Indian cricket lovers all around the world are wondering if what happened at Brisbane's Gabba on January 19, 2021, can sit at the pinnacle of India's most significant Test wins.
The incredible victory that came after a record chase of 328 runs on the final day of the Test, at a ground where the previous highest run chase in the fourth inning was 236 runs by Australia against West Indies way back in 1951, culminating in a 2-1 series win for India against Australia.
The fact that this series-win was achieved by a team which was bowled out for a paltry 36 - in the first Test of the series - their lowest Test total in 88 years, see their superstar captain Virat Kohli leave the team for the delivery of his first child, lose critical players to injuries, and up against easily the best bowling attack in the world that too in their own backyard is a big statement of the team's courage, grit, determination and leadership.
For many movie buffs, this may be a stark reminder of the much popular 2007 American epic period action film – 300.
The film 300 tells the immortal saga of the courage of three hundred Spartan soldiers led by King Leonidas who had positioned themselves in the narrow pass at Thermopylae and held back the armies of the Persian god-king, Xerxes I - armies which historians estimate measured anywhere between two-three hundred thousand strong.
The historical fantasy film was mainly appreciated for its unique visuals, and some extremely fierce quotes that inspired a never seen before courage, determination and never give up attitude from those who defied a mightily powerful adversary have come to develop a cult following over the years.
A still from movie 300 where Gerard Butler played the role of Kind Leonidas
Keeping aside the barbarianism associated with Spartans or any warrior society, particularly in that time and age, this sporting feast of more that one month down-under was an abridged version of movie 300, where the spirit of defiance, fight back, resilience, self-belief and endurance were in display in full glory.
Be the calm, decisive and zen-like leadership of stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane or the fearlessness of the likes of Rishabh Pant, Shubman Gill, Hanuma Vihari, the endurance of Ashwin or Pujara, or the calmness and maturity in Mohammed Siraj, Navdeep Saini and Thangarasu Natarajan defying their ages – this epic conquest will comfortably find a place in cricketing folklore for quite long time.
The team members were nothing short of "Spartan warriors" who rose from ashes to hand-in a shocking series defeat to the Australian team playing in their backyard with a bowling attack that is the best in a generation and a batting strength which boasts of an immense reputation.
The secret of Shubman Gill's fearlessness lies in Karsan Ghavri's gesture
Well over a decade back when former India pace bowler Karsan Ghavri took charge of the BCCI pace bowlers academy at the PCA Stadium in Mohali to groom future India fast bowlers, he struggled to find young batsmen for his trainee bowlers to practice against.
"For the first four-five days, I would do drills, train them but there were no batsmen for bowlers to bowl at in the nets. We used to teach them the bowling drills but for actual practice, we needed batsmen. I was tasked to produce future pacers of the country. Without them bowling at batsmen, it was impossible. I got in touch with Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) to provide some local U-16, U-19 batsmen," Ghavri told local media.
"Then one day it rained, forcing assistant coach Yoginder Puri and me to take a break from training. I walked across the road to this huge ground (which hosts PCA's district games) and saw some kids playing. There was this kid of 10 or 11 who was playing great, correct and straight shots. I walked up to a gentleman sitting outside the boundary and chatted him up. He was the father of that kid," he adds.
The kid was a young Shubman Gill, who on Tuesday, scored 91 to help India beat Australia in the fourth Test at the Gabba.
Ghavri asked Lakhwinder Singh Gill to send his young son Shubman to the nets and promised him facilities. The father, who had relocated over 300 kilometres to Mohali from his village in Punjab with the kid just to ensure that the lad could pursue his cricket, was overjoyed.
Gill, at 10-11, began facing U-19 pace bowlers who were on the cusp of representing their respective states. He would turn up every day, eat and face the pace bowlers.
"He started mixing with players, have food with them. We used to make him bat for 30-40 minutes everyday. We used to give every pace bowler a fresh, new ball. He was playing U-19 boys so well that I was surprised. I called Sushil Kapoor (the administrative manager of the academy and a high ranking official of PCA) and told him to take care of the boy and put him in U-14. He agreed. Gill was taken in U-14, played there and he started scoring," recalls the former left-arm pace bowler while talking to IANS.
Kapoor says the fearlessness was developed in Gill at a very young age by facing bowlers much older to him constantly.
From dusty fields in Salem to Gabba high
Pace bowler T Natarajan had all odds stacked against him growing up. His family, led by father who toiled for daily wages and mother who ran a roadside shack, had little money and his house had no TV on which he could watch cricket and pick his initial lessons. But there was one thing he had managed to pick in the dusty village fields around Salem in Tamil Nadu while playing tennis ball cricket -- the ability to bowl fast.
"I wouldn't even call it a humble background. He comes from poverty. In his early years he was playing simple tennis ball cricket in the village, middle of nowhere on small and dusty grounds in small villages. Nobody taught him to bowl. He didn't even have a TV to see cricket matches," RS Ramaswamy, secretary of Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA), has told local media.
Natarajan played his first Ranji Trophy game in 2015, an event that should have been celebrated. However, he was called for a suspect action in the game and had to return to work on his action.
However, it was the Tamil Nadu Premier League that catapulted him into the limelight. He shared the same dressing room space as India international R Ashwin in the T20 league.
Lessons on the terrace of Roorkee home came handy
On the cemented terrace of his Roorkee home in Uttarakhand, father Rajinder Pant would tie a pillow to the chest of his tiny son Rishabh and bowl with a cork ball to him from close distance to take the fear of facing fast bowlers out of his mind.
