India and Australia have a rich cricketing history that transcends beyond the two starkly contrasting countries. Right from the time India took its baby steps in World cricket, Australia have been as big an opponent as Pakistan, with matches between the two sides attracting enormous attention.
Of course, it reached a peak when Sachin Tendulkar unleashed the “Sharjah Standstorm” in 1998 and gave Shane Warne, arguably the best spinner the cricketing World has seen, “nightmares”.
But it did not end there.
From the late 1990s to a decade into the 21st century, Australia dominated the cricketing World like the Roman juggernauts – relentless, ruthless and thankless. The end of the era of the Waugh brothers coincided with the emergence of Australia as a brute force across formats.
They had a dream team at the time, one which could turn the Rest of the World XI to ashes with a mere stare. Other countries shuddered at the sheer thought of playing Australia.
Not India, though.
From Sourav Ganguly to MS Dhoni to Virat Kohli, India had a series of bold captains capable of standing shoulder to shoulder with the Aussies. While the South African and England fans bore a dour and sad face when their teams played Australia, the Indian fan looked forward to playing the leviathans of the World Down Under.
A couple of teenagers (Zaheer Khan and Yuvraj Singh) sealed India’s win over the Aussies in the Champions Trophy in Nairobi in 2000. In 2001, India ended Australia’s 15-match unbeaten winning streak in Tests with an outrageous, come-from-behind victory at Kolkata, still rated as one of the best Tests in the history of cricket. The series in itself was electrifying with Matthew Hayden, VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid and Harbhajan Singh all hogging the limelight at different stages.
It was the start of a deep-rooted rivalry between the two teams. In the One-Day series that followed the Tests, Indian skipper, Sourav Ganguly, gave Australia a dose of their own medicine, when he made Steve Waugh wait at the toss to teach the Aussies a lesson or two on “rude behaviour”.
Waugh, in his autobiography, ‘Out of My Comfort Zone’ alleges that Ganguly was late for the toss “seven times” during that series. India had started to get under the skin of the Australians with a kind of behaviour that reflected their own.
The 2003 World Cup was a botch in India’s journey towards becoming the next Australia. The Ricky Ponting-led Australia drubbed them at Johannesburg in a World Cup final that will forever be remembered.
In 2007, a rampant Yuvraj Singh avenged India’s embarrassing loss in the 2003 World Cup finals with a 38 ball 70 in the semi-finals of the inaugural T20 World Cup against Australia. The rivalry scaled another crest with the Monkey-gate saga in 2008 involving Andrew Symonds and Harbhajan Singh.
India effectively ended Australia’s domination in World cricket with two World Cup wins in four years (T20 World Cup in 2007 and ODI World Cup in 2011). Australia had completed a hat-trick of World Cup’s in 2007 with victories in the 1999, 2003 and 2007 edition. But India dumped Australia out of the World Cup twice (2007 World T20 semi-finals and 2011 ODI World Cup quarter-finals), delighting the millions of fans in the country.
In 2008, Sachin Tendulkar and Praveen Kumar combined to seal India a Tri-Series win over the Aussies with victories in the first two matches of a best-of-three-finals making the third final redundant.
After the 2011 World Cup Quarter-finals victory over the Aussies and the subsequent World Cup triumph, India went on to dominate the Cricketing World. The likes of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma emerged while Australia had the Michael Clarkes, Steven Smiths and David Warners.
Four years after the mega event in India, Australia and New Zealand hosted the 2015 World Cup where the ruthless Aussies thrashed India in the semi-finals to extract revenge. They went on to beat New Zealand in the finals to win the World Cup, their fourth in the last five ODI World Cup editions.
In 2013, when Australia landed in India for a seven-match ODI series, five of the seven games saw one of the teams scale 300. On three occasions, the chasing team upstaged a 300+ target making the seven-match ODI series an unparalleled exhibition of raw hitting. James Faulkner’s marauding of Ishant Sharma and Rohit Sharma’s effortless double hundred remain vivid in the eyes of the average fan.
Last year, a Steven Smith-led Aussie Test outfit brought an end to India’s stunning dominance in the sub-continent with an unexpected victory in the series opener. It was the first win by any visiting nation in India since 2012. Befittingly, it was Australia who ended India’s jaw-dropping home run.
However, India went on to seal the four-match Test series 2-1. Steven Smith’s DRS ‘cheating’ during the series in the Bangalore Test also earned him quite a mouthful from the Indian fans.
This has been the story of India-Australia rivalry in the 21st century. Every time one of the two dominated the cricketing World, the other has come hard to knock them off the perch. Combined with the verbal barrage and the fiercely competitive eyes, cricket between the two nations have been a spectacle.
As Australia return to the Indian sub-continent for a series of ODIs and T20s, the crowd waited with bated breaths to see the drama unfold. When it is these two teams, there is no shortage of entertainment and despite Australia’s roaring success, especially in the shorter formats, the average Indian cricket fan has had a lot to rejoice when these teams clash.