India head coach Ravi Shastri branded India’s just-concluded tour of Australia as the toughest in the team’s history, and remarked that to emerge victorious was an unreal, unimaginable and unbelievable feat. Shastri lauded the team’s self-belief, which he feels is a product of six years of work.
Three weeks ago, after stooping to the lowest point in the country’s history, getting bowled out for 36, the only thing that every Indian fan hoped for was for the national team to avoid a whitewash. Thus, it is understandable that, for many, a month on, the feeling of the side actually having staged an astounding comeback hasn't sunk in. Having lost as many as six first-team players, India had no business competing with Australia with a third-string bowling attack, yet they rose above every challenge to achieve the impossible.
What India achieved on the field was laudable, but that they not just competed, but dominated Australia in their own backyard amidst a myriad issues is what made their feat truly incredible. Taking into account the adversities that the side had to endure - including lockdown, fatigue and a host of other off field issues - head coach Ravi Shastri labelled the Australia tour the toughest of all time, and branded winning the Test series as ‘unreal and unimaginable’.
“This is the toughest tour ever. We are playing it in Covid times, and with multiple injuries. Nothing comes close to this - this surpasses all,” Shastri said in the press conference post the fourth Test.
“When you look at the circumstances in which this team came to Australia. Being in lockdown for 4 months where a lot of people living in metros couldn’t even get out of their flats - leave alone having an opportunity to train. Then to go to the IPL - someone like a Jasprit Bumrah, because of Mumbai winning, has bowled 64 overs, but none of the other guys had a hit in the middle - then to come here and take on Australia in their own backyard, where the world knows how tough it is.
“And then to go through these quarantine periods, have multiple injuries right from the tour, to be bowled for 36, India’s lowest score, and then to comeback from there and play like absolute champions is unreal. I mean, the penny has still not dropped and it will take a long time to drop. Unreal. What I have seen is unreal, unimaginable and simply superb - especially the resolve and the character the players have shown right through.”
Initially, the team was set to miss the services of only Virat Kohli and Ishant Sharma, but the injuries kept piling on, so much so that for the fourth Test in Brisbane, Rahane was left with no option but to pick the last 11 available players. The situation escalated to the extent that three of the four bowlers - Natarajan, Sundar and Thakur - who played at the Gabba were net bowlers who were drafted into the squad as emergency picks. When asked how the team dealt with the situation, Shastri credited skipper Rahane, who, according to him, marshalled the troops impeccably with the calm demeanour of his.
“We were left with no choices. We had no one left in the squad when the final Test started. We just played the guys who were there. I mean if you look at the bowling attack with which India beat Australia in Australia last time around, there was not a single bowler in that last game. I think Ajinkya did a fantastic job by being calm, composed and taking everything in his stride. It is not easy to go out as a captain with a bowling attack that is just three Test matches old. It is not joke. But then to marshall the resources and keep everyone going, I thought, was an outstanding achievement,” Shastri said.
The 2-1 triumph is already being rated as India’s greatest victory of all time, due to the circumstances that surrounded the tour, and Shastri singled out ‘self-belief’ as the single biggest factor behind the success. This belief, according to the head coach, was a seed that was planted inside players’ minds some six years ago, and the 58-year-old credited skipper Virat Kohli for being responsible for bringing about a winning mindset.
“It’s the self belief this team has. People think it comes overnight, but it doesn’t come overnight. It’s a process that’s taken 5-6 years. These boys have been playing with each other for 5-6 years. They’ve had tough tours; they’ve had losses. But what they’ve learnt now is never to give up. Feeling defeated is one thing, but giving up is not in our vocabulary. And you must give credit to Virat (Kohli), although he may not be here now. His character, his personality stamp is there in the team, for everyone to see. But for Ajinkya to take over the way he did, was simply unreal.”
Despite leading the country to its greatest glory, Rahane will be back to being the vice-captain for the England series, but when asked how he’ll cope with the change, the 32-year-old claimed that he and the team will reserve thoughts about the England series for later, and now will take the time to just enjoy the success.
“Right now I’m thinking about enjoying this victory and we all should enjoy this victory - not only players but every Indian should enjoy this victory. Not thinking about the England series at the moment. What we did here was historic, and as a team we want to enjoy this victory tonight. Once we land in India we will think about the England series,” Rahane said.