When India finished the third day of the Third Test on 283/0 in reply to Australia’s painstakingly constructed 408, I could hardly believe what I had seen. Test cricket, 136 years old, had been transformed in two sessions of play. Shikhar Dhawan’s 185 not out had smashed orthodoxy as spectacularly as he had smashed Xavier Doherty. Replace a legend instantly? Why, of course – and I’ll out-Sehwag Virender Sehwag while I’m at it. Ease myself into Test cricket with circumspect play as I adjust to the higher level? Nah – see ball, hit ball, right here, right now. Score at a run-a-ball by importing T20 innovation and risk into Tests? What me? No, I’ll stroke the ball along the ground through the offside and still strike at 100.
In the first World Cup in 1975, Sunil Gavaskar famously refused to chase a target of 335 in 60 overs as it was too outlandish a thought that such a feat could be done. Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan, in two fewer overs, had posted just 52 fewer runs… in a Test match, under pressure after their opponents had compiled a good score and – arguably – both playing for a place in the most competitive batting unit in world cricket. Cricket – yet again – was transformed.
If you haven’t seen it, then you should. And then you should watch it again. And again. The balance, the skill, the hand-eye coordination, one can (almost) expect of an international cricketer. But the imagination to see the shot coming, the speed of thought to decide to go for the catch and the supreme confidence to risk giving away four byes if the reverse sweep was missed – these are the hallmarks of a great, and not merely a very good, player. It was the second time in less than six months that cricket’s rulebook had been torn up by players more interested in writing their own.
Tales of redemption resonate across cultures and over the centuries. That life flings its slings and arrows of outrageous fortune is inevitable – what matters is how one reacts to them. Mitchell Johnson had been left out of the Australian squad that toured England for the first half of the Ashes double-header, deemed more dangerous to his own team’s chances of victory than his opponent’s. Suddenly – and it felt very sudden indeed for England’s fans whether they had sang his song in 2010-11 or not – he was back, destroying England twice. He won the Ashes cricketing and psychological battle by the same distance that he had previous lost it. Redemption is not granted to everyone – so, with the Urn waiting for him in Sydney, one couldn’t but smile, albeit a little ruefully as an Englishman, as Mitchell sealed the deal dispatching Jimmy Anderson in Perth. He was back.
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