There are many moments from day three of the fourth Test between Australia and India at the Gabba to highlight but we’ll start with two.
First, there is a photograph of Washington Sundar swaying away to a bouncer from Josh Hazlewood. Here’s one of the premium modern day fast bowlers, coming hard at a debutant with everything he’s got, on a pitch and in a match situation that he’s unlikely to have been in before. It’s what you’d call chin music in cricket and there were a few of those directed at India’s lower-order batsmen.
But in that photograph, Washington looks at the ball as closely as he could, his gloves and bat in the perfect position that would have delighted any batting coach. His knees are bent just the right amount. He lets the ball go as if he had played many Hazlewoods on many such pitches in many Test matches around the world. It was, of course, his first innings as a Test cricketer.
Not long after, followed a six from Shardul Thakur that helped him get to the Test half-century that he would have dreamt about many a night in his career. After a Test debut that lasted 10 balls in the first innings while bowling and a hobbling cameo appearance later with the bat, he would have been forgiven for thinking his chance might have come and gone. But two years later, at the Gabba, due to circumstances no one could have foreseen, he was getting a second chance. It was, in essence, another debut.
And he was batting on 47, facing a man bowling in his 100th Test. After dancing down the track to hit a six, he acknowledged the crowd, spent a few seconds with his partner, returned to his batting crease, spent a few more seconds where the leg slip fielder would have been, took guard, and played the most proper front-foot defensive stroke. There was no adrenaline rush on display, when his body was probably pumping the most it ever has... instead, there was just calmness, a statement with a dead bat as significant as one that was made by the shot that came before.
In those two isolated moments, Washington and Thakur displayed the kind of determination that has come to sum up India’s fight in this series. Coming together at 186/6, the two of them had a mammoth task ahead of them and India’s lower order is not really known for its rearguard in Test matches as much as some of the other sides.
That’s alright, really, because – as Glenn McGrath said in the Sony Sports studio earlier during this match – the batsmen are supposed to bat well, the bowlers are supposed to bowl well in a good Test side. And those who had come before them did not quite do the job expected of them.
Shubman Gill played one gorgeous back-foot punch/cut before getting out on 7. Rohit Sharma – in case you had not heard – was dismissed for a classy 44 with a shot that was talked about more than any one moment of action in this Test so far. Cheteshwar Pujara, known for his ability to repel the best bowling attacks with his defence, has somehow managed to attract all the best deliveries that the Aussie pacers have up their sleeves in this series. Ajinkya Rahane played the same shot that earned him two close shaves earlier in the day, and did so when Australia had another fielder ready for it. Mayank Agarwal came out swinging after lunch. And Rishabh Pant, too, paid the price for choosing the more aggressive option for a short ball rather than trying to build a partnership.
The result of all that was none of the top six scoring a half-century or lasting 100 balls, and not giving the respite that the inexperienced bowling attack had earned through their efforts on day one and two.
Washington and Thakur, though, took their time and showed the willingness to slug it out instead of bowing down to the pressure. They could have just as easily decided to meet fire with fire right from the word go, but instead chose to trust their defence. The flamboyance only followed eventually, when the partnership had lasted long enough to frustrate the Australians and even the threat of the second new ball was neutralised.
And when the shots came, they were glorious: Washington’s cover drives and a no-look six for the ages, Thakur’s booming square drive off Starc and a few more that were enough to make Indian fans purr.
India's best partnerships (7-10) in Australia
|Jadeja-Pant||7||204||6/418||7/622||1||Sydney||3 Jan 2019|
|Adhikari-Hazare||7||132||6/139||7/271||3||Adelaide||23 Jan 1948|
|Harbhajan -Tendulkar||8||129||7/345||8/474||2||Sydney||2 Jan 2008|
|Thakur-Washington||7||123||6/186||7/309||2||Brisbane||15 Jan 2021|
|Harbhajan- Kumble||8||107||7/359||8/466||1||Adelaide||24 Jan 2008|
|Azharuddin-Prabhakar||7||101||6/182||7/283||4||Adelaide||25 Jan 1992|
In the end, even when there is now an expectation that this Indian side will fight with everything they have, this was a partnership that no one could have seen coming, and one that delivered when the going could not have been any tougher. Even if common sense would dictate that these two are capable batsmen, a 123-run partnership in a Test match at Australia’s fortress against Cummins-Starc-Hazlewood-Lyon is the stuff dreams are made of.
“That they would have this kind of a partnership was above expectations really. I thought they might just hang around for a little bit, delay the inevitable,” Sunil Gavaskar told Harsha Bhogle in the Sony Sports broadcast after the day’s play.
“But when they started to play the kind of shots we saw, it was a heartwarming revelation. It was very enjoyable to see the way they took the opportunities and scored their runs. What it also tells you is that there are so many who are hungry for the India cap, the opportunity to just play but never get the chance.
“But here, due to the spate of injuries, they have got their chances and grabbed them with both hands. They may not play another Test for a long time [when the regular players are back fit] but they showed that in case they are needed again, they will be ready for it.”
Indeed, one of the greatest joys in sport is success when you least expect it. Washington Sundar and Shardul Thakur, two men who were in Australia arguably only as back-ups to the back-ups in the original squad, stood up to be counted with the series on the line. The result could still go either way for India but, from that 36 in Adelaide to this 336 in Brisbane, it’s been quite the journey and this partnership of 217 deliveries summed up their never-give-up attitude.