When you carry the baggage of watching Indian cricket collapses over the years, your instincts as a fan tend to be conservative.
When I wake up at 5AM to watch the game today, my only wish is: play for the draw.
Play for the draw. Retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy.
That’s more than enough. We don’t need to win today.
Seriously, we really don’t.
1–1 would be an incredible result. This is a team that’s overcome hard quarantines, 36 all out, abuse from the stands, Labuschagne’s pained appeals and slam-book questions from forward short leg, and so many injuries that net bowlers have had to be drafted in to take on a full-strength Australian team at a ground that the hosts haven’t lost at since 1988.
So, play for the draw. Please.
The Indian team’s approach in the first session seems to indicate that they agree. 80 odd runs for the loss of one wicket. Pujara resolute at one end, Gill playing like the magic-prodigy-genius-kid he is at the other, leaving well outside off and gloriously punching deliveries only in his arc to the boundary.
Wonderful. Deep breath. They’re playing for the draw.
When they come back from lunch, they hit Starc for 20 runs in one over. No reason to panic, I tell myself. It’s just the natural acceleration of a well-set duo that have summed up the wicket and the bowler.
Lyon then dangles one outside off, Gill nicks the ball and Smith pouches it. I feel my heart rate increase and remind myself that it’s fine.
It’s fine. Gill’s done his job — we’re in the safe hands of Pujara and… yes, in walks Rahane.
Brilliant. It’s the ice-man Rahane at number 4. None of that sending Pant up the order to go BOOM nonsense.
But then, Rahane dances down the wicket and launches Lyon over long-on for six. Hold on — he’s not going for the win, right? There’s 44 overs to go!
It took Michael Clarke only one over 13 years ago to dismantle the Indian tail in Sydney. This team’s got Mitchell Starc who dines on tailenders for fun, and we’ve got Siraj at #10 who moves around the crease to avoid being hit by the ball and Natarajan at #11 who admitted that he couldn’t even see the ball the last time he faced Starc. Oh, and his last 11 innings read 1,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0.
Anyway, next over Cummins bowls a lifter and Rahane goes for the attacking option. He tries to ramp, but only succeeds in edging the ball to Paine.
Is this what they call intent? If so, can we not intent?
In swaggers Pant. If he’s thinking of victory, he’s holding those cards close to his chest. Takes his time, gets his eye in, doesn’t do anything fancy.
Meanwhile, Pujara is doing Pujara things — defending, ducking, wearing deliveries on his chest, gloves, helmet. Unrelenting. Unbreakable. His appetite is for balls-faced, not runs scored. This is selfless batting. If you look at #Pujara tweets on Twitter, it’s clear we don’t deserve him, but he’s the hero we need.
He only breaks out of his zone once when a butterfly stumbles into his path. He stops a mid-run-up Hazlewood to let the butterfly pass. Some levity. It’s a nice break. Ha, a butterfly.
It’s just nature telling us to chill.
Telling us to relax. It’ll all okay.
We’ll survive. We’ll get our draw.
Hazlewood is annoyed as hell, though. So he hits Pujara on the helmet the next ball to remind him that he’s already bowled 5 million overs this series and does not have run-up energy to waste.
They take the new ball. 20 overs to go. 7 wickets in hand. This is it — the final stretch.
I’ve woken up at 5AM to follow every day of this series. It’s been riveting. I don’t know what I’ll do with my life without this to look forward to from tomorrow, but I don’t care — these final 20 overs cannot end sooner.
Cummins runs in. Like he’s run in all series, bowling so many jaffas he’s diluted the meaning of it. The best fast bowler in the world against a beaten, bruised but somehow still standing and fighting Pujara.
Cummins jags the ball back in. Hits Pujara on the front pad. Umpire raises his finger. DRS agrees.
Fuckkkkk. 19.4 overs to go. 6 wickets in hand.
Mayank Agarwal walks in. An opener coming in at number 6, right in time to take on the second new ball. You could not have planned this better, but I’m beyond nervous.
Cummins bowls a beaut, and Agarwal plays and misses. It can all unravel pretty quickly from here. Cummins could break the back of this line-up this very over.
