Had this series been scripted for a Bollywood movie, it would've been widely panned by the audiences and critics alike for being a little too over-the-top. But they say fact is stranger than fiction, and the truth is when India conquered Australia in Brisbane – where the home side hadn't lost a Test match in 32 years, no less – they did so with a second-string playing eleven that was missing as many as nine players who began the series in Adelaide.
Two of those absentees included regular captain Virat Kohli (the leader of India's batting attack as well) and Jasprit Bumrah, the unofficial leader of India's lethal bowling attack, of whom not one regular bowler was around by the time the fourth and final Test started – all felled by an unprecedented spate of injuries. Instead, the composition of India's bowling attack was predominantly inexperienced men (young boys, really) who had made their Test debuts during the course of this series alone.
As many as five players at the Gabba – Shubman Gill, Mohammed Siraj, Navdeep Saini, Washington Sundar and T Natarajan -- hadn't played Test cricket before the tour of Australia began. A sixth, in Shardul Thakur, had the experience of bowling 10 balls in Hyderabad a couple of years ago before he limped away into oblivion.
They all starred with the ball in Brisbane, with three-Test match old Siraj now slipping into the role of leader. But Thakur and Sundar defied Australia with the bat as well in the first innings, with a deficit-eating 123-run stand for the seventh wicket. Both of them chipped in with crucial runs at the end of the final day as well, as Rishabh Pant remained unbeaten on 89 runs that will go down as one of the greatest innings played in the history of Indian cricket.
Much had been made of Pant's poor wicketkeeping skills before the tour began, so much so that he was dropped from the shorter formats and not fielded during the first Test in Adelaide. But when the odds were truly stacked against a wounded Indian side by the third Test in Sydney, it was Pant who responded with a fourth innings 97 that made everyone watching believe that India could well hunt down a record target of 407.
After Pant was dismissed that final day in Sydney, it took an incredible show of courage from injured Hanuma Vihari and injured R Ashwin in the final session to resist an Australia win and cause an epic draw, giving an Indian side a sliver of hope going into Brisbane. That sliver was torn wide open in the final day chase by Gill (91 runs) and Pant, recent India under-19 teammates who today went on to record possibly India's finest hour in overseas Tests.
The unlikeliness of India's 2-1 victory Down Under is amplified by the fact that a full-strength side was rolled over in Adelaide for the country's lowest-ever innings score of 36. But just when all hope was lost, stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane scored a defiant hundred in the second Test in Melbourne, and India drew level. Rahane's quiet implementation of tactics, highlighted in his faith in Pant's ability to chase an improbable win rather than settle for a draw, ensured it was he who collected the Border-Gavaskar Trophy and not Australia's Tim Paine.
But just before he held the trophy aloft, Rahane summed up a nation's sentiments at the presentation ceremony, when he smiled and twice said: "I really don't know how to describe this victory."