Drawing the Aussies Out

In the sweltering Sydney sun, Ashwin and Vihari battled through numerous injuries to rescue India from a spot of bother.
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Ashwin and Vihari walk back after rescuing the game for India I Source: The Scroll

In March 2018, Australian Cricket was rocked by arguably the biggest scandal in its history. Cameron Bancroft had been caught rubbing sandpaper on the ball to make it swing. Captain Steve Smith and Vice-captain David Warner were said to have known and encouraged them to do this, which got them banned for a year and Bancroft for nine months.

When India had last toured Australia, these two, mainstays of the Australian batting order, were missing, putting an asterisk next to India’s victory. Smith, who had made a terrific comeback in the Ashes, was struggling to find form here. David Warner had barely got going either.

Sydney Cricket Ground, where he had grown up batting, was the perfect place for him to leave his mark, and he did exactly that. Combining with Marcus Labuschagne, he put the Indians under huge pressure. However, Marcus was dismissed when the team total was just above 200 runs, and the rest of the team put up just 130 runs more before getting packed.

The fifties from Gill and Pujara saved the blushes for the Indians, and they ceded a 94-run lead to the hosts. Once again helped by the Marnus-Smith duo, they breached the 300-run mark and set a mammoth target of 407 runs.

What was already near impossible was worsened by the fact that India lost yet another senior player, Jadeja, who couldn’t bat after the first innings because of an injury to his fingers.

Rohit, who was a man rediscovered in test matches, reached his half-century and, along with Pujara, gave the team a meaningful platform. Swashbuckling keeper Rishab Pant carried the momentum even further but fell agonisingly short of scoring one of the best centuries ever by an Indian on Australian shores.

When Pujara’s vigil ended, India was still 135 runs short of the total that had been set. Vihari and Ashwin were their last recognised batting pair, and losing any of them would’ve meant giving the hosts a free run at victory.

Both Vihari and Ashwin were struggling with their bodies. Vihari was nursing a torn hamstring, while Ashwin’s back was bad enough that he could barely stand up, according to his wife in an interview. Both of them were to be ruled out after this match, but their last contributions to the team ended up being priceless.

For 43 overs, they batted through the heat, the pain, and Tim Paine’s barrage of sledges behind the wicket. Neither of them could run, and they didn’t need to either. With 131 overs having been bowled, the match ended in a draw, Vihari had batted for close to 27 overs himself, while Ashwin had for 22. The match had successfully been rescued, and the two teams moved to Gabba for the series decider. Aussie Captain had famously proclaimed “Can’t wait to take you to the Gabba, Ash,” when Ashwin was on the crease - although Ashwin didn’t go, Paine would live to regret those words nonetheless.

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