Three things India needed for The Storming of the Gabba

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To storm a fortress you need three things: numbers, a tenderiser and at least one person who is not averse to progress. This is the story of how India took the Gabba.

Not all fortresses are hard to take. England turned up at a fort earlier this week and were pretty much invited straight in. Then there are fortresses like Harrenhal in Game of Thrones that is so bloody massive it’s actually impossible to feed the troops needed to defend it. No-one really wants to take that one.

The Gabba is one of the tricker ones though. When India chased 328, it was the first time Australia had lost there in 32 years.

So how did they manage it?

The numbers

One of the scariest scenes in the Special Edition of Aliens centres on a numeric display on a computer screen.

Halfway through the film, the marines set up a bunch of automated sentry guns to defend themselves from the xenomorphs. If anything moves within these guns’ line of sight, they shoot.

Before too long an alarm goes off.

“They’re coming… In the tunnel,” says Hicks.

And then the guns start firing.

On the marines’ display, we see the number of rounds remaining in each gun start to come down.

It comes down quickly.

“Look at those ammo counters go,” says Hudson. “It’s a shooting gallery down there.”

Aliens is a very visual film, but we’ve always found this bit the most chilling. It’s when you realise that no matter what happens to any individual xenomorphs, collectively these things are just going to keep coming.

The marines are just sitting their, helpless, thinking that no matter how many aliens they take out, there will be more and eventually they’ll be overwhelmed.

“They’re at the pressure door,” says Ripley.

“Man, listen to that,” says Hudson, audibly spooked and already en route to one of the all-time great cinema flip-outs.

Which brings us to India, who lost player after player after player… but just kept coming until they were at that pressure door.

Halfway through the Gabba Test, India’s absentee list read as follows: Ishant Sharma, Virat Kohli, Mohammed Shami, KL Rahul, Ravindra Jadeja, Hanuma Vihari, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah and R Ashwin. It was at this point that Navdeep Saini got injured.

It didn’t matter.

People talk about squad rotation and strength in depth, but it’s rare-to-unprecedented to see a side swap out this many parts and still maintain much the same standard. If we can switch sci-fi franchises for half a sentence, India were like the Borg.

The Tenderiser

Not all parts were equal though.

According to Rocky Balboa, “It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”

With India, it’s more a case of how long Cheteshwar Pujara can get hit, and for how long – with the ultimate aim being to reach a point where those doing the hitting are sufficiently weakened that his team-mates can move forward.

Pujara only averaged 33 in this series, but faced over 100 balls an innings. At times – like the period when he made 8 off 94 balls early on in the Gabba chase – he looked like little more than a punchbag.

But oh how he has leeched Australia’s bowlers of their strength – not just in this innings, but across the series.

He looks pretty unassuming, but Pujara is actually the harshest of taskmasters. His wicket in the run chase cost Cummins, Starc, Hazlewood and Lyon 211 deliveries on top of the 94 he’d forced them to pay in the first innings. A little over a week ago, he made the very same bowlers deliver 205 balls to him and a couple of days before that he’d sucked another 176 out of them.

People talk about how bowlers are professionals and how this is their job, but handing someone a wad of cash doesn’t change the way the human body functions. You can’t buy away fatigue.

Cricketers’ abilities aren’t a constant and the Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon bowling on the last day at the Gabba were not the same Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon who’d been bowling earlier in the series. They were diminished versions of themselves; wan, blurry things who’d been through the photocopier one time too many.

If something is too strong, water it down – this is what Pujara does for his team.

At least one person who is not averse to progress

Someone has to score the runs though.

Rishabh Pant is not averse to progress.

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  1. I can’t help comparing this with my other favourite instance of Australia-recently-failing-to defend-three-hundred-and-lots-despite-allegedly- having- the-best-attack-in-the-world-ever.

