India is still breathing
Despite all the anvils falling on their head, India can still somehow win this series.
Ravichandran Ashwin looks like he's having trouble breathing. Pat Cummins has smashed him on the chest, and the physiotherapist is out trying to keep him together. It's not the first time they've hit him, he's taken one on the arm and shoulder already. It was hard to tell if Australia is trying to get him out or target his bowling fingers.
It feels like a waste of one of the few fit bodies left. Turning your star spinner into a crash test dummy for what, a brave loss. A moral victory. But he won't give up.
Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar never even got on a plane. Rohit Sharma got delayed. Virat Kohli went home after one. KL Rahul was injured without playing. Mohammad Shami almost lost his arm after one Test. Umesh Yadav limped off after three innings. Ravindra Jadeja virtually had his thumb removed. Rishabh Pant had to get scans. Hanuma Vihari's hamstring looks shot. 17 players have been used in three Tests. They might play as many as 19 to finish the series.
Oh, and they got bowled out for 36.
The Indian players have been stuck in a lot of bubbles of recent times. One of their players made an error in a restaurant that made them look silly. They are sick and tired of moving cities. More importantly, they have alerted the umpires to two separate occasions of racist behaviour from the crowd. Their unofficial spokesperson said they were called "Brown Dogs" and there's an unverified video floating around that seems to back that up. And their fast bowler in only his second Test had to stop the match for it.
At drinks on the morning of day five, an Australian cricketer walked up to the crease and scuffed out their guard. Which may or may not be illegal, but is undoubtedly shit.
India's tour has been like a never-ending Sylvia Plath poem.
And halfway through day five, it looked like they were going to chase the highest total ever at the SCG. They did it with a batsman who was ridiculed in Melbourne for playing his natural game. Another was abused for playing too slow when he top-scored in the first innings. They were approaching a lead of 2-1 against a full-strength Australia side with an incredible bowling attack in mid-peak.
Tours sometimes go in this direction. Your opening bowler does his hamstring in the first game. A middle-order batsman breaks a finger, another has to leave for personal reasons. And your star all-rounder gets caught at a strip club at 7 am the morning of a game. But generally in these situations, your team loses. The captain goes grey the third Test. And players use stories about it in their after-dinner speeches for decades.
India has every reason to be three-nil down, not one all with a decider to come.
In Melbourne, they built their victory on an Ajinkya Rahane innings, and he was out at the start of the day. Just add it to the excuse pile. At that point, no one felt like there would be much of a rear guard. Australia hadn't even hit their side for this innings yet, India was already three down. There was still a full day to go, so there was that.
Oh, and the pitch was a bit up and down. Not terrifying, but a challenge at least. Put that one on the list as well, if you have any room.
Pant was batting too, at one stage he hit Lyon over cover for six. Not happy enough with the risk involved with that shot, next ball he went over the head of long-on. Pant is often the scapegoat, batsmen who play like him are loved when the shots come off and despised after the dismissal. If Pant had been dismissed for 37 playing the first shot, or 43 for the next, seven new 24 hour Indian TV channels would have sprung up to focus on it.
Pujara was in a different position. If India got the draw, his innings would have been the foundation of it. If they ended up 17 runs short of victory, every dot ball would be uploaded to YouTube with evil soundtrack music. He'd already been blamed for playing a match losing (still not sure that is a thing) or even a series losing (!!?!!?!??) knock in the first innings.
Here were these two guys who were too risky and too slow, doing exactly what they do, when almost no other Indian player was fit enough, or in-country.
It didn't last, Pant opened up the new ball. Pujara was hacked out by Hazlewood. And again, there was every reason to crumble. Jadeja wouldn't be able to bat properly because of injury, neither would the tail, because of their batting. Australia had opened a wound. In all honesty, since 36 all out, India has been a wound, it has never scabbed over. They've boxed on with blood in their eyes. Barely stopping to wipe themselves clean.
But Vihari fought on for the draw after his hamstring ended a chance for victory. And Ashwin got hit, put his hand in danger, and kept going. The pitch and bowlers were flatter than anyone expected. Still, no one believed India to have a chance to find that out. In the end, Australia were sledging them about what might happen next week. As far as mental disintegration goes, it was very much of the 'wait until dad gets home' oeuvre. Australia were sledging them for the future because they'd been beaten in the present.
If India can even find XI players for next week, you would expect them to lose the final Test. It's at the Gabba, and they'll miss their fifth bowler and possibly have to find one more batsman.
They shouldn't have drawn this match, won in Melbourne, and risen after Adelaide. India shouldn't be breathing in this series. This was supposed to be a brave loss. A moral victory. But they won't give up.
Very well written. Perfectly encapsulated the emotions of all Indian test cricket fans.
Great piece as always. The one thing I heard about the Aussies was that they didn't give up. The Gabba sledge (or nonsense) just proved it wrong. They ceded defeat before the game was over.