Australia wins the second Test by a comprehensive margin of 140 runs to level the Border Gavaskar Trophy at Perth. In a game where the Indian openers aggregated 22 runs between them across both innings, their Aussie counterparts had racked up-perhaps- a match-winning performance on a spiteful pitch by putting on 112 on day one.
With the series locked at 1-1 and Vijay-Rahul in abysmal form, India needed the replacements to step-up. Enter Mayank Agarwal. Agarwal had been making all the right noises, doing almost everything a fledgling cricketer can, to merit a place in the national side: rack up a mountain of runs.
But can Mayank cope with the big stage pressure that often distinguishes 'men from the boys'? Can he do justice to all the runs that he'd scored at the domestic level in front of 90,000 people at the iconic MCG against the likes of Starc, Cummins, Hazlewood, and Lyon? Agarwal not only makes two fifties in the succeeding two Tests- 76 & 42* at MCG and 77 at Sydney, he blunts out the glaring threat of Nathan Lyon, who had a stranglehold on the Indians in the first two Tests. India goes on to win their first-ever series- 2-1 and Agarwal is basking in glory along with his teammates at the winners' podium.
The ODI series is locked at 1-1. With MCG being a big ground, India opts to rope in Kedar Jadhav as the sixth bowling option and Yuzvendra Chahal in place of Kuldeep Yadav. Chahal hasn't played an ODI since September and averages around 37 in his last 11 ODIs since July 2017. Usman Khwaja and Shaun Marsh are looking to consolidate the innings in the middle overs. India is in need of a wicket. Virat Kohli turns to Chahal. The wrist-spinner nips out Marsh and Khwaja in a space of three balls, to effectively sway the momentum India's way. Chahal finishes with career-best figures, as well as with the best bowling performance at the MCG [6-42]. India restricts Australia to 230 and led by MS Dhoni's calm-and-cool 87 not out register yet another series win Down Under.
So, what do both the above things have in common? It is the confidence and the readiness of India's bench-strength that every time they are called up to the side in pressure situations, the players are more than ready to make that place their own, for they know a plethora of others are waiting in the wings for their opportunity. Indian cricket has always been blessed with precocious talent, but the change in mindset and a renewed level of confidence is what sets the current generation apart.
The reason for this is manifold- injection of finances and world-class infrastructure has helped, but so has young players rubbing their shoulders with the best in the world at the nascent stage of their career. The IPL-a bugbear for purists has helped immensely in changing the attitude of budding cricketers. This is a generation that has started their career rubbing shoulders with the likes of Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers, Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting in front of jam-packed crowds every day, and so, by the time they make the leap to the national side, they are no longer in awe of the big stage.
Secondly, the hard grind and glaring competition for places in the national side. The Ranji Trophy currently has 37 FC teams and each side has a plethora of talent in both bowling and batting department. So, a young Mayank Agarwal has to score a mountain of runs or a Mohammad Siraj has to keep taking truckloads of wickets to get his name into the reckoning for a spot in the national side; and he still might not get it- as we have seen with the likes of Karun Nair and many others, who continue to remain on the fringes despite performing on a consistent basis. And, so when they do get their chance, like Mayank got after Rahul and Vijay were dropped and Shaw ruled out due to injury or Chahal, after being on the bench for over four months, they know that they need to be at the top of their mark.
This series in Australia, apart from the historic feat, is a reflection of India's fringe players ability and confidence to grab the opportunity when it arrives and make that place their own which is a luxury, not many teams can boast of at the moment- thanks to the cut-throat competition in the Ranji Trophy and off-course the exposure of the IPL.