In the midst of a pandemic, Australia and India served up one of the greatest Test series of all time which went right down the wire at the historic Gabba.
A severely depleted India squad scripted a comeback for the ages in Brisbane, with their young starlets playing a starring role in breaching Australia’s fortress at the venue.
At the end of a intense four-Test series that had us all holding our collective breath, we have put together an XI of the best performers from either side.
OPENER – ROHIT SHARMA (INDIA)
In a series where most openers failed to fire, Rohit Sharma’s middling displays are enough to carry him into the final XI. The India star only entered the fray in the penultimate Test in Sydney as a late arrival in the quarantine bubble, and immediately provided a massive upgrade on Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal.
In his first overseas tour as an opener, Rohit looked comfortable for the most part. What will rankle him is the fact that he failed to get the most out of his good starts at the crease.
OPENER – SHUBMAN GILL (INDIA)
— ICC (@ICC) January 19, 2021
In a series which threw up several success stories, few were bigger than that of Shubman Gill validating his status as the next big thing of cricket. The 21-year-old looked as assured as any veteran against Australia’s intimidating new ball attack, and helped himself to 259 runs at an average of nearly 52 in his debut Test series.
Gill’s back-foot punches were a joy to behold, while his stylish pull shots made the likes of Mitchell Starc look pedestrian. A certified future superstar who has now cemented his place in the Indian side on the back of just six innings.
NUMBER 3 – MARNUS LABUSCHAGNE (AUSTRALIA)
The Australian batsman lived dangerously at times and can be grateful to India’s fielders spilling multiple catches. However, he did make the most of his luck to finish the series as its leading run-scorer by a fair margin. Adding a fifth Test ton to his kitty in the process, Labuschagne ensured that his remarkable transformation over the past year and half continued unabated.
With Steve Smith failing to fire in the opening two Tests of the series, it was the 26-year-old who held fort for Australia with some consistent displays in Adelaide and Melbourne.
NUMBER 4 – STEVE SMITH (AUSTRALIA)
Steve Smith's 31st Test 5️⃣0️⃣!
— Cricket on BT Sport (@btsportcricket) January 18, 2021
The Aussie linchpin had a torrid time in the first and second Tests, with his poor form even seeing him relinquish his No1 ICC ranking to Kane Williamson. Just when the critics were starting to circle around Smith, he answered them with a defiant ton in Sydney.
The right-hander came agonisingly close to making it two centuries in a row before falling for 81 in the second innings at the SCG. He did finish the series on a strong note as well, with his quick-fire fifty at the Gabba. Ultimately, only Labuschagne scored more runs in the series despite Smith’s abysmal start.
NUMBER 5 – AJINKYA RAHANE (INDIA)
Rahane’s stature has been enhanced significantly after the poise he showed in lifting India’s squad post the departure of Virat Kohli. The middle-order stalwart’s composed century in Melbourne ignited India’s historic comeback in the series, with the innings helping the visitors post a commanding lead in the Test.
The manner in which Rahane shuffled his depleted troops around over the course of the series, along with his excellent tactics and acumen make him an automatic pick for skipper of this XI. He is yet to be beaten as a stand-in skipper of India’s Test squad.
WICKETKEEPER – RISHABH PANT (INDIA)
— ICC (@ICC) January 19, 2021
Why Rishabh Pant was not fielded in the opening Test in Adelaide has become all the more baffling after his game-changing displays in Sydney and Brisbane. The youngster had announced himself with a bang on his previous tour in 2018-19, and he carried on from where he left off after being thrown into the fold in Melbourne.
It is testament to Pant’s undeniable talents that his best for India came in the fourth innings of the Sydney and Melbourne Tests. His brilliant 97 at the SCG nearly resulted in one of the epic run chases in history, and he duly completed the job with his unbeaten 89 at the Gabba. He finished as India’s leading run-scorer despite playing only three Tests, while his average of 68.50 was the highest among any batsmen from either side to have played a minimum of two innings.
ALL-ROUNDER – RAVINDRA JADEJA (INDIA)
Jadeja’s participation in the series was curtailed to just two Tests due to injuries, but he did give a solid account of himself whenever he took the field. The all-rounder shone in every aspect of the game Down Under, be it with his bowling, batting or fielding.
His stock with the bat in hand continues to rise and India will believe that they now have a genuine all-rounder in their ranks. His four-wicket burst in Sydney and his fighting half century in Melbourne were very crucial in the context of the series.
SPINNER – RAVICHANDRAN ASHWIN (INDIA)
It was termed as the battle between the off-spin of Ashwin and Nathan Lyon, and it was the former who came up trumps by a huge distance. While Lyon was uncharacteristically poor on his home turf, Ashwin showed his elite qualities by claiming 12 wickets in his three Test appearances.
The India stalwart bowled with great while and was able to maintain a stranglehold over Steve Smith in the first half of the series. He supplemented his bowling displays with a gritty display with the bat in Sydney, battling a sore back to help India earn a hard-fought draw.
PACER – PAT CUMMINS (AUSTRALIA)
Since January 2019, no player has taken more Test wickets than Pat Cummins 🔥
He is joint-top with Stuart Broad, both taking 84 wickets each 👀 pic.twitter.com/jdxC3UXiNZ
— ICC (@ICC) January 20, 2021
Some of Australia’s big names might need to take a hard look at themselves after that unexpected surrender, though Pat Cummins can walk away with his head held high after a monumental effort.
The world’s best bowler showed why he is different gravy compared to the rest of the crop, with a relentless attitude and an output of an absolute workhorse. Despite not claiming a single five-for in the series, Cummins’ incredible consistency saw him claim a staggering 21 wickets at an average of just 20.
He was nearly bowled to the ground with a workload of 162 overs, but he never showed any signs of tiring with a marathon display.
PACER – JOSH HAZLEWOOD (AUSTRALIA)
While Cummins was all about the unwavering consistency, Hazlewood touched greater heights when he was on song. The seamer’s sensational spell of 5-8 brought India’s batsmen to their knees in the 36 all out debacle and is one which few bowlers will be able to match in the years to come.
Only his team-mate Cummins picked more wickets in the series than Hazlewood, who averaged a stellar 19.35 across the four Tests.
PACER – MOHAMMED SIRAJ (INDIA)
— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) January 18, 2021
Mohammed Siraj arrived in Australia as an uncapped pacer and was leading India’s bowling attack in the Gabba finale in one of the most endearing stories to emerge from the series.
His wobbly seam position surprised Australia’s best batsmen and he deservedly ended the series with a maiden five-wicket haul in the final Test. He finished as India’s leading wicket-taker for the series, with 13 scalps at an average less than 30. While he might not be among India’s first-choice bowlers once the injured pacers return, Siraj has put himself into pole position for the future.
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