“At Melbourne and Sydney, India have glorified Test cricket and showed the world how tough cricket can be and it is not everyone’s cup of tea – those teams, including their followers and media persons, who have disturbed the balance of Test cricket and made it a mockery for the sake of short-cut success and cash, should learn from this series – Test cricket is the ultimate accolade and this format creates legends”

People come to see fours and sixes in the stadium is a concept created by the so-called experts in cricket, who are sponsored by the owners of teams in the circus shows – T20 leagues. Cricket is a game, which gains its momentum in the longer formats – a bowler is left thinking about his options, a captain trying hard to maneuver the field and chalk out a plan to bag wickets, and the batsmen in the middle would put a price tag on his wicket to make the contest simmering.

Can this game be decided by a Twenty-over match?

Never, ever!

Cricket has always been about the exhibition of the toughest customers and not those without cozones.

How tough and skillful you are, you would be tested in a Test match and in the 50-over format to an extent.

The bat is not made only to play shots closing your eyes and hit fours and sixes, but it can transform into a fort to save the day and salvage pride.

On December 3, 2020, New Zealand and Pakistan were involved in an epic encounter at Bay Oval. The Pakistanis changed their colours, which they usually do from nowhere, and gave New Zealand and every one the impression, they could produce something special.

Fawad Alam and Mohammad Rizwan stitched an inspiring fifth-wicket stand and at one point they were in a situation, where it was sensible enough to save the Test rather than going for the win and playing strokes.

Pakistan went for the win and lost, whereas a draw could have helped to boost the fragile confidence of a fragile unit.

A few weeks later, their neighbours, India, discovered themselves in a similar situation, but rather than being too adventurous, they exhibited the character and defied all the odds to essay one of the greatest fight-backs in the history of Test cricket.

On the fourth day Shubman Gill and Rohit Sharma came out to bat and the mutual feeling of an Indian defeat had etched in the minds of everyone. They had to chase 407 runs in the fourth innings in 130-plus overs – Now, for a team, which is crippled down by injuries and would not have the service of their skipper, survival would be a tough ask, let alone winning the Test.

Rohit and Gill got off to a start in the first over and they were sailing smoothly, but Australia struck back late and went for the dressing room smiling because, surely, they were on the driving seat and a victory would be just a formality on Day 5!

But you know what, there is someone named Cheteshwar Pujara in the Indian unit, who can keep the Indians awake in the early winter morning when the sun is yet to come out and the cold waves get under your skin and bones. Perhaps, very few in India were still awake to witness the first session of the Test with the hope that Che might….might just bring up one of his defiant resistance and save India!

But, after toiling under the sun for 40 overs across the two innings, Nathan Lyon bagged a wicket in the early part of the first session – Ajinkya Rahane had neutralized those length balls from Lyon on the front foot at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, but Lyon had some extra-drift on the delivery, which Rahane could not avoid on full-stretch as the edge went to short-leg, where Matthew Wade took the catch.

A collapse was around the corner and when Rishab Pant came out to bat, it was a surprise because Pant was injured and As Ravichandran Ashwin said, “The bruise was quite severe and it was quite painful. The elbow can be a very tricky place to deal with.” Still, still and still, Pant came out to bat – it was bolder enough from the wicketkeeper, while tactically, it was a good move with the ball around 50-60 overs old, things would be easier for Pant to play his shots or resist.

Guess what, the scenario of the Test started to change, and with each over passing by, it was Australia who started to think, this test might go down the wire.

Pant started to flex his muscles while at the other end, Pujara was like a saint – calm, composed and even an atom bomb would not be able to deter Che from his mission.

Pant was on 5 off 33 balls – getting the basics of occupying the crease but before that, he was reprieved on 3 as Tim Paine failed to grab the chance and received few blows on his body from Cummins on the thumb and once on the helmet, before he tore into Lyon.

The mid-on was up and Pant took Lyon to the cleaners by smashing a boundary by dancing down the ground and then a six off successive deliveries, before fetching two more boundaries in the next over. Lyon changed ends, but it did not help to escape the onslaught – he charged down the wicket to hit sixes despite watching the long-on and long-off positioned to grab the scalp.

Pant was reprieved again by Paine while batting on 56 and denied Lyon of revenge. After lunch, his Lyon-tormenting mission continued and he executed some punchy-strokes off the pacers as well. While batting on 97, Pant stepped out to punish Lyon and edged one to the backward point – a scintillating century-stand came to an end and when Pujara was outclassed by the wily Josh Hazlewood, the hopes waned, but for displaying character, the Indians already won the day.

Talk about character, before the thrilling final 3 and a half hours, it was Che who had been the embodiment of steely resolve. One could not trace chink in the back lift and defnece of Che while his footwork remained astute when he was maneuvering the strike.

The Australian pacers tried to test him with the shorter ones and those corridor-of-uncertainty deliveries, but Che would defend and leave, made the bowlers and fielders toil hard under the hot sun. He dug deeper and deeper until roots grew beneath his feet and was like the elder brother to Pant’s fluency – let the kid have fun and let me take all the toll.

The foundation was laid by Pujara, Pant capitalized and it was up to Hanuma Vihari and Ashwin to carry on.

40 overs were left for the day.

Vihari had a hamstring problem.

Ashwin had a bad back.

Both of them were down but not out!

Lyon sent down 46 relentless overs, Hazlewood was generating reverse swing, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins threw everything towards Vihari and Ashwin – length ball outside off at pace, fullish ones at pace, back of a length with a varied pace, shorter ones targeting the body, attacking the top of offstump and middle, and yorkers – both of them were made to play with as many as five fielders around the bat at times.

Cannonballs were thrown at Ashwin by Cummins and Hazlewood, but he took blows on his arms, shoulders, chest, and abdomen, and was even given out caught behind the second ball after tea before replays showed there was no glove or bat. Ashwin edged, but they fell safe and when he attacked a short ball with a rare pull on 15, Abbott dropped him at square leg, and at the fag end of the day, Paine dropped Vihari – fortune favours the brave!

Unable to change the strike consistently, Vihari and Ashwin put a price tag on their wicket.

It was an epic vigil of more than 3 and a half hours, where Vihari ended up facing 161 deliveries for 23 Ashwin plucked 39 from 128 deliveries.

It was the third-longest sixth-wicket stand for India in the fourth innings and the first time since 1979 that India had batted for over 132 overs in the fourth innings of a Test.

After digesting the shame of 36 at Adelaide, two back-to-back fightbacks from such a wounded unit simply leaves everyone out of words.

At Melbourne and Sydney, India have glorified Test cricket and showed the world how tough cricket can be and it is not everyone’s cup of tea – those teams, including their followers and media persons, who have disturbed the balance of Test cricket and made it a mockery for the sake of short-cut success and cash, should learn from this series – Test cricket is the ultimate accolade and this format creates legends.