Zaheer, Jelly beans, and Storming Fortress Gabba – India’s Finest Away Wins

Indian Cricket Team celebrating the Gabba 2021 Test win (Image: Boria Majumdar Archive)

Standout overseas wins are a rarity in the history of Indian cricket. Newlands 2024 is a significant addition to this small exclusive club. As we savour the win, here are my top eight overseas wins since India started playing Test cricket in June 1932. This feature is in two parts, with the first published on January 6.

Trent Bridge, 2007

India had escaped with a draw at Lord’s, courtesy the weather and Steve Bucknor refusing to give Sreesanth out when he was plumb in front. In Nottingham, England’s frustrations boiled over. In tricky conditions for batting, they were skittled for 198. And though no Indian made a hundred, five of the top six made half-centuries, with Sachin Tendulkar’s 91 leading the way. Worse still, an English fielder, likely Ian Bell, thought it was a bright idea to chuck jelly beans – sweets favoured by schoolkids – towards the batting crease when Zaheer Khan came in to bat. A furious Zaheer complained, and then took out his ire on the batsmen. Michael Vaughan scored a superb 124, but Zaheer’s 5-75 meant India needed just 73 to win. They got there easily enough despite a late burst from the massive Chris Tremlett. A high-scoring draw at The Oval ensured that the advantage gained in Robin Hood’s city wouldn’t be squandered. It remains India’s only series win in England this century.

Wanderers 2018

It was around 8:45pm India time on Saturday, January 27, 2018, when Mohammed Shami ran into bowl to Lungi Ngidi, searching for his fifth wicket in what was shaping up to be a match-winning spell in Johannesburg. There was chirping all around with the Indians sensing a famous come-from-behind win in the third and final Test of the series. Social media was abuzz with Indian fans starting to express themselves and the Indian dressing room was on edge. Ravi Shastri, India’s head coach, and Bharat Arun, his bowling deputy, were busy chewing their fingernails and the sense of anticipation had been multiplying with every ball. Virat Kohli, passionate and expressive as ever, had marshalled his troops dextrously, reducing South Africa from 124-1 to 161-9 in a 241-run chase that had seemingly been on course to culminating in a  3–0 whitewash by the hosts.

Also Read: “These fans are the best reward” – Stimac on support at Asian Cup 2024 in Qatar

For Kohli, it was a moment of reckoning. India, having been defeated in the previous two Tests and staring at a whitewash, had all of a sudden given themselves a crack at redemption. The series may have been lost, but pride wasn’t. Credibility stood to be restored and, with it, a renewed sense of hope that this team was capable of doing well overseas as well. At the start of the Wanderers Test, many had pegged it as a dead rubber. It was, however, anything but dead. On a treacherous pitch, which was subsequently rated ‘poor’ by the ICC on account of making ‘batting extremely difficult and hazardous’ as the match progressed, and with four South African fast bowlers steaming in, the Proteas had done everything to make the most of home advantage. Determined to avenge 2015 and complete a 3–0 clean-sweep, it was yet another no-holds-barred contest. India, under Kohli, were committed to pulling one back and reignite faith. Kohli himself had excelled as a batsman and had time and again proved his class in the series but, as captain, he had to win the third and final Test to demonstrate that he was leading a team which had the potential of winning Test matches away from home.

Gabba 2021

Half the side was injured. Kohli was back in India for the birth of his child. The series stood at one apiece and when it was known that Jasprit Bumrah and R Ashwin weren’t available. India had to play with Mohammed Siraj, Shardul Thakur, T Natarajan and Washington Sundar against Australia at fortress Gabba. No one gave the team a chance. But that’s when they came together under Ajinkya Rahane. Siraj bowled like a real leader and Shardul and Sundar batted as if they were 20 test matches old. Cheteshwar Pujara copped multiple blows on his body and yet did not give up, while Rishabh Pant was just at a very different level. The way he attacked Australia was a testament to his talent and extraordinary ability. Even MS Dhoni would have been proud of what Pant did and it was only fair that he scored the winning runs after the most dramatic last couple of hours in the Test match. The match and the series had been won and fortress Gabba breached. It will forever be one of the best overseas Test wins of all time.

Indian Cricket Team celebrating the Gabba 2021 Test win (Image: RevSportz Aechive/Debasis Sen)

Newlands 2024

No Asian team had ever won in Cape Town. India were down 0-1 and had been comprehensively outplayed in Centurion. Rohit Sharma was under the pump for poor batting and letting the match drift in Centurion. Coming on the back of the World Cup final loss, it all added up. For coach Rahul Dravid as well, things had started to look dire. And then in just 642 minutes and a day and a half, it all changed. On a difficult wicket, Bumrah and Siraj made mince meat of the South African batting and a Kohli masterclass made sure Rohit had won a famous victory as captain. It sets him up for the ongoing WTC cycle and could well have give his captaincy career new teeth and muscle.

The South Africa vs India series trophy being awarded to both the teams (Image: BCCI)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *