INDIA’S emphatic win over Australia in the second Test at Melbourne, which levelled the series 1-1 with two matches to go, must rank very high among India’s triumphs in cricket’s toughest format. After they were demolished within three days in Adelaide — bowled out for 36 in the second innings — the odds were stacked heavily against India. An injury to key fast bowler Mohammed Shami and the return to India of Virat Kohli — India’s captain and best batsman — on paternity leave made them very vulnerable against the world’s three best fast bowlers, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood. A 4-0 series whitewash by Australia seemed imminent. Victory, thus, seems incredible and very, very sweet.
The quiet and soft-spoken Ajinkya Rahane — diametrically opposite in character to Kohli — showed that the strength of the mind is the greatest strength. He captained the team with imagination and verve, and his marshalling of his bowling resources drew praise from the experts. His 112 in the first innings, the first century of the series from either side, helped India get a big lead. The two debutants India fielded — Shubman Gill and Mohammed Siraj — rose to the challenge and made important contributions. Ravindra Jadeja, who replaced Kohli in the playing XI, chipped in with both bat and ball. Jasprit Bumrah is near the top of his game, and Ravichandran Ashwin’s continuing success on Australian tracks suggests that he is peaking as a spinner. A complete team effort helped wash off the stain of a historical low total of 36 at Adelaide.
The series is poised for a thrilling finish, even as the race for the top two spots in the inaugural World Test Championship is hotting up. Australia is a team that must never be counted out — they are playing on their own wickets, their bowling is top-class, and their batting is packed with serious talent. The excellent Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne have had a quiet series, and that would make them doubly determined to make up in the remaining games. But now is the time to celebrate India’s win, which brings down the curtain on a year that was miserable for sport, as it was for almost every aspect of life. Three cheers for sport!