That, coupled with the Maltova-mixed milk, gave strength to Rishabh's muscles -- a testimony of which was delivered in Brisbane on Tuesday as he hammered an unbeaten 89 to guide India to a match and series triumph.
That novel practice method was a roaring success as Pant, who would take two tiffin boxes to school to save time for cricket practice after school hours, became fearless and that is reflected in his shots.
Anyone who watched him accelerate during his 138-ball knock in the fourth and final Test against Australia at the Gabba on Tuesday would vouch that Pant had learnt his lessons well in the tiny Uttarakhand town.
Unfortunately for Pant, his father is no more to watch his talented 23-year-old son play the "most important" innings of his fledgeling Test career. But Pant's mind would surely have gone back to those early coaching classes on the terrace and when he would carry two tiffin boxes to school -- from one he would eat during the school timings, and from the other he would eat after his daily extra cricket practice sessions soon after school hours.
"I used to make him practice with a cork ball on the cemented rooftop of our Roorkee home where the ball came off faster. There was no turf pitch in the city at the time. I used to tie a pillow to his chest so that my little boy didn't get hurt while facing faster deliveries. But he did get hurt; sustained fracture. It was also meant to take the fear [of facing fast bowling] out of him. That was extra coaching, apart from the coaching he received in school," Rajinder Pant had said in 2019.
Soon, looking at the talent their son possessed, Rajinder and his wife Saroj took the big decision of sending Rishabh to Dronacharya Awardee coach Tarak Sinha in Delhi.
I look good as captain because everyone contributed: Rahane
"I was emotional. I still don't know how it happened and how to describe this victory. But credit to each and every individual. Especially after Adelaide, everyone contributed. It was not about me. It was all about the team. I look good because everyone contributed so I don't give importance to myself. It was all about the team. Everyone contributed. For us it was all about having that character on the field and having that fighting spirit on the field. That's what I always believe in," Rahane told reporters after the match.
"Attitude is really important, work ethics are really important. I would like to thank our support staff here who backed me a lot," he added.
After dramatic entry into Test cricket, Sundar steals the show
How quickly fortune changes is evident in the dramatic manner in which Washington Sundar, originally selected only for the T20 series in Australia, was asked to stay back for the Tests, made his debut in the fourth Test in Brisbane after the mainline bowlers got injured, and became a toast of the nation with his gutsy performance in the win at the Gabba -- and with it the series -- on Tuesday.
Injuries to India's spin stalwarts Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja during the third Test meant that Sundar was thrust into the cauldron of the Gabba, having previously played just 12 first-class matches, the last of which came in 2017 for Tamil Nadu in the Ranji Trophy.
Sundar's primary role may have been that of a spinner and he fulfilled that by taking three wickets in each Australian innings. His scalps included Australia's batting stalwarts Steve Smith in the first innings and David Warner in the second just as they were starting to look ominous.
However, the fact that Sundar was slotted in at No.7 meant that he was not only expected to face the formidable Australian bowling attack at some point but also to score runs off them. He ended up scoring 62 runs and his 123-run partnership for the seventh wicket with Shardul Thakur helped India come within 33 runs of Australia's first innings score of 369 despite being 186/6 at one point. The innings included the debutant hitting a no-look six off Nathan Lyon, who was stuck on 397 wickets in what was his 100th Test match.
Sundar may have been thrust into the limelight at the Gabba but instead of wilting, he seemed to thrive in it. The innings blindsided many of the commentators but, his father M Sundar, who knows his son's ability all too well, was slightly disappointed that he did not get a century.
Pujara is the team's warrior: Shastri
Coach Ravi Shastri called Cheteshwar Pujara a warrior after the India No. 3 took multiple blows on his body, head and arm during his 211-ball 56 that helped lay a solid platform for the Indian team's three-wicket win in the fourth and final Test at The Gabba on Tuesday.
"Pujara is the team's warrior. On seeing his performance in Sydney and Brisbane, I told him, 'Pujju you have finished them'," Shastri told reporters.
The right-handed batsman's gritty half-centuries on the final day of the third and the fourth Tests have shown his importance in the Indian Test setup.
Captain Ajinkya Rahane too lavished praise on the 32-year-old batsman. "The way Pujara played today regardless of getting many injuries due to bouncers on the head. He didn't bother. His goal was to save the wicket," added Rahane.
Pujara himself tweeted and thanked his fans and supporters on what began as a tough tour him as he struggled to get runs.
"Overcome with emotion and filled with pride. The character and skill shown by the entire squad have been commendable. Moments like these make the countless hours of toil and practice truly worth it. Thank you for all the support and wishes" Pujara tweeted.
The gully boy’s long-haul flight down-under
Hailing from a humble background in Hyderabad, Mohammed Siraj's life took off on a seemingly long-haul flight from Down Under where he troubled the likes of Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne at Australia's fortress in Gabba contributing to team India's dream victory.
The son of an auto-rickshaw driver who often had to bowl barefoot in his neighbourhood back in Hyderabad has come a long way to become the toast of the nation after his exploits in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
With 13 scalps, Siraj was India's highest wicket-taker in the memorable 2-1 series win on Tuesday.
The 26-year-old Siraj lost his father Mohammed Ghaus on November 20, a week or so after the Indian team landed in Australia and could not return home for the last rites due to the Covid-19 restrictions.
The decision to remain with the team Down Under showed his determination to succeed and also fulfil his father's dream.