Imagine a football match between two good teams, but the home team considerably stronger than the opponent on paper. The visitors race out of the blocks and take a shock lead in the first few minutes. Their captain is in irresistible form, pulling the strings. The home side don’t know what hit them. Their captain is a shadow of himself. But they steady themselves in a few minutes, and after a spell of intense pressure, strike back. Tempers begin to flare. The teams trade blows heading into half time at 1-1.
The second half starts, with both teams cautious, yet not giving an inch to the other. It’s a battle of wits, to see who blinks first. They are level heading into the final minutes. The visitors are on the brink of a famous win, heading into the final leg of a hard-fought match. But they tire & finally wilt. After 90 minutes of thrill-a-minute action, the home side triumphs.
Now extend those 90 minutes of adrenaline-pumping action and spread it over 16 days, without the intensity dropping one bit.
That’s how engrossing the cricket was between India and Australia over the four Tests. The excitement that a thrilling football match can offer was matched – day for day, session for session – as India won a riveting Test series. One that Virat Kohli said was the most special in his time as the captain so far.
Just like any other India-Australia series since the turn of the century, this one was bitterly fought. The drama on field was matched, sometimes even overshadowed, by the drama off it. The controversies just wouldn’t stop. It never really reached the level of ‘Monkey Gate’ in 2008, but it was just as hotly debated. Ever since Steve Smith looked towards the dressing room on that afternoon in Bengaluru, the cacophony off the pitch just got louder with every passing day.
But forget the off-field nonsense (and nonsense it was, most times) for a minute and let’s focus on the game. And then answer this: just how good was the quality of Test cricket over these 16 days?
Smith was imperious, right from the word go in Pune. In a Test where India made 105 and 107 in the two innings, Smith alone managed 109. Steve O’Keefe, just your average left arm spinner before the series began, took 12 wickets in that match to etch his name in Indian cricket folklore.
Then came the thriller in Bengaluru. With Nathan Lyon living up to his legend Down Under, India were once again on the backfoot. What followed was a memorable comeback, not as mind blowing as the Kolkata Test in 2001, but one just as special for this young team.
Ranchi was then a throwback to the good old days of Test cricket. Where an unstoppable force met with an immovable object. It was about attrition. It was about defiance. It was about batting for hours and hours against bowlers who wouldn’t give you one easy run. Cheteshwar Pujara meditated for 668 minutes. Shaun Marsh and Peter Handscomb wouldn’t budge either.
And finally, at the foothills of the Himalayas, the epilogue. The final chapter of the grand home season was a fitting end, the climax that a blockbuster series deserved. There were more twists and turns than the average Dan Brown novel as India kept clawing back whenever Australia pulled away, and finished with a flourish.
Years down the line when people look back at the Border-Gavaskar Trophy of 2017, the controversies will just be a footnote. The genius of the men who battled hard, the will of the batsmen who withstood pressure, the craft of the bowlers who scripted the wins, the stunning catches, the inexplicable dropped chances — it’s the sheer quality of cricket that will be remembered.
So thank you, India and Australia. You have showed once again there is nothing quite like a closely contested Test series in the world.
Feature image source: BCCI