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Men in Blue : Breaching fortresses and breaking records - An Article By Ashwin Jangam

Earlier this year, the Indian team breached the Aussie fortress Gabba which was undefeated for 32 years. After being bundled for 36 in the Adelaide Oval, the Indians replied to the humiliating defeat by winning the immediate next encounter in Melbourne, which was the last game of 2020 for both teams. With the stand-in skipper Ajinkya playing the captain's knock by scoring a hundred, India roared back to resurrect at the MCG.

The first match of 2021 was equally worth remembering when Ravichandran Ashwin and Hanuma Vihari, both severely injured, pulled out an almost impossible draw at the SCG. The cherry on the pie, however, was the victory at Gabba. With half, of the team injured, the bunch of youngsters led by Rahane breached the Gabba, where Aussies had a stronghold. For the second consecutive time, the touring India team won.

The year had started with a bang. Since then, the Men in Blue are on a roll. After their heroics in Gabba, they turned out to be victorious in the Mecca of cricket, Lord's for the first time after 2014. They followed it by having a lead in the series by 2-1. Continuing their overseas dream run, the Men in Blue breached the Protea's fortress Centurion, becoming the first team from Asia to win a test match at the venue.

The match, which everyone thought would be a fighting encounter, turned out to be a rather one-sided game. Winning the toss, skipper Virat chose to bat. The decision was proven right by both the Indian openers. Both stuck to the basics and played the new ball well. Mayank fell after scoring a fifty, but Rahul reached his century in style. He was accompanied well by Rahane, who looked solid, but fell short of his fifty by 2 runs.

Even though Indians suffered a collapse on the 3rd day, the Indian pace attack ensured a good lead for them. The second innings of India didn't last for too long, but the run-a-ball cameos from Rahane and Pant gave them a quick lead and helped them set a target quickly. The Indian seamers yet again made sure the Protea batsmen didn't get to extend their arms often and put pressure on them by scalping 4 wickets on a penultimate day, with the 4th wicket coming on the last ball of the day.

In a matter of time, after some resistance from the test skipper and T20 skipper of South Africa, the Proteas fell after the dismissal of the former. The Indian bowlers had done their job to create history at the Centurion, despite rain trying to play spoilsport on the second day. Usually, India is known for their batting, but their bowling attack has tremendously improved since the last year, and they owe the victories to the pace and spin attack. The trio of Shami, Bumrah and Siraj made life difficult for Proteas batters by bowling tight lengths and lines and scalping 8, 5 and 3 wickets respectively in the match. Thakur played his part well by dismissing the experienced Quinton De Cock in the first innings. The enthusiasm of Siraj was loved by the fans and he celebrated it in the way CR7 does.

While the bowlers did an amazing job, most experienced batters of both teams were dismissed in the area of their concern in both the innings. With Virat dismissed both the times trying to drive the ball far away from off stump, De Cock made way to the pavilion edging the ball on the inner side of his bat, uprooting the stumps in both the innings. However, other Indian players reached to a few milestones in this test. With Shami scalping 200 wickets in tests overall, Bumrah crossed his century of wickets away from home. Rishabh also made his century of catches as a wicket-keeper.

But irrespective of individual accolades, the complete team effort, with the team playing firmly as a unit has won Men in Blue matches. As a team, India has played exceptionally well this year, barring their performance in ICC events. The WTC final loss and the early exit from the T20 world cup were disheartening. Furthermore, all of it was followed by the drama between the captaincy change and the miscommunication of BCCI and the players. But eventually, everything ended well, which is reflected in today's historic victory.

Despite all the difficulties, Men in Blue have given a lot of opportunities for Indians to smile their hearts out. The series victory over England and Black Caps in-home, and victories in SENA countries barring New Zealand, have made a stronger case to call India the best test team at this moment. What makes it even special is the contribution of many players with less experience. The likes of Shubhman Gill, Washington Sundar, Shardul Thakur, Axar Patel, Shreyas Iyer helped India win matches when it was required. While Mayank has always proved his worth, the rise of Siraj after he lost his father this year is the best thing ever happened to Indian cricket. Looking at the longest and the oldest format of the game, the future of the Indian team looks bright. How good it will be, only time will tell. But 2021 will always be remembered as one of the best years for Indian cricket, particularly about red-ball cricket. The Indian cricket fans will never forget it.

Authored By:- Ashwin Jangam ( Cricket Analyst, Host and Entertainer)


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