INDIA TOUR OF AUSTRALIA, 2018-19
Bumrah and Pujara could not be goaded into a dance © Getty
Then on the final day, Virat Kohli and the Indian team found something that Jasprit Bumrah couldn’t or wouldn’t do for them. India had created history, and won a Test series in Australia for the first time. They’d done so without having to lift a finger on the final day at the SCG thanks to the relentless drizzle. And as they waited around for the presentation ceremony to start, Bumrah refused to shake a leg, despite his captain and every single one of his teammates imploring him to do so.
The handful of Indian fans gathered in the Ladies Pavilion and armed with various forms of percussion instruments had broken into their customary celebratory beats. And Rishabh Pant had obliged them with a strange dance move – which would later be revealed as an ode to Cheteshwar Pujara’s lack of moves. But now, the crowd wanted Bumrah to get involved. But India’s premier fast bowler, who has not shied away from any challenge over the last 12 months, developed cold feet. Or perhaps he was just too shy. All Bumrah offered his delirious fans was a polite clap.
He’d done enough for them and his team by then. He, alongside Pujara, had helped Kohli & Co find the missing link that had way too often been the difference between victory and defeat away from home. It’d in fact been a curse of sorts for Indian teams historically, especially in Australia, the inability to win the big moments. Think back to 2003-04 at the SCG, when they couldn’t close out the Test despite having been in front for most parts of the match. Think back to the 1977-78 series when they came back from 2-0 down to level the series against a weakened Australian outfit and then went down in the fifth.
Over the last month though, starting from Adelaide, Bumrah and Pujara with ball and bat respectively had helped India not just win but seize the initiative when it really mattered. Take the first morning of the first Test. The visitors were in all sorts at 127/6 and you feared if it was another one of those faulty starts that would derail the entire campaign. But then came arguably the most important partnership of the series as Pujara and R Ashwin put on 62 and steadied the ship. In a sink or swim scenario, the two brought India ashore, and with a little bit of help from the rest of the tail, dragged the score to 250. Moment seized.
Fast forward to the final day in Adelaide when the Australian lower-order threatened to get too close for comfort. How often have India managed to slip up after having blown away the top-order. Sam Curran is after all only the latest of many lower order batsmen to have denied India their moment. And in came Bumrah to knock out Australia’s two best batsmen in the series, Tim Paine and Pat Cummins, when it mattered to give India a rare series lead. Moment seized.
The Perth defeat was symptomatic of many that India have suffered on such tours. A flat beginning that allows the opposition to get away early and then the inability to pull things back. It was also a kind of debilitating defeat that Indian teams in the past, and this one too, have struggled to come back from. Southampton 2014, when England levelled the series after an Ishant Sharma-inspired defeat in Lord’s, is but only one example that stands out.
And there was a period in Melbourne on Day 3, though they were in front, where the game looked like it could drift on a pitch which till then seemed to have been designed for a draw. Enter Bumrah again, and his devastating spell that blew away the Aussies for 151, and included the ball of the series to Shaun Marsh. The hosts were never going to recover from it. It was the spell that won the series. Moment seized again.
Though 2-1 up, there was still Sydney to go. And winning the toss and getting to bat first on a flat SCG pitch was an advantage. The stage was set for India to seize the moment, and they did so in more unabashed fashion than few Indian teams have in their Test history. They batted Australia out of the game and that was all they needed to do. The series was theirs. History was theirs.
It’s not surprising that because India kept seizing the moments, they also kept winning the half-pointers at crucial points in the series. There’s no coincidence in why it’s always the team that plays the better cricket that ends up being on the right side of providence more often than their opponents in a long series.
How often have Indian fans woken up early and sat in front of the TV hoping that the half-chances, and the close calls go their team’s way in Australia, only to be let down. But here, whether it was Australia not going for a review for a straightforward caught behind while Pujara was on 89 or a couple of their batsmen not going for a DRS when they clearly looked to be not out; it was India that got away with it. But they did so because they deserved it, because they seized the moments when they were up for the taking, with Pujara and Bumrah orchestrating the finishing move more often than not.
And in the end, they could excuse Bumrah not for seizing his moment under the sun by not shaking a leg, especially on a day they’d shaken off their 70-year voodoo of not having left Australia with a Test series win to brag about.