The number one ranking, a spot in the World Test Championship final and the Border-Gavaskar Trophy all are on the line for Australia as they enter their most important home Test match for 17 years.
Australia have had some monumental matches overseas in recent years.
The prime examples are the final Test of the 2019 Ashes – when Australia had a chance to win a series in England for the first time in 18 years – and the last match of the 2017 series in India, when an ultra-rare series victory was possible.
But this week’s Test is Brisbane is the biggest on Australian soil since 2003.
Only once since then have Australia and their visiting opponents been deadlocked entering the final match of a series of three Tests or more.
That most recent thriller was in the summer of 2012-13, when Australia and South Africa drew the first two, before the Proteas won the deciding match in Perth.
While that was an enthralling series, its finale lacked the blockbuster status of the upcoming Brisbane match.
Against South Africa, Australia weren’t playing for the number one ranking and crucial WTC points. That series also lacked the swelling controversy that’s turned this contest against India into a battle royale.
It is 17 years since so much was riding on a single game on these shores. In January 2004, Australia and India met for the fourth and final Test at the SCG with the series tied at 1-1. India had a gilded chance to win their first series in Australia, with the hosts missing superstar bowlers Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath.
That match fizzled out into a high-scoring draw as just 25 wickets fell across five days. Not since then have Australia had so much to gain, or lose, from a home match.
If Australia triumph at the Gabba they will reclaim both the Border-Gavaskar Trophy and the number one ranking, which New Zealand pinched this month. They will also remain in first spot on the WTC table.
A loss would see them tumble to third spot behind India and New Zealand in the WTC race, making it difficult for them to qualify for the final at Lord’s this June.
It’s been a grim summer for Australia, who have greatly underperformed against a wounded foe and also behaved poorly in Sydney. Yet this gloom would disappear if, in a few months from now, they claim the WTC prize alongside the Border-Gavaskar Trophy and their number one ranking.
Even if they achieved all of that, it still wouldn’t make Australia’s the world’s best side. That title belongs to India. They may be the third ranked Test team currently but India’s skill, courage, composure and persistence this series, while fielding a second-string side, has underlined their status as the kings of this format.
Certainly no side can match their depth of talent.
New Zealand, too, are a terrific outfit, having comfortably beat India 2-0 at home last year. The Kiwis are, however, harmed by their comparatively limp effort in Australia last summer, when they were steamrolled 3-0.
Excuses were made for the Kiwis due to injuries to key personnel. Yet New Zealand suffered nothing like India’s current injury crisis.
India be missing seven members of their best XI in Brisbane – captain Virat Kohli, keeper Rishabh Pant, gun quicks Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami, and champion spinners Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin.
Not to mention injuries to quality back-up paceman Umesh Yadav, experienced batsman KL Rahul, and middle-order man Hanuma Vihari, who helped India save the day at the SCG.
Australia, meanwhile, may again be at full strength. Given this disparity in available resources, and Australia’s home-ground advantage, the boys in baggy green should have won easily at Sydney.
But India punched above their weight and kept slugging until the final over. Even considering their further injury issues since then, there would be few level-headed cricket followers who would write the tourists off.
Their tenacity this summer has been remarkable. After they were humiliated in the series opener, dismissed for a record low 36, I expected India to roll over.
That was a widely-held opinion, too. Instead they’ve turned the tables on Australia, who were reduced to a sledging, bickering rabble on the final day in Sydney.
Australia tried to get under India’s skin. Instead, the reverse occurred. Now India enter the final Test with an era-defining victory in reach.
Australia, meanwhile, could potentially lose their number one ranking, their chance at WTC glory, and the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
Fans should be delighted, though. We’ve complained for years about the glut of dead rubbers and low stakes in Australia. Now we’ve been presented with the biggest home Test in 17 years.