During the closing overs of that fighting draw in Sydney, Tim Paine told Ravi Ashwin he couldn’t wait for him to get to the Gabba.
After five nail-biting days of the fourth Test, we now know why. It’s because Paine, ever the generous host, was excited to have Ashwin witness a thrilling conclusion to a magnificent series.
Here are the ratings for the final Test between Australia and India.
Australia batted first and soon lost David Warner and Marcus Harris, yet again allowing the hosts to play to their strengths by leaving everything up to Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith.
This time it was Labuschagne who came to the rescue, bringing up his fifth Test century, as he surged past 1800 Test runs (an astonishing tally from a man who has surely played only, what, like, half a dozen Tests?)
The secret to his energy – he ran multiple all-run fours in his ton (as well as, of course, threes, twos and several all-run singles) – was revealed during a drinks break drone-interview when he was spotted devouring a sneaky banana. A classic case of ‘bananas in da Marnus’.
Despite Labuschagne’s potassium-fuelled runs, his eventual wicket, caught by Rohit Sharma off the bowling of Washington Sundar, left Australia in trouble at 5-213.
And when Cameron Green, a wily old veteran compared to the bowlers that injury-ravaged India were forced to select in the Test, fell for 47 and Pat Cummins departed shortly after for 2, there was only one man who could save Australia’s first innings.
That man was Nathan Lyon, playing his hundredth Test. Before the match, he’d talked about the milestone and how it had him ‘pinching himself’. And yet it’s somehow Smith and Labuschagne who are the team oddballs.
With the phrase ‘GOAT ton’ on everybody’s mind, the Gabba was abuzz. A century in his hundredth Test? A fitting reward for one of the great Ricky Ponting impersonators.
Sadly, he fell 76 runs short as Australia were bowled out for 369.
Australia went to work with the ball, regularly chipping away at India’s batting order. At 6-186, with ICC top ranked babysitter-batsman Rishabh Pant dismissed by Josh Hazlewood, it looked like India might be bowled out for around 200.
Instead, debutant Sundar and former debutant Shardul Tharkar combined for a record seventh-wicket partnership, showing the kind of admirable fight that has won India so many fans over the course of this summer.
Thakur made 67 in the 123-run partnership, while Sundar finished on 62, matching the debut Test innings of Will Pucovski in the previous Test. Pucovski, however, refused to take a single wicket at the SCG, let alone the four that Sundar eventually picked up here. Advantage Washington.
Great fight from the depleted India side, who showed that they could dominate Australia at the Gabba like few teams before them, impressing everybody with their determination and resolve to take a commanding first innings lead of -33 runs.
But if you thought that was impressive, you hadn’t seen anything yet.
Australia had the fourth day to set a target for India, with rain forecast for both of the last two days of the Test.
It was a tricky balance for Paine, looking to time his declaration to properly balance likelihood of winning with risks of losing. He was helped when David Warner and Marcus Harris got Australia off to a flying start.
But the openers fell as part of a mini-collapse of 4/34. Warner, trapped plumb in front by that man Sundar, showed none of the haste of his batting when reviewing. He dawdled his way to the T, eventually forming it at least a second too late.
A shame for Australia, because it cost the side a review. Perhaps Labuschagne should have reviewed the timing on Warner’s review and tried to get the review back.
But Paine wasn’t concerned about reviews. He was concerned about timing his declaration.
The calculations would have been a lot simpler if India had been all out for 36 in their second innings a couple more times this series. Unfair, really, that Paine was forced to adjust his thinking because of India’s shocking inconsistency.
Eventually, much like Warner’s review, Paine left the whole declaration too late and Australia were instead bowled out for 294.
All of which left Australia needing ten wickets and India 324 runs to win on the final day.
As ever, Pat Cummins led the attack, steaming in all day. Bit of an environmentally unfriendly way to bowl for mine. Surely, in this day and age, Australia’s best quick should be solar-powered. Get onto it, Alinta Energy. (Of course, Green bowling has been proven to be nowhere near as reliable. Therein lies the challenge for carbon-concerned cricketers.)
But while Cummins sealed the Player of the Series award with his 4-55, it was the remarkable Pant who sealed the match, the series, the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, top spot on the World Test Championship table, Player of the Match, and ownership of a now-defunct Gabbatoir with a fearless 89* to guide India to a masterful three-wicket win.
In the process, Pant also passed a thousand Test runs. Or, as I like to call it, one kilorun. I expect at least half a dozen more kiloruns from this incredible talent.
India’s series victory was easily the greatest performance by any visiting side to Australia and rightly celebrated by a jubilant Indian squad.
And to think, poor old Virat Kohli was sitting at home, watching it all on television.
Boy, I sure hope that baby’s cute.