‘Down Underdogs’ review : Feel-good docuseries recaps India’s epic 2020-21 Test series win in Australia

The series marks the first anniversary of the Indian cricket team’s 2-1 victory over Australia, culminating in a pulsating climax at Brisbane

Close on the heels of the blockbuster 83 comes another feel-good film on Indian cricket, this time a four-part docuseries on India’s unprecedented jailbreak in Australia not too long ago. To mark the first anniversary of India’s 2-1 victory, culminating in a pulsating climax in Brisbane, host broadcasters Sony Pictures Network have come out with their in-house production, Down Underdogs – India’s Greatest Comeback, releasing from January 14 across their bouquet of sports channels.

Victory in the 1983 World Cup is arguably Indian cricket’s greatest underdog story, purely going by the lack of expectations from the public and many of the players themselves at the time. When India entered Australia’s shores in 2020 for four Tests, it was a different scenario. A Test team on the upswing was expected to defend their series win in the same country in 2017-18, this time however against a stronger Australian side, on paper.

The opening Test in Adelaide ebbed and flowed, with no side gaining any distinct advantage, until it all came apart for India in one manic session of wickets on a sunny, third morning. India folded for 36, the country’s lowest-ever innings Test score. Commentators failed to see how the team could bounce back, without regular captain and talismanic batsman Virat Kohli, who was flying back home for the birth of his first child.

When head coach Ravi Shastri was asked later what he told the devastated team after the Adelaide meltdown, he said “nothing”. The only way was up. The second episode, Melbourne Magic, shines the spotlight on two gutsy men from Mumbai with contrasting personalities, Shastri and stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane.

Harsha Bhogle, one of several commentators and experts interviewed in the film, says Shastri has that ability to lift people when down. Journalist Rajdeep Sardesai calls Rahane the “Amol Palekar of Indian cricket,” likening him to a tough character who has a calming presence that rubs off on others. Former Australia cricketer Lisa Sthalekar talks of Rahane’s ability to “internalise the panic” and enable others to focus without stressing over past events. Rahane’s fighting century in that second Test at Melbourne was the bedrock of India’s stunning comeback in the series.

Commentators are effusive in their praise for his captaincy, without ever undermining Kohli. Rahane was seen taking counsel from his teammates, trusting them to set the fields they wanted. He also saw a bigger role for R. Ashwin as the man to pin down Australia’s best batsman, Steve Smith. Presenter Gaurav Kapur commented on that successful strategy, saying, “Ashwin had Steve Smith’s number on speed dial.”

The film features interviews with several commentators and journalists including Sunil Gavaskar, Sanjay Manjrekar, Nick Knight, Isa Guha, Vivek Razdan, Ayaz Memon, Joy Bhattacharjee. The only two Australian voices, however, are Sthalekar and Michael Clarke. Two Indian players also are interviewed, Hanuma Vihari and Mohammad Siraj. An emotional Siraj recalls the pain of losing his father and not being able to return home for the funeral due to COVID-19 protocols.

Siraj was to make a significant impact as the series went on, highlighting the Indian team’s enviable depth, and the resilience to breach the “fortress” Brisbane.

Watch Down Underdogs – India’s Greatest Comeback, a 4-episode docuseries, on January 14, 2022 to January 17, 2022 at 8:00 PM on SONY SIX & SONY TEN 4 in English, SONY TEN 3 in Hindi

 

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