Now that the upcoming series between India and Australia down under has been confirmed, further COVID outbreaks permitting, it is timely to stroll down memory lane to reminisce about series past here in Australia.
Indian tours to Australia have been anything but sedate, marked by high quality cricket, acrimony and controversy.
Newly independent India made its first official tour of Australia. While India was free of the yoke of British imperialism it ran into the imperial majesty of the Don Bradman-led Australians. The Don himself scored four big hundreds in the five-Test series. This was a precursor to Australia’s Invincibles tour of the UK in 1948. The home series against India was won by the hosts four-nil.
After a gap of 20 years, India toured Australia but as with the previous series they lost four-nil. India was led with the bat by the regal Nawab Pataudi and Australia was led by Bob Cowper and the young Ian Chappell. Although not necessarily finding the pitches to their liking, India’s spinners performed well.
This series, which featured the new, no-name, establishment Australian cricket team, saw a thrilling three-two victory to Australia, with the series not decided until the last day of the last Test. Australia was led by the 42-year-old Bob Simpson, recalled from retirement to fill the leadership void following the defection of its first-choice players. Jeff Thomson remained true to the establishment cause for this series. India’s famed spinners dominated with the ball, as did Sunil Gavaskar with the bat with three centuries in three consecutive Tests.
For Australia, Simpson’s return was a successful one with a huge hundred in Perth, while a host of newcomers as well as Sheffield Shield veterans were introduced to the national team. With the exception of Kim Hughes and John Dyson, a number of the Australian players did not go onto long Test careers, especially as the reconciliation with the Kerry Packer players occurred two years later. In this series, from being two-nil down, India recovered to level the series at two-all leading into the final Test at Adelaide. Set an imposing 493 to win, India fell short in the last Test by just 46 runs.
This three-Test series was tied one-all. It was an early sign of acrimony to follow in later series. Gavaskar, aggrieved by the umpiring throughout the tour, was given out LBW in Melbourne and threatened a walk-off as he summoned his batting partner to accompany him back to the pavilion. The quick-thinking actions of the manager prevented a forfeit of the match and potentially a diplomatic incident. Controversy about the state of the MCG also abounded. Australia was bundled out for 83 at the MCG, allowing India to level the series, on the back of a five-for by Kapil Dev and good bowling by Dilip Doshi. India was however in the process of moving away from its all-spin ethos, especially overseas, realising that on faster tracks, more pace options were required. This was a lesson well learnt decades on as we shall see. Dennis Lillee dominated for Australia through the series, and India was well served by the veteran Gundappa Viswanath and newcomer Sandeep Patil.
While this series was a nil-all draw, India was on top for the most part, with bad weather foiling a bid for victory in Melbourne. Australia was in a transition phase following the retirements of its greats two seasons earlier and the defection of players to the South African rebel tours. This was India’s best chance to date for a breakthrough series win in Australia but the history books would not record it that way. India’s batting strengths were displayed in full but the bowling lacked overall menace.
A resurgent Australia, fresh from Ashes victories in the previous few years, was again building a team of strength. Led by Allan Border, they had top-order stability, middle-order flair and fast-bowling capability. India lost four-nil. This series was notable for the emergence of two megastars of the future: Sachin Tendulkar, who scored a century in Perth, and the debut of Shane Warne in Sydney. While Warne’s debut did not exactly set the world on fire, it nonetheless was an important introduction to the international arena. By the way, India lost four-nil.
Australia was in the midst of a record-breaking winning sequence under Steve Waugh. Australia won three-nil in the three-match series. Tendulkar scored his obligatory century, while the world was given a glimpse of the future stardom of VVS Laxman.
This series was drawn one-all. The Indian top-order batsmen had a feast in this series, topping 700 in the first innings of the final Sydney Test. India secured an outstanding come-from-behind victory in Adelaide on the back of marathons by Laxman and Rahul Dravid (reprising their efforts in India two years earlier), while an Australian team weakened by the absence of Warne and Glenn McGrath in this series was highly competitive, highlighting how difficult it is for overseas teams to win in Australia. The Sydney Test was the final in the illustrious career of Steve Waugh, who endeared himself to Indian crowds at home and in India with his willingness to embrace different cultural experiences.
Following previous series played with reasonable tranquility, this one was particularly vexatious. Umpiring controversies, especially in the Sydney Test, and a threatened cancellation of the tour by India all reflected and contributed to a series full of rancor. The final day of the Sydney Test was a desperate and at times ugly affair. Australia won the series two-one, but India had a breakthrough win in Perth.
This time India was facing a period of transition with the last gasp of its famed veterans, including Tendulkar, Laxman and Dravid. Australia won the series four-nil, and Michael Clarke had a summer-long birthday, which included a triple century. For India, Virat Kohli had his first Test tour down under.
This series was conducted against the sad backdrop of the passing of Phil Hughes, necessitating a delayed start. While the mood was grim, the cricket was stimulating. Despite the two-nil scoreline in favour of Australia, the series was competitive. The world saw Steve Smith’s run-scoring frenzy and Kohli proved he was no slouch either.
Australia minus the sandpaper culprits lost its first series at home to India. India’s victory was based on a dominant pace attack, the first time you could say that about an Indian team in Australia. The bowlers were unrelenting, probing weaknesses in temperament and technique. Despite a hiccup in Perth, India won the series two-one and were well and truly on top in the Sydney Test, which was badly rain-affected. The balance of power in world cricket, both on and off the field, was changing.
What will 2020-21 bring?