India Debutants Scripted Their Stories in Great Australian Saga
Sans Kohli and in alien territory, 5 newcomers made their mark at various points of The Great Australian Saga.
The story will be repeated again and again and again. For a long, long time. The story of how a bruised bunch of men with their backs to the wall inspired a revolution. The story of how the players believed in themselves when the world stopped believing, and how they proceeded to write magic after being buried in the ashes. In a tale of valour and fightback and injuries and enticing battle, stood five starry-eyed cricketers who had definitely envisioned an easier start to their cricketing chapter.
Playing Australia in Australia with a relentless Pat Cummins in tow. A demolished team after they registered their lowest ever score. Sans skipper Virat Kohli and in alien territory, five newcomers, none first-choices in the original XI, marked their entry in various points of The Great Australian Saga, fulfilling their role to perfection. Displaying various character traits and superhuman skills, they blended in more-than-perfectly with the rest of the men in the story to end with a best-selling narrative for the ages.
Flair. Shubman Gill has always attracted attention wherever he goes. Graduating from the Under-19 class of 2018 with Rahul Dravid as his mentor, the young gun had left his mark with his level-hardheadedness and his temperament in the IPL. Touted as a future star, there was a lot of talk about his international career, especially after Kohli had singled him out for effusive praise. Though Gill continued with his eccentricities in domestic games, chances at the grand stage were hard to come by - just three ODIs across two years hardly did justice to his talent.
His struggles against the new ball and initial movement were scrutinized and the fact that his Under-19 skipper Prithvi Shaw, with his oodles of talent and high scores, had managed to pip him in the pecking order meant that Gill had to wait out his turn. Ironically replacing an iffy Shaw in the Test XI, the Punjab player got his chance at Melbourne, the very next game after the Infamous Thirty Six.
It was not easy. With the threat of Cummins and Josh Hazlewood looming large on an MCG track that had plenty of movement, Gill knew he was up for a challenge for the ages. His opening partner Mayank Agarwal had been dismissed for nought but Gill carried on. Unfazed. Undeterred. Playing inside the line of the ball. Tackling balls whizzing down at 140kmph. Defending on the front foot with ease, punching off the back foot for quick singles. A crucial 45 that set the platform, another 35* in the second leg.
His big moment arrived on the last day of the last Test as he set India the momentum with a fluent, stroke-filled 91 that had the oomph that Gill had been known to possess. He was late off the backfoot, whipped up his crisp cover drives, took advantage of the width on offer and even smashed Mitchell Starc for three successive boundaries to stamp his authority in style. He ended the long tour with scores of 45, 35*, 50, 31, 7 and 91, to command his own chapter in the epic novel.
Determination. Mohammed Siraj, often trolled and criticized for leaking plenty of runs in the IPL, ended the tour of Australia as the player who garnered the most love and respect from the Indian audiences. If his willingness to stay back and watch from afar as his father was buried in Hyderabad after a prolonged lung affection got respect, his inability to back down and lead the charge as he and his teammates were racially abused got him our salute. Daring to stop play as he marched on to complain to the on-field umpires in just his second Test at the SCG, Siraj gave us lessons in standing tall even as the world threatens to loom.
Be it his tears during the national anthem as he lived his father’s dream or on the field with the ball in hand, Siraj, the target of social media for long, refused to wilt under pressure and emerged a hero for all the right reasons. Called in to replace injured Mohammad Shami in the second game of the series. Siraj, managed to extract swing as the ball cut into the right handers. He extracted early movement, troubled the players with his pace and teased the batters with his skiddy, pacey deliveries.
He managed to end the tour as the only Indian with a 5-wicket haul, and more than did justice to his selection that had garnered eyebrows at one stage.
Resolve. Washington Sundar, despite being just 21 years of age, has been on the scene for a long, long time. And, yet, Sundar has only been considered as a “bits and pieces” cricketer, if you are not saturated with the term. His appearances in domestic cricket had been sporadic and he had already witnessed a fair share of injuries in his short career thus far.
Selected as a net bowler for the series, not even Sundar would have imagined the kind of fairy tale that would pan out for him Down Under. Team India had seen both their lead spinners bite the injury list, which probably should have opened up the doors to Kuldeep Yadav for the last game. Instead, Sundar’s batting strength helped him overthrow Kuldeep for a spot in the XI, and there it was - a net bowler aiming to make a mark at the fortress called The Gabba.
On a track that did not have much help for the spinners initially, Sundar wreaked havoc and got the badge of honour as he scalped Steve Smith for his first Test wicket. He picked up Chris Green with a flatter delivery as the batsman played for the non-existant turn and continued getting his lines right throughout the first innings, where he ended with a three-for. Picked for his batting, Sundar turned the tide after India had collapsed to 186 for 6, scoring a stroke filled 62 that took India close to the Australian first innings total.
There he was, pulling off no-look slog sweeps for a six against a bowler playing his 100th Test match. He smashed fours off Hazlewood for fun, whipped away straying deliveries from Starc and opened the face of the bat against Cummins to display his mettle.
He returned to score a crucial 22 in the second innings, and ended with another wicket in the second leg to ensure he had more than done his bit. Even if his father was left disappointed that he missed a ton.
Dream. T Natarajan is living a dream. Ever since the player grabbed headlines with his pin-point yorkers, destiny has unraveled itself in strange ways. Initially not a part of any squad for the tour of Australia, Natarajan was asked to fill in after Varun Chakravarthy had been deemed unfit to take the plane for the T20I series. The T20I series had seen him pick 6 wickets, following which he had been asked to stay back in Australia as a cover.
The increasing list of injuries to the bowlers meant that Natarajan got his chance in the last game after spearhead Jasprit Bumrah had been ruled out. He hit the hard lengths through the morning and was rewarded with his maiden wicket when Matthew Wade offered a nothing shot to a short length delivery. “Nattu” got India back into the game with the scalp of Marnus Labuschagne two overs later as the batsman tried a pull off a back of a length delivery and then returned to bowl Hazlewood, who had looked threatening.
Though he batted for just nine balls and was visibly troubled, he held on. Peppered by short balls, Natarajan kept Starc away and saw off one whole over from him, which is only a highlight of his mental strength.
Experience. Navdeep Saini has had to wait a long, long time to fulfil his Test dreams. Playing his debut FC game for Delhi back in 2013, Saini has since emerged as the team’s go-to bowler, with 132 scalps in just 48 FC games. Bowling on the sluggish tracks at the Feroz Shah Kotla requires its own special skills, all of which came to help Navdeep Saini as he made his debut at the SCG.
Though Saini did not have the greatest starts to his Test career, as he sent down loose deliveries aplenty. His messed up his line and lengths as the batters made merry, but just like a veteran always does, he returned with vengeance and created his own destiny. His lines improved, he varied his pace, the extra bounce that he extracted troubled the batters as the ball angled in and shaped the ball away to induce edges.
Saini ended with a total haul of 4 wickets in his first game, and though his stint was cut short at The Gabba due to a groin injury, he had more than done his part in one of the greatest scripts penned down by the Indian cricket team.
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