    The Headingley test’s story arc was almost internal to the game – the hope of bowling the Aussies out cheaply, the disaster of England’s first innings, then clinging on by the fingernails, several near death experiences, then impossible triumph of the hero and hubris for the villains. Sure the context of the ashes being in the balance mattered, but the legend was all about the game itself.

    The Indian win was different, because it was nearly all about the back story. In COVID isolation India could barely raise a fit XI, they promoted net bowlers to raise an attack with a dozen test wickets between them against Australia’s thousand and odd.Their almost mythological hero wasn’t playing and nobody wins at the Gabba. The game arc, although trilling and heroic, was not a patch on Headingley, but it’s tale was at least its equal.

    Both were bloody marvellous. Test cricket is bloody marvellous. So was the Aliens ammo annology.

    1. What you said about the “Australia-recently-failing-to defend-three-hundred-and-lots-despite-allegedly- having- the-best-attack-in-the-world-ever”, Thesmudge, I was reading ‘The Ashes According to Bubmle’ and he mentions that they have the same issues in the mid 2000’s and in 1980’s and earlier so they are somehow they are very consistent at being the best at not being the best.

  2. It was one of the best fifth day plays in recent memory. It’s quite rare to watch a test match with one session to go and all three results possible. It was one of those lock-your-office-door-and-tell-people-you-have-zoom-meetings-all-afternoon kind of matches.

  3. I really liked how you’ve made Pujara the tenderiser. Nice one, KC.

    Everyone that says score at 4/over misses the point that keeping bowlers out in the field is worth many runs down the line. If you’re already at a point where you have to score 5 an over, you probably won’t send Pujara out. But to plan an assault on a target over the course of the entire day, he’s your rock.

    Another interesting point raised quite a bit on Twitter is how Rahul Dravid’s influence shows (he’s been handling the under-19 and India-A teams for several years now). There are worse things than being under the tutelage of Rahul Dravid in your formative cricket years.

  4. And still, still, STILL, the discourse around Pujara (particularly, but not exclusively from Indian fans) centres on how fast he scores and getting out batsmen at the other end. They don’t deserve him. He’s like the Last Action Hero but instead of Action Hero, it’s Test Batsmen. And instead of Schwarzenegger, it’s a svelte Indian man. He’s just as tough though.

  5. In the absentee list, perhaps you should include Bhuvanashwar Kumar as well. He was injured in the early stages of the IPL.

  6. Listened to the latest Ridiculous Ashes this morning.

    One piece of feedback – I am finding that the ‘judgement’ at the end is slightly anticlimactic, which I think is partly due to the decision being made by the same two people who have just discussed the same things.

    I understand that it makes things logistically more challenging, but future series, maybe a guest judge (umpire), ideally someone old enough to have watched (or even, once you get celebrity listeners wanting to join in, played in…..) whatever match is being discussed, could make ‘rulings’ as to the relative ridiculousness of the suggestions?

  7. Your piece reminded me of a similar “storming the fortress” metaphor in my friend Rohan Candappa’s piece about fighting back (successfully) after being told he was being made redundant. I describe it here.

    He used the storming of the Moncada Barracks by Cuban rebels as his metaphor. The really scary part of this, for me, is the realisation that this “recent memory” of my friend’s pilot performance of his piece will be five years old next week.

    Incidentally, the previous Aussie loss at the Gabba, in 1988, was against a totemically brilliant West Indies side: Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Richie Richardson, Carl Hooper, Viv Richards, Gus Logie, Jeff Dujon, Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Patrick Patterson. Back then, Ambrose and Walsh were the change bowlers. A coincidental twist is that Patrick Patterson broke down about half-an-hour into the match; it really didn’t matter!

  8. Is anyone else getting thoroughly jiffed off by Michael Vaughan constantly interrupting the test commentary to point out that he’s watching the Big Bash and someone has just hit another six?

    It’s like standing up in the audience at the ballet, showing everyone your phone and saying ‘Tell you what, fucking quality episode of Gogglebox tonight.’

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