelines of a crucial period of the third Test that in many ways set the tone for India’s greatest escape on Monday (January 11). It was also one that was revelatory of the guts and gumption that this team and every single one of its players thrives on. Here was a young man gritting it out through considerable pain and agony, mothering himself along the way, for the sake of his country. Earlier in the day, Pant had been deemed to be fit enough to bat “only if necessary”. But as he punched and pulled through the pain barrier, he was making sure it is he who would be in-charge of that decision.
On a surreal day of Test cricket, where India showed incredible character to eventually not just escape but get an Australian team to eventually give up the chase, Pant wasn’t the only Indian cricketer to tell himself, “chal, tujhe kuch nahi hua hai”.— Cricbuzz
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan writes in his blog, titled The draw that meant so much more:
Towards the end of the Test match, I was thinking about fiction. The end of some Tests leave me with the same wholesomeness (and emptiness) as some novels do. I am glad (but also sad) they are ending. I slow down the pace and read paragraphs over. I restart the final chapter, just to be sure I haven’t missed anything. Of course I can read the book again and savor all the details but there is only one first time. And that will soon be over when the last few pages finish.
The Vihari-Ashwin partnership lasted 256 balls. So few runs were scored, yet so much happened. Body blows, edges, near-edges, near-near-edges. Hobbling between the wickets, choosing which bowlers to face, smothering the spin, willing the body for one final stand, shutting out the chirp from the fielders, occasionally chirping back…— 81allout.com
Sharda Ugra writes for Sydney Morning Herald about the events on day four at SCG when Mohammed Siraj, playing just his second Test, did what many cricketers would have dreamed about: calling out the abuse from crowds in Australia.
The events this week at the SCG contained shades of same-old, same-old for visiting cricketers, except this time they had useful tools to work with. To alert the umpires at the first sound of racist abuse, which is how things got under way on day one of the Test. Over two days, the abusive spectators moved stands and targets until Mohammed Siraj called them out on Sunday afternoon.— Sydney Morning Herald
Shashank Kishore writes for ESPNCricinfo about Hanuma Vihari’s journey:
The mental fortitude has been evident from the start of his cricketing life. As a 12-year-old, Vihari batted to make an unbeaten 82 for his school - St Andrew’s - two days after his father had passed away. Years later, it was this very experience he recalled at the school’s Sports Day Function, shortly before he received the Indian call-up. Unlike many others, Vihari doesn’t get easily affected by circumstances or what people make of him— ESPNCricinfo
Gideon Haigh writes for The Times (UK) about India’s collective defiance that coincided with Rahul Dravid’s birthday:
Astrological determinism? January 11 is Rahul Dravid’s birthday. India faced a task at the Sydney Cricket Ground that called forth all the gifts of the batsman they called “The Wall”. Between them they formed just such an obstacle: call them “The Barricade”, evoking their alert, improvised collective defiance.— The Times
Bonus viewing: Journalists Melinda Farrell and Bharat Sundaresan, on the incident of abuse in Sydney:
- Bruised, battered but still standing tall: India win the test of character at Sydney
- Hanuma Vihari’s inspiring act of defiance in Sydney: 23 runs, 161 balls, a ton of grit
- After Rishabh Pant and Hanuma Vihari’s efforts at SCG, ICC’s rule changes in focus
- In praise of the stoic hero: Cheteshwar Pujara, Hanuma Vihari and a dying breed
This isn’t a definite list by any means. Please share your favourite pieces with us on Twitter or in the comments section since we might have surely missed a few.