India making a statement with their ruthlessness and arrogance at home
At the loss of the 7th wicket, India’s score in the first innings of this second Border-Gavaskar Trophy Test read 139. They were still 124 runs short of the Australian first-innings total. The pitch seemed like it had started to play tricks just when they didn’t need it to. Nathan Lyon had also picked up his 8th five-wicket haul against India — the most by any bowler in Test history. Virat Kohli had been given out controversially after looking in sublime touch during his 84-ball stay at the crease, and Australia suddenly had a real chance of staging a comeback into this series. It was then, that inevitability struck. India’s lower order came good in a home Test match, again!
Axar Patel and Ravichandran Ashwin joined hands for the eighth wicket and brought down the deficit from 124 to a touching distance of 10 runs. In the process, they registered the first century partnership by any pair in this series. That India’s lower order has been bailing them out consistently of late isn’t news any longer. In each of the last three years, India’s lower order (6th wicket — 9th wicket partnerships) has averaged more than 30 at home.
Despite the heroics of Ashwin and Axar, India ended up one run short of the Aussie first-innings total. Given the prospect of having to bat fourth on this deteriorating surface, it made a lot of Indian fans feel a bit uneasy. What if Australia got off to a good start? What if they managed to get more than 200 in the third innings? And got off to a good start they did.
Starting Day 3 at 61/1 off just 12 overs, Australia had wrestled back the initiative at the fag end of Day 2 and was in the ascendancy once again. Ashwin had not found his rhythm. Jadeja had been attacked. Anything over 120, which looked in touching distance now by the way, and Australia would be in with a real chance of levelling the series. It was then, that inevitability struck for the second time in this Test match. The Indian spinners pulled the rug from under the visiting team’s feet. Again.
Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin got together and picked up nine wickets inside 20 overs to bowl Australia out for 113. Jadeja registered his career-best bowling figures in the process — 7/42 from 12.1 overs after having been 1/23 from his first 3, and Ashwin took 3/59, dismissing Steve Smith for a single-digit score for the fourth time in Tests, and the second time in this match.
India has been somehow finding ways to get out of tricky situations, especially at home. Someone or the other has been putting their hand up and coming good when the team needs them to. But apart from all the individual brilliance and the collective numbers, this Indian test team has been creating a different sort of impact as well, which goes far beyond the hundred-run partnerships and the five-wicket hauls. And it’s important to shed some light on that.
Growing up in middle-class India, or for that matter, any social class in India, most of us have been instilled with a fear of failure and a lingering sense of self-doubt and under-confidence. And we have often taken to cricket to give us that belief, that push, to come out of it. Be it the 1983 World Cup victory, the mastery of Sachin Tendulkar, the 2007 and 2011 victories, the IPL, or India’s recent domination in Test cricket all around the globe. Cricket has constantly provided us with direction and confidence that we can be the best.
Over the course of this Test match, we saw another significant landmark being achieved in that regard. That India was in trouble at 66/4 and then at 139/7 is undeniable. There were voices starting to be heard that this will be a Pune encore. Selection calls were starting to get questioned. Luck was starting to get blamed. Yet, there was a small section of the audience that had not hit the panic button. They had this certain sense of belief that if Kohli didn’t click, Jadeja will. If Jadeja didn’t, Axar will. And if Axar didn’t, Ashwin will.
Then, with Australia at 61/1 at the start of Day 3, panic was starting to knock at the door of the masses once again. A fourth innings chase upwards of 150 would be unachievable. The pitch was doing too much. Yet, there was this subconscious hope and belief that someone will come and rip through the Australian batting and that someone from the tall Indian batting order will turn up and chase down whatever the target is. India has not had this before. And this is where this team can potentially bring another paradigm shift in the Indian way of thinking and believing.
We have become World Champions, we have started winning around the globe, and we have created one of the biggest sporting leagues in the world. But this is the first time we are in a situation where we can afford to be arrogant, even over-confident, with our Test team, especially at home.
While the general consensus is that those two qualities — arrogance and over-confidence — are not necessarily the most sought-after in your CV, a small sprinkling of that on the Indian psyche, which has either lacked or fought hard to find the necessary levels of self-belief, thanks to years of colonization, will be more beneficial than harmful.
This Indian team is teaching us how to be ruthless. This Indian team is teaching us how to be arrogant. We, the Indian fans, shouldn't miss this memo.