But then Agarwal leans into a fuller delivery and picks up a couple. He does the same the next ball too, and it’s like you can finally raise your head above the water and take a breath.
Pant then sweeps Lyon powerfully to the boundary. They rotate strike. All’s well. We’ll draw this. Surely.
And then, Agarwal does something that baffles me. He drives uppishly and finds the fielder. Gone! Why would he play a shot in the air right now? It makes no sense to me. Unless…
They’re going for it.
They’re fucking going for the win.
63 runs needed in 13 overs. The debutant Washington Sundar walks in. There’s almost-debutant Shardul Thakur next, and then the final two wickets that Starc can knock off in his sleep.
They’ve got to shut shop and just play out the remaining overs, right? Anything else is way too risky. Every Indian collapse I’ve witnessed comes back to me.
81 all out in Barbados. I was too young to properly understand the game then, but not too young for that heartbreak.
Javagal Srinath playing Saqlain Mushtaq back on to his stumps in Chepauk after that Tendulkar masterclass.
That effing Michael Clarke spell in Sydney in the dying embers of the final day.
Eight wickets falling in one session at Adelaide after Kohli’s imperious 141.
I re-live these collapses now, over and over. But the incoming Sundar’s only 21 years old. Pant is 23. They don’t carry these traumas.
Pant pulls out a reverse-sweep and misses. What if he had top-edged that to a fielder? He doesn’t care. He’s not playing for a draw.
Sundar drives Cummins gloriously to the long-off boundary. The best bowler in the world doesn’t seem as potent to the left-handers.
Is this actually happening?
Pant skews a ball in the air, but it falls safe.
I can’t take it anymore.
Cummins bounces Sundar. He swivel-hooks him for six, and then slices him over the slips for four. Where does this belief come from? You’re not supposed to do these things on a fifth day wicket in Australia.
But then if you’ve played first-division cricket in Chennai at the age of 12, I guess you’re used to the underdog fight.
And then the runs start to flow in every way possible.
Pant looks to scoop Lyon and falls on his back, but the ball’s gone for four.
Then, a ball hits a crack on the pitch and runs away to the boundary.
Then, a Hazlewood delivery hits Sundar’s thigh pad and somehow goes over the slip cordon for four.
15 runs needed in 5 overs. The Australian fortress is being breached, and they have no answers.
The same belief that made Sundar swivel-hook Cummins for six, well it’s that same belief that makes him reverse-sweep Lyon now. He misses, the ball hits the stumps, and Sundar can’t accept what he’s done. He’s devastated, unable to extricate himself from the crease.
I relive India’s collapses again.
If India lose from here, I wonder, will Sundar relive that shot forever? Will he be this fearless again?
Almost-debutant Thakur enters the arena. He watches Pant fall down once more — this time it’s after a pull-shot, but the result is the same. 6 to win now.
Strike rotates. 5 to win. 4 wickets in hand.
Thakur takes two, and then pops up a catch. Crucially, as the ball is in the air, Pant crosses over to the other side.
Two balls left in the over. Three to win. If Pant doesn’t finish this soon, I fear the Aussies will storm right back.
I can’t get the image of Clarke wheeling away in Sydney out of my mind. It doesn’t take much to wipe away our tail.
Hazlewood bowls one way down the legside and Pant can’t reach it. After bowling 5 million overs in the most intense test series ever, is Hazlewood finally exhausted? Have we finally broken him?
He runs in one more time and bowls an innocuous low-full toss. Pant connects and starts to sprint.
Yes! Take the single and retain strike!
Hold up, the fielder’s still running after the ball, go for two, go for two, tie the game!
The fielder’s not going to get to it! It’s running away to the boundary!
Mohammad Siraj and Prithvi Shaw run on to the field and embrace Pant and Navdeep Saini.
What scenes. Siraj and Saini made their debuts this series. Shaw is a 21-year-old wunderkind. And Pant, well, he’s genius.
The four of them, and let’s not forget Gill and Sundar, they continue to know nothing of Indian collapses.
Play for the draw?
This team plays to win.