Dark clouds hung over the Sydney Cricket Ground on Monday, holding off India’s bid to win the Test series against Australia in greater style. Yet, the final 2-1 result is historic, with India for the first time defeating Australia in Australia in a Test series. Having flourished at Adelaide and Melbourne, the two victories split by the solitary loss at Perth, Virat Kohli’s men were in good spirits when they reached Sydney. Their soaring confidence found validation through a first innings total of 622 for seven (declared), a challenge to Australia that built upon Cheteshwar Pujara’s 193 and Rishabh Pant’s unbeaten 159. Australia scored 300 and suffered the ignominy of following on before bad light and wet weather rescued the hosts. But India had done enough to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. The triumph is doubly delicious as it was seized within Australia, an achievement that eluded previous Indian squads. Since its maiden Test at Lord’s in 1932, India gained strength as a powerhouse at home but remained diffident overseas. England, West Indies and Pakistan were humbled on their home turf but Australia, until now, never wilted. It remained unconquerable, unleashing fiery fast bowlers and marauding batsmen.
Lala Amarnath’s men were the first to tour Australia for the 1947-48 series and they returned after losing 0-4. Later Indian teams were either defeated or ended up forcing a stalemate. When Kohli’s men set foot Down Under, there was the weight of past losses to contend with, besides a need to prove that their No. 1 Test ranking could stand scrutiny when they travelled beyond the subcontinent. It didn’t help that an enfeebled Australia, following the ball-tampering crisis of 2018, was expected to collapse.
The expectation this time around was direct and strident: India had to win. Kohli’s men did that gloriously against Tim Paine’s men, who fought for large stretches before discarding their spirit towards the business end. It wasn’t easy and India did have its headaches. Midway, it had to jettison the malfunctioning opening pair of Murali Vijay and K.L. Rahul. Lead spinner R. Ashwin, after choking the Aussies at Adelaide, picked up a side-strain, and the ambiguity over his fitness level before the concluding Test triggered some conspiracy theories. The squad missed two regulars, who were tending to injuries: wicket-keeper Wriddhiman Saha and opener Prithvi Shaw. Still, India found the right men for different occasions. Kohli scored a ton, Pujara did even better, delivering three centuries, amassing 521 and averaging 74.43. The fast bowling unit was incisive and Jasprit Bumrah sizzled with 21 wickets. Pant caught well and provided valuable runs lower down the order. The latest achievement in Australia has to be savoured. Now South Africa remains the “final frontier”, as it were — India is yet to win a Test series there.