The Tale of the India-Australia Test Series Cannot Be Told in Statistics

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The Tale of the India-Australia Test Series Cannot Be Told in Statistics

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

“Be careful while hugging Pujara, he’s got about fifteen bruises down there,” said one of the commentators, as the elated Indian squad congratulated each other after their historic victory in the fifth test at the Gabba. If record books note the result of the 2020-21 Border Gavaskar Trophy as 2-1 in favour of India, it would be doing it a disservice. The series cannot be heartlessly condensed to a number, for it gave us so much more than just a win. Record books only have the ability to capture objective facts like runs, wickets, catches, run-outs, stumpings, averages, and so on. But can numbers simply do justice to the Test series we have just witnessed? What about all that pain, agony, joy, grit, resilience, and courage? No numbers will be able to capture that, no record book will mention it; it will only stay alive through the story-telling of those who were lucky enough to have witnessed it. 

What statistic can capture the loss of morale after a team has been skittled out for 36 in the first Test of a long, arduous tour? One can easily feel small and go into a shell, dread every minute of what is about to come, make all kinds of excuses. If things weren’t nervy enough, main man Virat Kohli was going off on a much-deserved paternity leave. Teams can break down and disintegrate quite easily after such a hammering, but India bounced back and won the second Test match with Mr Dependable Ajinkya Rahane in charge. The spirit in that dressing room, how can we measure it?

Outside the pitch, there was a lot of noise around the Indian team violating coronavirus norms and complaining of the facilities at the hotel. A restaurant picture went viral; the Australian media was tearing into the side. Controversies can be distracting. You want to focus on the game and nothing else. On the pitch, racist chants from a set of nasty spectators distured play multiple times. Would a young Mohammad Siraj crumble under pressure? Of course he wouldn’t, the man possesses stelly resilience. His father had passed away a few weeks back, but here he was, right in the thick of it. Giving us goosebumps as he shed tears when the national anthem played at Sydney; he gave us goosebumps once again at the Gabba as he led the attack in the absence of India’s top bowlers. What record book could capture his grit and fortitude?

India might have theoretically won the series 2-1, but the truth is, we have no ability to measure the magnitude and scale of this victory.

Few years from now, we will be told that Hanuma Vihari scored a modest unbeaten 23 runs in the third Test match, but it will fail to mention the testing circumstances on day five, the pressure he was under, the amount of time he played, or the hamstring injury that he was nursing for over four hours. In that same game, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravichandran Ashwin, along with Vihari, took blows to the chest, head, thighs, elbows, wrist, you name it. We don’t see the bruises, we can’t feel their pain. All of those finer details will be done away to sum up their brutal battle in the middle with a single number. “Draw” the result will always declare, but it was a moral victory, rich in bravery. 

India came into the final Test match with the entire bowling unit having played nine test matches between them. To put it in perspective, Australia’s Nathan Lyon was playing his 100th. It almost felt like anyone with a working pair of limbs could make it to the side, the situation was that dire. T Natarajan and Washinton Sundar were net bowlers at the start of the tour, now playing a game at one of the fastest pitches in the world. “See you at the Gabba,” the Australian captain had pompously taunted, with the Aussies unbeaten there in 31 years. Can any math equation truly capture the odds that the Indian team was up against in the final Test? Even a draw would be equal to a win here, the murmurs went. 

Who can explain how a second string India bowling attack picked 20 wickets in the fifth game? How did Shardul Thakur and Washington Sundar show up with the bat when the team needed it the most? What can explain the rise of a new young player on every single occasion when the team was in crisis? Once it was Shubman Gill, then Washington Sundar, then Rishabh Pant. How could a bowling unit of Starc, Cummins, Hazlewood, and Lyon get plundered on Day 5 of a crumbling wicket? Australia was not up against a callow Indian side, it was facing men with character… from humble backgrounds with big dreams. 

Mohammad Siraj is a poor rickshaw driver’s son. Navdeep Saini’s father was a government driver. Natarajan had to think twice before buying shoes. Shardul Thakur had to battle weight issues to play for Mumbai and beyond. The sweat, toil, and struggle many of these boys have gone through cannot become a footnote in the bigger story. Because of this tale that’s the crux.

India might have theoretically won the series 2-1, but the truth is, we have no ability to measure the magnitude and scale of this victory. We cannot record it or accurately define it. It can only be seen, felt, and re-told from memory. It is upon us to tell it well, like all great mythologies that are passed down through word of mouth. Because that is what this feels like  – supernatural, and surreal.

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