A day after the President, Mr. Ram Nath Kovind, and the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, hailed the Indian cricket team for being the first Asian team to win a Test series against Australia in that country, the Pakistan Prime Minister, Mr. Imran Khan, congratulated the Indian team that clinched the series 2-1 after the fourth and final Test was called off due to rain in Sydney, sealing their first win after they began touring Down Under in 1947-48.
‘Congratulations to Virat Kohli and the Indian team for the first ever win by a sub-continent team in a Test series’ Mr. Imran gushed. His country’s fraternity, including the legendary Wasim Akram, lavished praise, and Akram, one of the game's greatest fast bowlers, said the team gelled well as a unit and were ably led by Virat Kohli.
‘I think Virat Kohli deserves a lot of praise for this performance and I would think this success can be put down to the solid domestic cricket structure in India.’ Another ex-captain, Moin Khan, said that winning there was never an easy task for any team from Asia and India had built their success around their batsmen and the bowlers had backed them to the hilt.
‘I have been impressed by the batting displays by Pujara, Kohli, Pant and others as this allowed their bowlers to bowl without any pressure,’ Mohsin said. This has come at a time when Pakistan have lost badly in South Africa and the entire cricket set-up has been under pressure.
Yet, despite achieving what no captain from Asia had done, in 71 years, Virat gave everybody credit except himself. And by this he rose many notches in the eyes of not only his 2-1 Australia-conquering troops, but followers across the globe.
No wonder the ‘Pink Cap’ autographed by him and auctioned in aid of the McGrath Foundation for cancer survivors fetched almost twice the amount of the nearest cricketer. Portrayed as arrogant, the 30-year-old skipper was anything but that in his ‘proudest moment,’ with wife Anushka, very much around, probably providing a calming influence. It was at the same venue, the SCG ground, that Virat led India, four years ago, as full-fledged Test captain.
‘Australia must face up to the reality that India outplayed them. I’m not suggesting this is the best team from your country, but the first to do the job. That, mate, is the bottom line,’ former Australia captain Adam Gilchrist said.
While Virat appeared sanity personified, head coach Ravi Shastri was in a different mood. He took the occasion to take a swipe at his old buddy Sunil Gavaskar, over ‘firing of blanks’ from 2000 miles away.
‘The 1983 World Cup, the 1985 World Championship of Cricket. This is as big, or even bigger, because it is in the truest format of the game. It’s Test cricket, meant to be the toughest, buddy,’ he said. Surely it could not have been bigger than the historic, game-changing World Cup victory in 1983 in which, by the way both figured.
Charged with euphoria Shastri rubbed it in, ‘This is not a team of Gods or demi-Gods.… This is a team that will jump off a cliff to win a match for the country.’ Only Sachin Tendulkar has been bestowed the status of God, Rajya Sabha Membership, Bharat Ratna; and the demi-Gods are; Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Mahendra Singh Dhoni.’
Now comes the new roll call of honour, Cheteshwar Pujara, with three hundreds and a phenomenal total of 521 in seven innings, and on a par was Jasprit Bumrah with 21 wickets, is among the immortals.
There were other heroes and Kohli did not forget to mention them, Hanuma Vihari ‘playing 70 balls (66 actually for 8 runs) with the new ball at the MCG is as big as anyone getting a hundred or anyone scoring 70-80’. It was a team effort through and through. That’s what we strive for... Single spells and single innings don’t win games.’
‘We play to make the team win. If you ask me to single out a contribution, Vihari playing 70 balls (66 actually for 8 runs) with the new ball at the MCG is as big as anyone getting a hundred or anyone scoring 70-80...‘That’s how we recognise contributions,’ Virat said at the lengthy post-series conference. With the series 1-1 India gambled with rookie Mayank Agarwal and promoted Vihari. Mayank, scored a most impressive 76 on debut. Indeed, his contributions went a long way in ensuring the series win, and Virat praised the 27-year-old as well, but the biggest bouquet was for the new-ball attack.
World Cup-winning captain Kapil Dev too applauded the Jasprit Bumrahs and Mohammed Shamis. He said ‘Bumrah was, again, outstanding... We now have an attack to take 20 Test wickets. That makes a huge difference...It’s a happy day for India, but some teams of the past had it in them to also create history...Sourav Ganguly’s men in 2003-2004 and Anil Kumble’s in 2007-2008..’ That skipper put things in perspective.
On Virat’s captaincy, Kapil was cryptic,‘The statistics do the talking. There’s no need for me to add anything.’ Kapil’s team had come close to winning the three-Test series in 1985-1986, he recalled. ‘We needed an hour more to get four wickets... That didn’t happen. Ironically, once play was called off, the sun shone bright.’ The series featured three draws and Sourav’s boys finished 1-1. The rain can play spoiler and clincher as well.
For the record, Kohli is also way ahead in the record for endorsements with Tendulkar and Dhoni much behind. With this kind of excitement that the game generates, where is the innocence of a game, the unconditional joy, or the play of relaxed bodies and free souls, wonders a sociologist. The market has certainly commodified it and the nation-state has used it for its own purposes. No wonder, major sports carnivals are becoming increasingly toxic; they do not play anymore. They become ‘record-breaking’ performers and money speaks through, they become brand ambassadors, or they are in a ‘war zone’. The losing coach is summarily sacked in full view of a packed stadium. In this ‘ground zero’ everything gets to be distorted.
Almost at the same another record was being broken half the world away, in Abu Dhabi, where India defeated Thailand by four goals to one in the Asian Cup soccer, the first victory for India in this edition of the game since 1964. With this the skipper, Sunil Chetri, who scored two goals overtook Lionel Messi of Argentina in the number of international goals scored for the country. He is still a bit away from Ronaldo’s tally of 85 goals. Chetri’s tally is now 67 to Messi’s 65.
This humiliating loss had its casualty, with Thailand’s Serbian coach Milovan Rajevac being sacked. The Serbian, however, was effusive in his praise for the Stephan Constantane’s coaching of India. He was magnanimous in giving full credit to the Indians for their win. They deserved to take all the three points, he said. They absolutely deserved to win and in the second half India was more aggressive and they clearly wanted a victory. The Serbian had taken over in 2017, after stints at Ghana where he took them to the quarter-finals of the 2010World Cup finals, and then coached Qatar and Algeria.
Nearer home in Kolkata there were shocks in store the same week . Here the debutant Real Kashmir Football Club defeated famed Mohun Bagan and immediately its coach Shankarlal Chakravarty resigned owning moral responsibility. ‘I don’t want to stay any more with the club,’ he said. This is the fourth defeat for the giant club with a history that dates back for more than a century and it was the first Indian club to defeat British Army clubs to lift the IFA shield trophy. The humiliated British, it is said, forced the Viceroy, Lord Curzon to shift the imperial capital pronto from Calcutta to distant Delhi, in 1911.
From the Maidan and Salt Lake Stadium it has been long journey to the SCG ground, via the thunder in the desert. So many endorsements and so many coaches left on the ‘grub street’.