India and Australia have given so many moments to cherish for cricket fans of both the countries, with some unbelievable performances taking the centrestage. The 21st century rivalry has cut the behemoth in a magical fashion, yet few moments hold up for its sheer magic.
One such moment came when Virat Kohli led his band of boys to Adelaide and gave a new grammar to a run-chase in Test cricket. India went for the win, a far cry from the usual defensive approach, to signal a new dawn in its history and six years on, now as the team embark on another trip Down Under, it could still be viewed as a seminal moment. But something more important had just happened before that when MS Dhoni had to sit out of that first Test due to a rare injury.
That gives rise to a parallel universe - a story we’ll explore in this week’s What if Wednesday. Like understanding how the cricket in India would’ve shaped up had Dhoni not picked up the injury and played the Adelaide Test fully fit? Let’s dive in.
So MS Dhoni and Michael Clarke are in the middle of the Adelaide Oval - a venue decked up to celebrate the life and time of Phil Hughes. You can literally sense the emotion in the air as MS Dhoni wins the toss and elects to field first. After a round-about that saw Clarke and Smith pulling off an amazing partnership later, India, at the end, had a 340-run target to chase down. With a little more than a day’s game to go, Dhoni circles around and in a typical MS Dhoni fashion, the skipper asks the batsmen to bat cautiously to go for a draw. The humiliation of 2011 was very much in his mind, thus Dhoni’s viewpoint has an honest logic.
India have Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara to thank for obeying the skipper’s philosophy as the side canters to a draw with four wickets in hand. Kohli plays a brave 140-run innings to signal a brief change in approach but Ashwin endures at the end. India go on in a formulaic approach for the next three Tests, yet the might of Gabba helps Australia. Mitchell Johnson and Josh Hazlewood showcase an exhibition to beat India in a comfortable fashion. Things might have gone haywire but an ultra-cautious approach alongside the rise of Pujara means Boxing Day and New Year’s Test end in a stalemate. It is a great appraisal of sorts from the low of 2011 as Dhoni’s men move to the preparation for the World Cup 2015.
Although the Indian team fail to inspire any confidence in the tri-series, just before the World Cup, the main event has been a fine race as India scamper to the semi-final without losing a single game. Come the penultimate game in Sydney, against high-flying hosts, India fail to muster any momentum, losing to a Shane Watson masterclass to crash out. The team has been chastised and none of the previous records matter for a bit.
However, now that Dhoni wants to focus more on Test cricket with 5000 runs and 100 Tests on the horizon, he makes a sudden announcement after India reach home. HE WANTS TO GIVE UP ODI AND T20I CAPTAINCY!
It was a bomb in a way but with the home T20 World Cup more than a year away and another 50-over World Cup four years later, everyone thinks it is the right decision for Indian cricket - one that will enable Virat Kohli to create his own niche and understand the grind in a more proficient manner. And it proves a right decision too as Kohli steadies the ship by taking some tough selection calls to blood more youngsters into the T20 set-up.
Yuvraj has to make way with India adding Jasprit Bumrah, Mandeep Singh, and Hardik Pandya to the set-up in 2015, making the side stronger that subsequently go on to beat Windies and England in the last two rounds to win the 2016 T20 World Cup. Then it was Dhoni and now it is Kohli as India celebrate the return of the trophy, nine years on.
Meanwhile, with no pressure to lead the white-ball side, Dhoni focuses more on his Test form. He launches his red-ball game to another level that sees him scoring a double century against Windies in away Tests while dominating the home season in a way he never had. New Zealand and England fall prey to that as he accumulates over 1000 runs in the three-Test series, setting himself well for the Australia test which was not going to be easy.
The scene now moves to Pune with the wicket turning square, with the memories of the 2015 Nagpur Test against South Africa coming back in a vivid fashion. Steve O’ Keefe and Nathan Lyon paint a picture of utter disaster for the Indian team, with Dhoni being dismissed for zero. Steve Smith scores a majestic ton, defying the magic of Ashwin at many levels, to give Australia a ground to munch on. For the first time since 2012, India are under pressure. But they say, heroes are created out of adversity and the home team sees KL Rahul stepping up to the plate and nullifying the threat posed by the Aussies. A towering knock of 145 runs help India come close before Ashwin’s 50 guide the side home in the last hour of the fourth day.
Steve Smith’s men were no pushovers though. Bengaluru and Ranchi prove too costly at the beginning for the MSD-led side but things eventually get better. Dhoni treats his own people in Ranchi with a knock of visual delight before a stoic partnership by Pujara and Jadeja close the game in India’s favour. India are already 3-0 up in the series, with Dhoni blowing hot and cold by then.
The scene is Dharamsala for the fourth Test. India are on the brink of white-washing the Aussies, with Dhoni adding Kuldeep Yadav to his armory. The left-arm wrist-spinner gets to the business straight up before ending the day with a four-fer. The home side tighten the clutch to dismiss the Aussies for a paltry 117 in the first innings before taking a 206-run lead. It is enough to screw the visitors up but David Warner stands firm. Scoring a defiant 165 in the second assignment under the foothill of Himalayas, Warner leads Australian to defend 239 in what is actually turning out to be a decent batting surface.
India’s bogeyman Nathan Lyon is already set. It can be a game set-up ideal if he can crack the code and this is exactly what happens immediately. Rahul and Kohli are dismissed on back-to-deliveries to leave India on 10-2 that leads Pujara and Rahane to do the recovery work. They do it efficiently, as they have done comfortably in the last few matches, to guide the side to 167 when Rahane is castled by Cummins. Australia sniff in an opportunity to salvage some pride but there in stands MS Dhoni, with Spartan written on his blade.
Dhoni negotiates singles and doubles with effortless ease and in his avatar as a classic Test match batsman, the Indian skipper pushes the cause. Hitting Starc for a four, he completes the heist as India secure a 4-0 series victory against the Aussies, exacting the 2011 humiliation. India erupt in joy, celebration all around but just after attending the press conference, the mailbox hits the cricket journalists.
“MS DHONI ANNOUNCES RETIREMENT FROM TEST FORMAT!”