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When Pant and Gill saw Australia at “Gabba mate”

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Last updated on 19 Jan 2023 | 03:24 AM
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When Pant and Gill saw Australia at “Gabba mate”

On this day in 2021, India breached Australia’s fortress to earn the most iconic series wins ever

If you were there, at the ground, in front of a television, in your office stealthily streaming this game live. If you were there, sleep-deprived, holding your breath, calming your beating heart, it was a day you are unlikely to forget for the rest of your life. This was a day you will speak of years later, not forgetting to mention - “I was there".

The only achievement in recent years that comes remotely close to this monumental feat by an Indian side is winning the World T20 in 2007. Like then, this series was another example of what the hunger in the younger lot can achieve if allowed to fend for itself.

Like everything in the series, the win did not come easy. Pat Cummins bowled his heart out. Like he does every time with a ball in hand. He got Rohit Sharma early on day 5. The one man India needed to fire, at least as per the consensus ahead of the day. But, this match belonged to the new India. 

They say Gabba is tough for tourists. 

But Shubman Gill disagrees.

If the bowlers pitched the ball up, Gill drove it with ease. If they tried hard lengths, the cut or the pull was on. Australia were getting worried. It was time for Plan B. It was time for sweet chin music. But, it made no difference for short balls as Gill’s bread and butter. 

With the fearlessness of having nothing to lose, Gill was immune to the presence of two fielders deep, one hanging a yard inside the rope for a top edge. He hooked Mitchell Starc over the ropes, hit an uppercut over the cordon and pulled him to pierce the field like he was a veteran surgeon in a war-prone area. All this in consecutive balls. All this in a 20-run over, Starc’s most expensive ever. There was no help from the pitch for him. He was of no help to Australia. 

Gill departed an over later. Lyon chucked the middle and leg line and got his outside edge. Another Indian missed a well-deserved hundred. But, a 97 and a 91 in this series were much more impactful than a hundred in any other. Just like that night at Wankhede in 2011.

Cheteshwar Pujara got hit eleven times, maybe twelve, one loses count after a while. Cummins got his shoulders and ribs. Hazlewood came for his fingers and head. Only once did he flinch. But never was he rattled. He hit his slowest half-century ever, off 196 balls. Was he making it tough for India to win? Or was he like a family patriarch, living conservatively so that the young ones could have enough freedom to not bother about the cost of failure?      

The skipper walked in at four and made his intentions clear. India were going for a win. He was 25 in no time. Then Cummins struck back. Like he did throughout the series. Ajinkya Rahane was gone. It was still anyone’s game.

Rishabh Pant was in next. The only man capable of taking India to victory from there. He knew it and maybe that is why there were no careless strokes that day. There was something to lose all of a sudden. His strike rate on the first 30 balls was very un-Pant-like 33.33. Along with Pujara, he nibbled at the target.

Then came the new ball with 20 overs to go in the series and 100 runs to get. Standing between India and the breach of Australia's fortress was Cummins. One more time. One last time. He knew it was him vs India. Everyone in the stadium knew. Everyone glued to the television knew.

Cummins gave India nervous moments removing Pujara first and Mayank Agarwal soon after. The new ball was moving. Even while batting in the middle order, facing the new ball was Mayank’s destiny. But he got out attacking. There was a game to be won. The pitch was finally playing tricks. Maybe a little too late for the Aussies. 

First-class experience or not, India needed Washington Sundar's help once more. But, India needed everyone to just support Pant. Australia expected Pant to throw it away. The usually aggressive Aussies had fielders at the boundary. They were waiting for him to lose patience and mistime one. A mistimed shot never arrived. There was something to lose. When it arrived, the match was all but over. In the interim was astute defence, supreme drives along the ground and maturity way above his age. The T20 era lap-shots waited till the end was in sight. 

There was a forecast for rain but the gods failed to turn up. Maybe they were busy watching too. The entire country would have taken a draw the night before. Or even on occasions during the day. But not the men out there. Not Sundar who hit Cummins out of the attack. Not after he swivelled to clear him over the ropes. His walk to the pavilion after playing a reverse sweep on his stumps with six runs needed was the slowest in recent times. First-class experience or not, he wanted to be there till the end.

The players wanted to finish with a bang. Taking the high-risk route. They deserved this freedom of expression. The entire country did. That freedom is what brought India close today. In the end, they got the team home and that is what matters.

After breaking the winning streak in 2001 and repeating it in 2008. After becoming the first Asian side to beat Australia at the WACA, India breached Fort Gabba and handed a Test match defeat to Australia there after 32 years. The new India had arrived. 

And all those who saw it unfold can rightfully say years later - "I was there" 

On that day, Pant and Gill saw Australia at the Gabba with mate Tim Paine watching them to glory. 

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