For a patient of chronic constipation, life can look like a motion graphic of rare instances of clean bowels amid permanent rectal dysfunction. Sometimes, it’s hard not to notice how cramped and bloated you feel, like when your team is bowled out for its lowest-ever score. At times the wait for “motion” is unending, like when broken men bat out a draw on a 5th day track. And then there are days like today, when despite attrition staring you in the face, you just have an idea that it’ll all turn out reasonably well. That the bowel pressure feels about right. You won’t say that out loud. Even if you don’t believe in jinxes and commentator’s curses. You won’t accept that the batsmen are playing as comfortably as possible. At the end, when it all turns out as well as your wildest dreams, you need to remind yourself, “Yes, this actually happened.”
Perhaps I’m not doing justice to the enormity of Team India’s achievement of winning the Border-Gavaskar Trophy again. I doubt I can. For, even in the worst of times, there’s a prior precedent of good bowel movement for an ailing person. But what the team achieved today was, in the true sense of the word, unprecedented. There simply is no parallel to this in the entire history of Indian cricket. 8 first-team players missing, including the captain and best batsman. The first- and second-choice bowling attacks missing. Australia’s unbeaten record at the Gabba dating back to 1988. India’s record of not winning anywhere overseas (except Sri Lanka) after losing the first Test.
Perhaps a sporting analogy will help.
1974. In what was then called Zaire and is now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Muhammad Ali came out of retirement to fight against the undefeated heavyweight champion of the world, George Foreman. Ali was long past his prime. Foreman was 7 years younger than Ali, and by dint of his title win and his physical attributes, the favourite for the title.
In the fight, Foreman pummelled Ali in the early rounds. Ali’s strategy, if it could be called that, basically asked for suicide. He wanted to let Foreman expend his energy by soaking all the jabs, hooks and punches, and then capitalize on the fatigue. There was no guarantee that this strategy would work, that he wouldn’t be knocked out before he had a chance to land the blows himself.
But this was what Ali had. As it turned out, by the time the fight entered the 8th round, Foreman was exhausted. Ali duly knocked him out and won “The Rumble In The Jungle”.
In a Test series, regardless of whether the teams are evenly matched or not, captains and coaches keep emphasizing the importance of staying in the game for as long as possible. “Stay in the fight till day 4, then see what happens.” “Let’s play till Tea on the 5th day, then assess what we can do.” Like in the aforementioned boxing duel, there’s no guarantee that this will fetch a win or a draw. But it’s better than committing hara-kiri on the earlier days and losing the match.
India put aside the 36 all out as one of those early round knockdowns. Yes, Australia were 1-0 up in the series, but there were three matches still to go.
In Melbourne, they kept fighting till the 3rd day, pulling Australia back every time they threatened to run away. The win at the MCG was the uppercut that brought them level in the bout.
India kept losing key personnel throughout the series. They had belief in their less-heralded and unproven players. But the well-oiled, blustering fighting machine – Australia on home soil – was the odds-on favourites to land a knockout blow.
Like Ali in 1974, India kept tiring their opponents out by putting miles in their legs. 100 and 131 overs in the two inns in Sydney, and 111 overs in Brisbane in the first gig. And like Foreman in 1974, fatigue finally caught up with the Oz four-pronged attack.
Like Ali, India needed to bring out every ounce of quality and ability to the fore to stay alive in the series. By the time the series reached its ultimate stages, India had enough mental fortitude, audacity and hitting power in the tank to knock Australia down for good.
The triple away tours of 2018-19 began with South Africa and ended in Australia, via England. This time, the tour sequence is reversed. And unlike last time, India have made a winning start to their overseas campaign this time.
If India’s overall away record was the nastiest bout of constipation, today’s win was a one-kiloton dump. Yes, you can debate whether this win was greater than the ones in West Indies and England in 1971 or in 2001 at home against the same team. What you can’t debate are the odds this team fought against, and in winning at the Woolloongabba, the records it created along the way.
Like Muhammad Ali in the jungles of Africa, India have achieved something that’ll be talked about for years and decades to come. Call this series win what you will, because words can’t do it justice. Not really, anyway.
Featured image courtesy.