It was just over two months until the start of the cricket World Cup when Australia faced India in a series-deciding clash at a typically raucous Feroz Shah Kotla Ground in Delhi.
They entered the five-match one-day series with an awful streak of form, having won just four of their previous 26 completed ODIs.
A Virat Kohli-led India were expected to pound the Aussies at home, further whacking their confidence and further diminishing any fading hopes of defending their World Cup title in England.
The script was stuck to for the first two games before Australia went up a few gears in the following two, including chasing down an incredible 359 to win game four in Mohali.
Still, India were red-hot favourites to claim the series at the famous Feroz Shah Kotla Ground, an intimidating venue for visiting teams. When full of 42,000 Indian fans, the atmosphere generated helped forge a formidable record.
Up until 2016, India hadn’t been beaten in one-dayers at the ground in 11 years and they’ve been undefeated in Test cricket at FSK since 1987.
Australia were still without their two best batsmen, Steve Smith and David Warner.
They couldn’t, could they? They did – a 35-run victory stunning the Delhi crowd. It was the first time Australia had won a five-match bilateral ODI series after being down 2-0, and the first time Australia had won an ODI series in India since 2009.
Most significantly, Australia’s World Cup campaign was back on track.
Australia went on to hammer Pakistan 5-0, and with their tails up and with loads of momentum, won seven of their nine World Cup pool matches.
This is worth pondering as the Wallabies look ahead to the World Cup, which similarly is just over two months away.
Like the Australian cricket team, the Wallabies’ recent record has been woeful. They lack wins – victorious in four of their 13 Tests in 2018 – and they lack swagger. Their chances of going deep at the World Cup seem pretty low.
The Wallabies have only five Tests between now and their opening World Cup pool game against Fiji on September 21 in Sapporo.
It’s why their Rugby Championship opener against South Africa at Ellis Park in Johannesburg in a weeks’ time can be viewed as a massive opportunity to build some meaningful momentum.
They’re playing at a ground where they’ve beaten the Springboks just once in ten Tests, way back in 1963. The Wallabies haven’t played at Ellis Park since suffering their worst-ever loss there in 2008, a 58-3 thrashing.
It’s a ground, with a capacity of 62,000, that’s notorious for humiliating visiting teams. It’s loud. It’s hostile. It’s 1700 metres above sea level.
In 40 years only New Zealand, France and a British and Irish Lions side have won. It’s also where Nelson Mandela handed Francois Pienaar the Webb Ellis trophy after the Boks beat the All Blacks in the 1995 World Cup final.
Michael Cheika is aware that the Wallabies’ first match of 2019 has the potential to build the character of his side that will help shape their mindsets for September.
“In those types of atmospheres… that’s where you’ve got to be resilient, in that sort of cauldron,” the Wallabies coach said during the week. “That’s the best preparation for us to be having… before what else is to come this season.”
The Wallabies headed over to South Africa early to spend two weeks in Johannesburg and acclimatise to the altitude. Importantly, they’ve got to match the Boks physically.
Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Folau Fainga’a, Rory Arnold, Samu Kerevi and Marika Koroibete are the Wallabies that can set the tone in that department.
They’ve got few excuses to be ready to go. With only the Brumbies in the Super Rugby finals and with a long preparation in South Africa, the Wallabies have a perfect chance to make a statement at Ellis Park.
Victory in Johannesburg can breathe life into their World Cup hopes, just as an authoritative victory in Dehli helped to turn around the fortunes of the Australian cricket team two months out from the World Cup.