Before Ashwin and Vihari took charge, it was wicket-keeper batsman Rishabh Pant who laid India’s foundation with a magnificent 97 off 118 balls. His innings was studded with 12 boundaries and three sixes. While he was at the crease with Cheteshwar Pujara it seemed like India were in with a chance to get to the target of 407 and win the Test at the SCG.
Former India captain and legendary cricketer Dilip Vengsarkar lauded India’s valiant effort in drawing the Sydney Test.
“It was a fantastic performance by India. They fought really well and bravely. India had lost two wickets on the fourth day and no one imagined India will put up such a brave show. I would give credit to Rishabh Pant who played (an) outstanding innings. India were so close to winning the match. Pant played a valiant knock. Hanuma was injured and couldn’t run also. Jadeja was injured too. So, the obvious option was to draw the Test match which they did and they did it in style,” Vengsarkar told Timesofindia.com in an exclusive interview.
“It was Rishabh’s innings that brought us close in the match. Had he been there for some more time, we would have definitely won. But this draw is no less than a win. It was an extraordinary innings by Pant. Ashwin played really well and the way he took the India innings forward along with Hanuma was just amazing. Pujara too played well. Everyone played really well. It was a team performance. It was an outstanding team effort,” Vengsarkar, who played 116 Tests and 129 ODIs for India from 1976 to 1992 further said.
AJINKYA RAHANE – CAPTAIN FANTASTIC
Virat Kohli, who left on paternity leave after the Adelaide Test (which India lost), handed over the captaincy baton to Rahane for the remainder of the series (three Tests) and the Mumbaikar delivered in his own style. Rahane showed great character to inspire India to a remarkable bounce back win against Australia in Melbourne to level the series at 1-1 and then secured a hard-fought draw in Sydney. The SCG Test was Rahane’s fourth Test as captain. He has three wins and one draw as India Test captain so far.
Now, Team India will head for the fourth and final Test in Brisbane, starting January 15.
Vengsarkar feels Rahane has handled the team well and has done an amazing job in Kohli’s absence.
“The team has really blossomed under the leadership of Ajinkya Rahane. India were bundled out for 36 and lost the match (in the first Test in Adelaide) but the way Rahane led the team after the Adelaide defeat is amazing. Ajinkya showed tremendous character,” the former Indian cricketer told TimesofIndia.com.
“Players are more at ease under Rahane. He has given the freedom to his players. Freedom is the top most thing that Rahane has injected into the team. Not just Ashwin and Jadeja, the youngsters Siraj, Saini, and Gill also impressed in the series. Ajinkya has done a fantastic job in Virat’s absence,” Vengsarkar further said.
ASHWIN AND VIHARI’S BRAVE SHOW – A STORY FOR THE AGES
Vihari faced 161 balls and remained unbeaten on 23, while Ashwin scored 39 not out off 128 balls, chasing Australia’s 406 for victory. They were facing a barrage of bouncers, short balls, and cuss words from the Aussies. Vihari was battling a very painful hamstring tear, which was later diagnosed to be a grade two tear. It’s very possible that he aggravated the injury further by batting on to save the Test. Ashwin batted on with an extremely sore back. But all of Australia’s efforts were in vain in the face of the India duo’s perseverance and tenacity. They stood firm and let their bat do the talking.
“That’s the beauty of Test cricket. That is why Test is the best format of the gentlemen’s game. Every session can change the face of the match. As you say that the glorious uncertainties of the game are in Test matches. I enjoyed watching each and every session of the match,” Vengsarka, who scored over 10,000 international runs, with 17 Test and one ODI century told TimesofIndia.com.
After securing a draw, Ashwin pulled out a stump and gave a fist bump to Vihari. On the other hand, Vihari had a wry smile on his face while walking back to the pavilion.
“Both played extremely wonderfully. Hanuma played bravely. He was injured and couldn’t run. He kept his calm and faced the solid Australian attack. Ashwin is a world-class all-rounder. He is one of the best bowlers in the world and he is a handy batsman too. Both Vihari and Ashwin are strong characters,” Vengsarkar further complimented the Indian duo who will be remembered for pulling off a memorable and possibly series defining draw which felt like a win.
WHEN VENGSARKAR DENIED PAKISTAN A WIN IN 1979
Vengsarkar knows what it takes to save a Test match at a time when the writing seems to be on the wall for the team. He was in a similar kind of situation during the 1979 Test against Pakistan in Delhi. India were batting last in that match and their target was 390. Vengsarkar, who came in at number three scored 146 not out off 370 balls at a strike rate of 39.46 in the fourth innings and stitched a match-saving partnership with Yashpal Sharma (60 off 135 balls) to secure a draw. India batted for 131 overs in the fourth innings and ended the final day at 364/6 to deny Pakistan a win. 131 is also the exact number of overs India batted in the fourth innings of the recently concluded Sydney Test vs Australia to get to 334/5 and secure a draw.
Taking a walk down memory lane, Vengsarkar said: “I was in a similar situation. We were not given the chance of winning the match. It was a huge task. We were fighting for a draw, forget about winning. I had a decent partnership with Yashpal Sharma. That partnership and Yashpal’s support from the other end brought us into the game.”
The current series vs Australia is locked at 1-1. Now, the defending Border Gavaskar title holders, India, will aim to not just retain the coveted title when they face Australia in the fourth and final Test, starting January 15, but come back home with a 2-1 winning series scoreline.
India defeated Australia 2-1 in the 2018-19 series Down Under to clinch the trophy.
The odds though are stacked against Team India. The injury list is already a very long one and they are missing some key players. They also have a zero percent win record in Brisbane, which will offer possibly the bounciest pitch so far in the series. India have played six Tests in Brisbane so far, losing on 5 occasions and drawing 1 Test.
But, Vangsarkar is confident that Rahane and his men will defy history and current obstacles. After all this team has already shown immense character and gumption by overcoming multiple hurdles to stay very much alive in the series.
“Since India have never won in Brisbane, I am sure they will win this time. India have the opportunity to win in Brisbane,” Vengsarkar told TimesofIndia.com.
“Indian players have tremendous potential. The way they have played in the last two matches (Melbourne and Sydney) is exemplary. If they play to their potential, they can win in Brisbane and the series too,” Vengsarkar signed off.