Virat Kohli (R) and team.
Virat Kohli (R) and team.
Photo by Peter PARKS / AFP

This Boxing Day, it is worth revisiting memories of a Boxing Day past. December 26, 2018, was a defining moment in Indian cricket. The run-up to this day too begs a retelling.

In the 2018-19 India tour of Australia, Virat Kohli became the first Asian captain ever to have won Tests in South Africa, Australia and England. At the end of the series, he became the first Asian captain to have won a test series in Australia, no mean achievement. 

But only a few weeks before, things hadn't seemed so rosy for India and Kohli. India had won the first test at Adelaide by 31 runs. Australia bounced back, winning the second test at Perth by 146 runs.

The Indian team had lost the test series in South Africa 1-2 in January 2018 and were trounced 1-4 in England a few months later. Some choice selections by the team management were called into question. The Indian captain had snapped at reporters after the Centurion test loss in South Africa.

Most importantly though, it was the form of the Indian openers which had been worrisome. India had experimented with Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul in South Africa and England, then with Murali Vijay and KL Rahul in the first two tests against Australia. With absolutely woeful results. Although Cheteshwar Pujara and Kohli had responded with some scintillating knocks, the loss of early wickets put undue pressure on the two and our already fragile middle order.

In this backdrop, the third Boxing Day Test at Adelaide on December 26, 2018, assumed mammoth proportions. The team which took the lead would get the psychological advantage for the remainder of the series and give Kohli & Co a shot at redemption. India hoped to salvage some glory and prestige.

The Indian team management took a brave decision on the eve of the test. They decided to get rid of both the openers before the match and break in a new opening pair - Mayank Agarwal and Hanuma Vihari.

Mayank was making his test debut and Hanuma Vihari had played only two international matches before that and was virtually a rookie. One can only wonder what Mayank's thoughts were that morning, as he looked at the vast Melbourne stadium. A challenge lay before him. He was making his test debut Down Under against the likes of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon, a world-class bowling combination.

India won the toss and decided to bat first. Australian commentator Kerry O'Keefe had ridiculed the triple century Mayank had scored in a Ranji Trophy match in India, saying the bowlers must have been chefs and waiters from the railway canteen staff. Surely that was one heck of a cricketing canteen. Because Mayank and Hanuma solidly held the fort as they negotiated the Aussie pace attack and the spin of Lyon. Mayank played some delectable shots off the pacers and confidently danced down the wicket to Lyon. Hanuma made a dogged 8 of 66 balls. May not seem like much but to his credit, he faced a score of hostile balls. Most importantly, the duo saw off the new ball. Mayank made a fluent 76, comprising eight fours and two sixes. With the foundation being laid, India piled on 443 runs before our ever-dependable pace attack took over and skittled out Australia for 151. In the second innings too, Mayank played a useful knock of 42 in an Indian total of 106-8. India went on to win the match. However, the rain gods deprived them of a win in the fourth test match at Sydney.

At the end of the day, the third test at Adelaide will be remembered for India's brave decision to chuck our regular openers and repose faith in two newbies. For this, we were richly rewarded. Ironically, whenever India has thought out of the box, we have done well. As an Indian fan, you just wish that the team management thought like this more often.

(The writer is a former R&D chemist and sports enthusiast)

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