Who is the best leader you can think of?
A month ago in Adelaide, in one deadly hour, Australia reduced Indian cricket to ashes, burnt down in a fire of humiliation and abject surrender. The urn of ashes was handed by a departing skipper to his locum, a man with monk-like composure named Ajinkya Rahane.
He travelled with the urn from Adelaide to Melbourne and led his depleted team fighting the enemy at the MCG, one session at a time and midway through Day 4 made sure the phoenix had burst out of the urn.
People thought this was a great and dramatic comeback but they did not know the gripping drama that was to ensue at Sydney and the colossal theatre to be staged in Brisbane.
To really appreciate the scale of achievement by these young Indian warriors, one would need to understand the context of Melbourne and Sydney.
Rahane led his defeated and dejected troops into Melbourne after having posted India’s lowest ever Test score on way to a crushing defeat. Then their skipper left, his most experienced strike bowler (Mohammad Shami) shattered his wrist when India were 9-31, and while battling at MCG, another of Rahane’s prized attack weapons, Umesh Yadav, limped out of the attack, never to play in the series again.
But not withstanding a tough opponent that was fighting hard and overlooking the looming ghost of 36 all out, Rahane trumped the Aussies, helped also by two debutants in Shubman Gill and Mohammad Siraj.
No one knew then that this would be the Summer of Siraj.
Decorated with the Boxing Day honours, India arrived in Sydney with their heads held high. A good fight was expected but fate was quietly stocking up on tragic drama to pour upon the Indians.
They were subject to physical and mental abuse at the SCG, to which a weaker bunch of men than this brave lot would have succumbed. The Australian pace trio, easily the best attack in the world, pounded the pitch to produce a barrage of short balls to bruise and batter India, while a section of the crowd chose to haul abuse.
But they tourists did not give up on the battle, even with a disabled pair at the crease.
At one end was Hanuman Vihari, virtually on one leg, and the other was Ravichandran Ashwin, his back spasming so much that he couldn’t bend to tie his own shoelaces.
And the man waiting to come in if one of these two broke was Ravindra Jadeja, waiting with a broken thumb.
But India scripted one of the most dramatic displays of patient batting and sheer fortitude to pull off a draw that hardly anyone saw coming when the fifth day started.
The draw may have been more glorious than a win, but by now the Indian camp resembled an emergency room, joined by the ballistic missile that is Jasprit Bumrah.
The situation was desperate and but for India coming with a large contingent of net players as a COVID precaution, they may have struggled to put up a playing XI!
And thus India stepped onto the Gabba with an attack that had 13 wickets among them (two of them belonged to Rohit Sharma), led by a rickshaw driver’s son who had the rich experience of playing in two Tests before!
They inducted three players into the team, one who had made a fleeting appearance in a Test two years ago, another a net bowler, and the third a player so deep in the reserve that that it was scarcely believable.
The stage for the showdown between David and Goliath was set for Australia’s favourite venue for the ritual sacrifice of visiting cricket teams. India had only two players who had played in the first Test and Australia had a full-strength side that included the world’s best Test batsman and three of the world best quicks.
For five days the battle raged, five days of engrossing twists and turns, of gripping contest between bat and ball, of wits and skill, of experience and courage, of skill and fortitude.
And then, on the last hour of the last day of the last Test of an epoch-making series, David overpowered Goliath to record one of cricket’s most enduring wins.
Fairy tales can’t be written better, valour can’t be displayed better, belief can’t be redeemed better.
India and cricket have discovered heroism and a new set of heroes.