How India turned a lopsided rivalry against Australia into Battle of Equals

For Indian fans over the years, India vs Australia matches often felt like a fight between underdogs and champions. It took India 31 years to record a series win over Australia when Sunil Gavaskar’s men triumphed 2-0 in 1979 at home. Seven years later, the two played a memorable series in India which began with the famous tied Test in Chennai. For the legendary Allan Border, that was the series which kickstarted the India Australia rivalry.

Border told Sportstar in 2016, “The rivalry between Australia and India has been phenomenal. It traces back to the tied Test match in 1986. We hadn’t played a lot of cricket against each other in the previous years. I was here in 1979, and the next time we came back was 1986. I think that started the intense rivalry that we see today.”

The emergence of Sachin Tendulkar in the 90s added another dimension to the rivalry as the Master Blaster engaged in a memorable rivalry with Shane Warne. Led by Tendulkar, India recorded back-to-back series wins at home in 1996-97 and in 1997-98. Tendulkar single-handedly won the first Test of the 1997-98 series as his battling second innings century in Chennai won India the match from a losing position.

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Mark Taylor would later remark, “We did not lose to a team, we lost to a man called Sachin.” A month later, Tendulkar decimated the Australian bowling line-up in an innings remembered as ‘The Desert Storm’.

Now led by the shrewd Saurav Ganguly, India began shedding their nice-guy tags and went toe-to-toe against the Australians. The 2000-01 series at home saw VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid combine in Kolkata to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and etch their names in the annals of cricketing history. The series also saw Harbhajan Singh spin a web around Ricky Ponting and Co. as he became the first Indian bowler to take a hat-trick in Test cricket.

The 2001 series was instrumental in changing the mindsets of the cricketing world towards India. Former Australia captain Ricky Ponting said, “The 2001 series was probably the most remarkable Test series I have played in. We lost the series but the level of cricket that was played and the intensity with which the series was played, the audience in attendance right through the series was unbelievable.”

Despite the heroic win, India were still in Australia’s shadow as Ricky Ponting oversaw a decade of Australian dominance over world cricket. Ponting and Co. got their revenge in 2004 as they clinched a series in India for the first time in 25 years. The series also saw Michael Clarke mark his debut with a match-winning century in Bangalore.

After trading home series wins through the 2000s and 2010s, India finally broke their duck in Australia as Virat Kohli’s men romped to a 2-1 win in early 2019, 71 years after India first toured Down Under. The once lopsided rivalry is finally a Battle of Equals.

The India vs Australia ODI series, touted as Battle of Equals, begins on 14 January, 2020.

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Edited by Amar Anand
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