When television broadcasters first started using the statistics generated by cricket analysts CricViz, there was a widely-held suspicion that some of their offerings were what Mitchell and Webb would term numberwang. That scepticism soon passed.
On day one of the Sydney Test, the data seemed plainly unbelievable: statistically speaking, India’s Rishabh Pant was only the second-worst wicketkeeper in Test cricket, and the man in pole position was twice as bad.
You imagined Bangladesh’s Mushfiqur Rahim making Ravichandran Ashwin’s facial expressions distort even further.
Of course, like Mushfiqur, Pant is picked for what he can do with the bat.
To focus solely on his keeping is like critiquing Tony Soprano’s bookkeeping work at the Bada Bing.
Two summers ago at the SCG, Pant made an undefeated 159 that hinted at superstardom. In the intervening time, his fortunes have waxed and waned but not his relish for staring down Australia.
Not much went India’s way in this game, but Pant’s involvement was an exception.
A horror blow from Pat Cummins seemed to have broken his arm in the first innings. It meant the tidier gloveman Wriddhiman Saha could be subbed in for Australia’s second innings before making way for Pant’s return as a second innings batsman — as remote as the chances seemed.
What a return it was. The cause was hopeless: survive 90 overs or chase down 407.
Not only did Pant declare himself fit to bat, he leapfrogged Hanuma Vihari and wandered out at number five, no padding on his arm.
Only 10 deliveries had been bowled at that point. Nathan Lyon had just dispatched Ajinkya Rahane and Australia seemed set to pounce.
Before play, Lyon eyed the fifth-day pitch like a gourmand appraising a buffet. With the first ball of his next over, he duly tempted Pant into an edge.
Unfortunately, Tim Paine grassed it behind the wicket — a tough chance, but a bread and butter fifth-day dismissal.
Pant’s intent from there was immediately obvious and transformed the contest.
After a few sighters he started clubbing Lyon around the ground with impunity. A pair of sixes helped him to 50 from 64 deliveries and Cheteshwar Pujara dug in at the other end.
In the hours following, they were like bouncers guarding a steel door, Pujara stern, arms folded in front of his chest, Pant repelling the would-be intruders by repeatedly jabbing a finger into their chests.
When Pant was on 53, Paine dropped him again, then on 76 too.
The chances were getting tougher, but thoughts started turning to the horror of Ben Stokes at Headingley two English summers ago.
Inevitably, Pant eventually took one risk too many. With the new ball one over away and the counter-attack raising the prospect of an upset, he tried to bring up his century with another lusty blow off Lyon and sent a leading edge to backward point.
The analysis: 12 boundaries, three sixes, 97 runs from 118 deliveries in a partnership of 148.
It will go in the record books as a half-century. But the way Pant took on the game elevated what should have been a regulation Australian victory into a bare-knuckle brawl.
It also inspired those who followed, which ensured a grandstand finish in which India brilliantly saved the game.
The heroes in the end were Ashwin and Vihari.
With Ravindra Jadeja and his broken hand waiting in the pavilion and Vihari labouring with a hamstring injury, Ashwin came out and was struck all over the body.
For 10 minutes, he looked a walking wicket. But he was also at his most determined, and the partnership that ensued was more epic still than the one which had dominated the first half of the day.
The 62 runs were neither here nor there. The 256 deliveries the pair absorbed denied Australia certain victory.
The effect on the Australians was wholly unedifying.
The longer Ashwin and Vahari withstood what the home side threw at them, the more the ring of close fielders resembled a pack of hyenas, yapping away witlessly and with little more impact than the bowlers.
Matthew Wade played the tough guy character he didn’t quite pull off with his bat. Paine offered an excruciating running commentary.
Simultaneous to that, a piece of footage from earlier in the day went viral: a stump camera showed Steve Smith petulantly scuffing the batting crease to remove the indentation where Pant had marked his guard, forcing the batsman to mark it again.
For reasons that will surely come under close examination after this match, the broadcaster was allowed to run live and uncut a one-way argument between Ashwin and Paine, the latter already fined 15 per cent of his match fee for misbehaviour on day three.
Paine suggested the Australians had more friends in India than Ashwin. It is hard to envisage that being true after this game.
It was also self-defeating. In the Mitchell Starc over following that quip, Paine dropped a regulation chance provided by Vihari and the contest was done.
The only thing worse than the banter on Monday was the glovework.
Perhaps it can be argued that players don’t decide what goes to air. But knowing that anything might, and knowing how unwelcome this Indian team has been made to feel by the SCG crowd, Paine’s team provided an ungracious conclusion to a contest that would have been just as absorbing without the histrionics.
India will depart Sydney battered and bruised, but it has also won itself many admirers.
Towards the end of this match, news filtered through of the death of Colin McDonald, Australian opening batsman in the magical summer of 1960-61.
Frank Worrell’s West Indians were farewelled at the conclusion of that tour with a hero’s motorcade past half a million grateful Melburnians.
You’d hope Brisbane can give India a warmer send-off than what they received here.