The ongoing seven game series of one-day internationals between India and Australia has generated a lot of excitement all over the world. The teams fighting are the very best in the world, regardless of the fact that injuries have severely dented the tourists and not so severely, the hosts. The true test for any sporting team lies in its reserves, and Australia has proved why they have been on top or around the top for two decades now. The performances from Doug Bollinger and Clint McKay were fantastic, considering their lack of international exposure. That the Aussies managed to win three games with Mitchell Johnson woefully out of form, is ample evidence of the bench bowlers.
With Lee, Bracken, Clark not playing and Johnson out of form, the Aussies have accomplished what no other team lacking four of its premier fast bowlers can even dream of doing: defeating India on their own turf. The crowd support in the series is awesome, with Sachin’s march to 17,000 runs followed my many a eager fan, in person and in much larger numbers, on TV. The margins of victory too say something about the rivalry that has become the talk of the cricketing world: 4 runs, 99 runs, 6 wickets, 24 runs, and 3 runs. With series like this, one day cricket can never die!
Beginning in the one-off test at Delhi in 1996, where Nayan Mongia scored 152, the teams have met seven times in Test series: 1998, 2001, 2005, 2008 in India; 1999-2000, 2003-’04 and 2007-’08 in Australia. There have been many reputations made and broken in these fiercely fought (sometimes meekly surrendered too)encounters: Matthew Hayden as a bludgeoning buccaneer, Harbhajan Singh as the Turbanator, VVS Laxman as the Very Very Special one, Michael Clarke as a very good player of spin are the ones that instantly come to mind. Agarkar’s reputation as a batsman was among the ones broken, as was the invincibility of Steve Waugh’s team in 2001.
There have been many knocks that arose from the willowy eloquence of Ponting, Dravid, Sachin, Clarke, Laxman, and several brutal onslaughts from Hayden, Symonds among others. What makes this rivalry so fascinating is the emergence of a new Indian cricket at the start of this decade. We saw the match fixing scandal, followed by India’s humiliation at home against South Africa and then came a glimmer of hope. The appointment of Saurav Ganguly as captain proved a good decision, as he made the team a bunch of fighters, like the Aussies ever have been. He backed his players all through, and wore his attitude on his sleeve (and on his torso too, once, at Lord’s). He had the best batting line-up at his disposal, along with a engineering spinner (or a spinning engineer), a young offie with attitude and a handful of young fast bowlers. His spell saw the emergence of the likes of Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, Irfan Pathan, Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag – players who form the core of the current Indian team.
The Indian team had the making of an Aussie team, with aggressive play and talk and arrogance ruling the roost. No, there’s no wrong in being arrogant as long as you respect the umpire, the opposition and the rules of the game. That’s the way the best teams of today play. The rise of the Indian team has coincided with a fall, or a momentary lapse in the Aussie team. Several stalwarts, all legends in their ownright retired: Damien Martyn, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist. Michael Clarke has filled Martyn’s void appreciably, but the the other three have left voids that cannot be filled easily.
There have been few rivalries that can match this one in terms of talent and ferocity. The early days of international cricket had England – Australia but since then either of the teams have been winning lopsided series, save the last two in England and the Botham series. India – Pakistan, Australia – New Zealand and South Africa – Australia are based more on passion than sport. True, South Africa are at last putting up a brave front to their tormentors, but that budding rivalry is barely a season old. Australia dominated world cricket before and after the world wars, the West Indies during the seventies and eighties, and again the Aussie dominance was revived in the late nineties. The remaining periods were transit years from an era of dominance by one nation to another era of dominance by another. The current period is such a lull, but this lull seems to go on for quite some time.
As a rule, two curves, one ascending and the other descending, are poised to meet at some point, but this point seems like a long line in the case of these two champion teams. Very soon, India will see the departure of their legendary middle order, and that will be the test of their reserves. If the new team can do as well as the Aussie team, currently in transition has done so far, then we’re sure to enjoy the healthy and fierce rivalry that we have come to love and cherish as the game itself.
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