With an hour of one of the greatest Test series of all time to go, four results in the final match and three results in the series were possible.
It was India, against almost every odd, who prevailed, storming Australia’s fortress, the Gabba, where they had not lost for 32 years to pull off the unlikeliest win by three wickets and take a stunning series 2-1.
The scale of India’s triumph in this series is staggering. They arrived in Australia missing two top fast bowlers, and then lost the first Test by surrendering a strong position when they were bowled out for 36. Then their totemic captain, Virat Kohli, went home for the birth of his first child, with quarantine regulations ruling out a return, and another key bowler went down injured.
In Melbourne, the new captain Ajinkya Rahane scored a brilliant century in an extraordinary win that levelled the series, but two more bowlers went down injured.
In Sydney, things stayed level because they produced an epic rearguard to block for the draw. Their players were abused – allegedly with racial slurs used – by members of the crowd, and two more bowlers and a batsman went down injured. Throughout, there had been tensions over the conditions in which they have lived in Australia.
So they took the field in Brisbane with a bowling attack containing two debutants, a total of four Test caps and 11 wickets. These players were originally on tour as net bowlers and because they needed an especially large squad due to Covid-19.
One of those bowlers, Mohammad Siraj, was the victim of the Sydney crowd abuse and had been prevented from attending his father’s funeral because of the tour. Another, T Natarajan, had missed the birth of his child. It took their “players used” column for the series to 20, and only three of those routed in Adelaide made it.
Australia took a first innings lead of 36 – only so narrow because of immense contributions from new boys Washington Sundar and Shardul Thakur – and then set a huge target of 328 to win. India required their third-biggest chase ever.
They got home with the shadows lengthening and just a few balls left in the match, as Rishabh Pant, 23, drove down the ground. His 89 not out was a stunning, audacious innings that survived the loss of four wickets in the final couple of hours. Earlier Shubman Gill, 21, who debuted in Melbourne, made a stylish 91 to get India on their way. Che Pujara, the rock, dug in for 211 balls for 56.
India have won once in Australia before, in 2018/19. But then it was them who were full strength, while Australia had banned Steve Smith and David Warner. This time, India were critically undermanned.
What all this means for England, who knows? They play India in four Tests away and five at home this year, and will now have no illusions about the scale of the task facing them, the spirit of the side, and the sheer depth India posses.
They are off to Australia at the end of this year too. “The Gabbatoir” might have lost a little of its mystique this week, although it usually hosts the opening Test of the series, and is a horrible place to start.
Australia have had a torrid few Tests; captain Tim Paine’s wicketkeeping, reviewing and tactics were again questioned today, and there were shades of Headingley about it all. Paine spoke of “soldiering on” as the defeat sunk in.
Mitchell Starc straggled and Nathan Lyon, who took nine wickets at 55 and failed to show up in the fourth innings at Sydney or Brisbane, was also not his usual self. England know to never write Australia off, especially when Smith and Pat Cummins - already all-time great players – are about.
Victory takes India top of the World Test Championship table. To prevent a final between India and New Zealand in England, Australia must whitewash South Africa 3-0 away from home.