New Delhi: There have been injuries, banters and episodes of racial abuse -- from the hostile Aussie crowd -- that the visiting Indian team has had to face on their current tour of Australia. But this group of men has shown tremendous character in adversity. And batting out 131 overs to save the third Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Monday bears testimony to their grit and determination.
But the past holds no good in the gentleman's game. And with the series now locked at 1-1, Indians are faced with their biggest challenge so far -- facing the Australians at The Gabba for the series decider. For long, the Brisbane Cricket Ground has been called Australia's fortress. The home team last lost a game in Brisbane in 1988 -- against the mighty West Indians. But then, cricket is not played on paper and statistics will hold no meaning when Ajinkya Rahane and Tim Paine go out for the toss on Friday morning.
But then, what about the psychological edge that comes with previous performances on the ground?
While past records hand Australia a slight edge, one cannot forget the impeccable performance of Rahane's boys at the Sydney Cricket Ground a couple of days back. With the odds stacked against them, the boys showed character despite the likes of Rishabh Pant, Hanuma Vihari, and R Ashwin down with injuries.
While Pant hit an awe-inspiring 97 to raise hopes of an improbable win, the duo of Vihari and Ashwin batted out 258 deliveries over 2.5 hours to draw a game that was clearly in Australia's bag. The verbal volleys from Australia skipper Paine was a clear indication that India had won the mental battle.
An apology followed from Paine for crossing the line, but more importantly, not often is an Indian team known to get under the skin of the Aussies on their turf. But this team has managed to do just that. News of Vihari batting for close to three hours with a Grade 2 hamstring tear is stuff folklores are made of.
Now, it is time to look at the road ahead. There are more roadblocks as star all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja has been ruled out with a broken thumb and Vihari is out with a torn hamstring. Not to forget that pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah is racing time to be fit for one final assault on the Australian top-order in a series that has seen both teams play out of their comfort zones.
India may have not won the third Test, but the team which has turned into an 'injury-ravaged' outfit walked out of the SCG with heads held high. The roar of a jubilant comeback from the Indian side will undoubtedly be echoed in the SCG stands for years to come.
Vihari and Ashwin batting out 43 overs to help the visitors walk away with one of cricket's most memorable draws can only be the boost the unit needed ahead of the Gabba encounter. However, Rahane will have a hard time narrowing down his playing XI.
The hosts have already have been deprived of Mohammed Shami (arm fracture), Umesh Yadav (calf injury), Ishant Sharma (side strain), Ravinder Jadeja (left thumb dislocation), and KL Rahul (wrist sprain). In recent developments, after the SCG heroics, the man of the hour Vihari was also ruled out with the Grade 2 tear on his right hamstring.
While Bumrah's fate hangs in balance as the medical team is working overtime to ready him for the decider, the other heroes of the SCG Test Ashwin and Pant are also battling with a bad back and a bruised left-arm respectively.
On the other front, Aussies too is struggling with a few injuries. But in comparison to India, their loss doesn't appear to be as magnanimous. Cricket Australia on Tuesday confirmed that opening batsman Will Pucovski suffered a shoulder subluxation injury in the Sydney Test and his participation in the fourth and final Test against India hangs in the balance.
The injuries might deter India's chances on paper as it has and might further lose the services of many of its heavyweights. However, in the larger scheme of things, there are still many awaiting their turn who have time and again proved their worth for the visitors in the ongoing series after being called in as replacements.
Jadeja's absence does makes things awry for India as he is perhaps the only true-blue all-rounder the side has. But Washington Sundar could emerge as a fitting substitute for the southpaw as the bowling all-rounder can extend the lower middle-order of the visitors. But The Gabba is also known for having the fastest pitch in Australia and India might not wish to go in with two spinners in the team.
Whether Pant plays the decider in Brisbane as a batsman alone is something that is of great interest as that would also see the best wicket-keeper in Wriddhiman Saha walk in behind the stumps. And lastly, in Ashwin, we must trust! One doesn't need to even follow the game religiously to be familiar with his resolve and might. Whether he would be fit to play the Gabba Test is for the physios to decide, but the off-spinner is not someone who lets his guards down easily.
Case in point, the back injury he battled in the Sydney Test. People came to know of it only after his wife, Prithi, wrote about it on Twitter. To his credit, even BCCI vice president Rajeev Shukla on Monday said that India has finally found its new "wall" after Vihari and Ashwin's blockathon helped the side eke out the epic draw.
Former Australia skipper Ricky Ponting has pointed that the hosts might have the edge heading into the decider Gabba Test as the side has an impeccable record at Brisbane, but the Sydney Test draw will hurt the hosts.
India has time and again over the years displayed its undeterred spirit and one just needs to flip the pages of the history of cricketing folklores to witness the camaraderie between the boys when the chips are down.
Be it Sourav Ganguly's India at the iconic Eden Gardens facing the Steve Waugh-led 'world beaters' Australia in 2001 or Ajinkya Rahane's India at the SCG locking horns with Tim Paine's men, India has scripted its presence via noteworthy records at its own turf as well as on foreign soil.
VVS Laxman (with back spasm) and Rahul Dravid (down with viral fever) batting out all day after following-on to take India from 254/4 to 589/4 and a famous victory is stuff of legends. But 20 years later, the injury-clad duo of Vihari and Ashwin batting out 2.5 hours against a fierce Aussie bowling attack to save the day is no mean feat either. It is undoubtedly bigger than the win at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in the Boxing Day Test on December 29.
'Come on buddy, one more over' was the war-cry in the Indian dressing room to keep a bruised engine running at the SCG on Monday. Come The Gabba, surely it will again be about going full throttle one last time with an eye on the coveted Border-Gavaskar Trophy.