India’s XI for Adelaide Test: MAYANK AGARWAL, Prithvi Shaw, CHETESHWAR PUJARA, Virat Kohli, AJINKYA RAHANE, Hanuma Vihari, Wriddhiman Saha, R Ashwin, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah. 

India’s XI for Brisbane Test: Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, CHETESHWAR PUJARA, AJINKYA RAHANE, MAYANK AGARWAL, Rishabh Pant, Washington Sundar, Shardul Thakur, Navdeep Saini, Mohammed Siraj, T Natarajan.

Just let that sink in. Only three men who started the series in Australia on December 17, 2020 were in the XI when it all came to a glorious end for India on January 19, 2021. A total of 20 players were used by India during the course of the series. Only seven of the final XI were, in fact, in the 18-member squad that was announced on October 26 during the Indian Premier League.

Despite all that, India retained the series with a hard-fought draw at fortress Gabba in Brisbane.

Wait a minute. No, India won the match didn’t they? That really happened on Tuesday? An Indian team went after a target of 328 at the Gabba and made it happen; it wasn’t a dream was it?

That’s going to take even longer to sink in.

Team, mate

For Australia, the hero of the series was evident. The undisputed king was Pat Cummins, who bowled his heart out from the start to finish. The only thing that we could debate at this point is whether he bowled a particularly bad spell at any point of time. Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne were good, Josh Hazlewood had *that* spell in Adelaide, there were some others who did their part and all that but what Cummins did was verging on the otherworldly. When he had the ball in his hand, something electric was around the corner. Even in the final session of the series, it was Cummins who kept Australia in the hunt.

Now, hands to heart, would you be able say with 100% certainty who the player of the series for India was?

For starters, you have choose from a pool of 20. Then you look through the list and perhaps Cheteshwar Pujara stands out for his incredible ability to blunt the Australian attack. The world still remembers how VVS Laxman had this knack to bring his best and take on the Australians with the flair hidden in his wrists. Years later, we’ll fully appreciate how Pujara managed to do that with the softness of his hands that took a fair few blows. There is R Ashwin, perhaps, who was brilliant with the ball when he played but was also a hero with the bat in Sydney along with Hanuma Vihari. Jasprit Bumrah is a leader despite having less than 20 Test caps to his name. Ravindra Jadeja reminded us that India’s quest for balance in their Test squad doesn’t have to come from a seam-bowling allrounder, a spinner would do nicely as well.

Shubman Gill showed he is not just one for the future for India, he is the present. Mohammed Siraj, going through a journey that is enough to fill a book, finished as India’s leading wicket-taker of the series. Playing their first Tests on a tour they were not even supposed to be part of the squad, Washington Sundar and T Natarajan came to the party in Brisbane. Washington’s no-look six off Nathan Lyon would have gone down as the shot of the series but then he pulled off a pull shot off Cummins when the target seemed to be getting out of sight on Tuesday. Shardul Thakur got a second chance in Test cricket and he made it count.

Then, there was captain Ajinkya Rahane for his century in Melbourne that will go down as arguably one of India’s greatest overseas knocks. But also, for his leadership. And there are the coaches, the physios and masseurs who were overworked for various reasons on the tour.

Fittingly, on the 17th day of Test cricket in a series that will be talked about for years and years to come, India’s No 17 grew up from a talented youngster to a match-winner who will forever be part of the country’s cricketing folklore. Rishabh Pant, of course, made India dream in Sydney and then turned the dream into reality in Brisbane.

From the rubble of Adelaide, India went to Melbourne to script a 180 degree-turnaround that stunned the Australians. When the Aussies got back up in Sydney and looked like landing a knockout punch, the Indians stood firm and survived. Then they were asked to come to Gabba, as if that thought was supposed to make them go numb with fear. Maybe it should have, but it did not.

It was a series win that defied logic and expectations, but built firmly on one unmissable, intangible trait: heart.

In the endgame, India found heroes from every corner of their squad: the ones that were picked to be part of the first XI, the ones that were meant to be back-ups, and back-ups to the back-ups, the ones that were not even selected in the actual squad and stayed back only to assist the team during net sessions, the coaches and other support staff with a special shoutout to physio Nitin Patel.

The team took blow after blow, overcame a laundry list of injuries. Whatever Australia threw at them, the Indians took it on their chin, stumbled sometimes, but got back up as if to say they can do this all day. Whenever it felt inevitable that Australia will impose their superiority, they found an answer. They were not intimidated by the might of their opponents, at full strength, raring to make it right for what happened the last time around. Sure, there were leaders who the team rallied behind, but it was always about the collective. Expected and unexpected, young and old, India found players who put their hands up every step of the way. It was absolutely marvellous stuff.

Heroes, assembled.