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Desert storm, Eden enigma & Punter’s prowess: The fierce India-Australia rivalry


If Test cricket is the sublime form of a gentleman’s game and the T2O format is its saviour – then ODI cricket is an optimum balance between the two, something purists and Gen Z can enjoy together. Besides marquee events like the World Cup and Champions Trophy, what still makes 50-over cricket relevant is the rivalry between top cricket-playing nations. If the India versus Pakistan rivalry set the temperature soaring because of the troubled histories of both nations, India versus Australia is another rivalry that is being fuelled by the quest to achieve excellence by both cricketing giants, especially in Test and ODI formats. And their fans anticipate with bated breath every time these teams take on each other because these encounters often turn into edge-of-the-seat thrillers.

Ahead of the 2023 ODI World Cup final, let’s embark on a journey to revisit some of the iconic ODI and Test battles between two proud cricketing nations.

1998 ‘Desert Storm’

Before the events of April 1998, the legendary Sachin Tendulkar was known for his batting prowess and prodigious talent, but his unassuming on-field presence and docile approach never really elicited a belligerent response, even if the opposition bowlers had a go against him—sometimes verbally. But in a triangular series between India, Australia, and New Zealand in Sharjah, the latent aggression of Mumbaikar was unleashed in the most startling manner. Sachin showed he could boss one of the fiercest Aussie bowling attacks, which had the likes of Damien Fleming, Shane Warne, and Michael Kasprowicz, who bore the brunt of his new avatar.

Sachin took the Australian bowlers to the cleaners at will, and the onslaught was later dubbed the ‘Desert Storm in Sharjah.’ He just went after the Australian attack as if his life depended upon it and tore them apart to amass 143 off 131 balls. The duel started only after a sandstorm delayed the match for half an hour, and India’s revised target was 276; they required 235 to secure their berth in the final of the tri-nation series. India couldn’t achieve the winning target, but Tendulkar’s great innings was enough to take them to the finals due to a better net run rate than the Kiwis. In the finals, Tendulkar continued to unleash havoc on the Aussies, with another century translating into a title victory for Team India.

1999: Jadeja- Singh Duo Fell Short
Australian batting powerhouse Mark Waugh played some terrific shots and went on to score 83 off 99 as Australia batted first in that World Cup game and scored 282/6. It was a must-win game for India, but the great Indian batting lineup couldn’t live up to the expectations. Though Ajay Jadeja scored an unbeaten 100 off 138, he didn’t get much support from the other end, except for a valiant 75 off 94 by Robin Singh. But the duo’s effort wasn’t good enough to get India past the target of 283; they were knocked out of the showpiece event by 77 runs. Besides Jadeja and Singh, other Indian batters lost their wickets with a single-digit score. Australia’s pacer Glenn McGrath tormented India the most and finished the contest with 3/34. India’s famous top three, comprising Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid scored 8,0,2, respectively, in that must-win contest.

2001: Eden Enigma for Aussies

Australia came into the Border-Gavaskar Trophy with a 15-match Test winning streak, and they extended it after the Mumbai Test win. For the majority of cricket fans, it was a foregone conclusion that Australia were going to win the series in India, but a young team led by new captain Sourav Ganguly pulled off an extraordinary feat that took the rivalry up a few notches and produced some terrific memories of one of the greatest comebacks in sports history.

Harbhajan Singh made his presence felt when he got a hat-trick – the first ever by an Indian bowler in Tests, but India were made to follow on. Then came an epic partnership between VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid, as the duo battled a ferocious Australian attack and Kolkata humidity to bat throughout the day, stitching a fifth-wicket stand of 376 and setting a target of 384 for Australia.

Australia started off well, but soon Sachin Tendulkar opened up the floodgates by getting the wicket of opener Matthew Hayden, and then Harbhajan Singh bowled a magnificent spell to script a historic victory for India. The next Test in Chennai also had some heart-in-mouth moments when Matthew Hayden scored a double-century, but Harbhajan once again tormented the Australians, and India won the match by two wickets.

2003: Punter plunders India

If there was ever a perfect example of a lull before the storm in cricketing folklore, it was in this contest. Australia captain Ricky Ponting showed why he was the best in business in those days. He took 74 balls to score his half-century with the help of just one boundary, but what followed after that simply decimated Team India.

Having been sent in to bat first after India skipper Sourav Ganguly won the toss, the great Australian batting line-up got off to a flying start with openers Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden going after the Zaheer Khan-led Indian bowling attack, but that was just the shorter part of the nightmare for India, as captain Ricky Ponting and Damien Martyn stitched a record 234-run partnership.

Ponting remained unbeaten on 140 and thrashed all Indian bowlers as his last 90 runs came off in just 47 balls, in which he also hit Harbhajan Singh for consecutive sixes in the 39th over to stamp his authority over the match. India was completely outclassed in that contest, as Australia romped home with a 125-run victory and the third World Cup trophy after 1987 and 1999. The famous Indian batting line-up again proved feeble against the Australian attack, which was led by Glenn McGrath, who picked up three wickets. Sachin Tendulkar scored only 4 off 5 in that final, while Virender Sehwag emerged as the top scorer for India with 82 off 81.

2003-04: Dravid-Laxman at it again

After tormenting Australia in 2001, Dravid and Laxman once again rose to the occasion in the epic Adelaide Test. After Australia scored 556 with the help of Ricky Ponting’s 242, the Indian duo added 303 for the fifth wicket. Once the batters had their say, Ajit Agarkar produced one of the finest spells of his career, as he took 6 for 41 and India got a tricky target of 230.

Rahul Dravid again showed his class and scored an unbeaten 72 to secure a memorable victory for India. Australia did bounce back by winning the Boxing Day Test despite Virender Sehwag’s swashbuckling 195, but the decider at the SCG saw the peak of Indian batting as the visitors amassed 705 for 7.

Sachin Tendulkar’s unbeaten 241 and VVS Laxman’s another classic innings of 178 gave India a big edge over the hosts. Australia came back strongly with centuries from Justin Langer and Simon Katich. But Rahul Dravid continued his dream run with 91 not out in the second innings which helped India set a target of 443.

In the end, Simon Katich stood firm against India’s relentless attack led by Anil Kumble to make it a memorable draw for Steve Waugh in his final Test.

2009: Sachin Show in Lost Cause

It was a belter of a pitch in Hyderabad, and Ricky Ponting led the Australian side to a massive 350 for 4 after Shaun Marsh (112) and Shane Watson (93) punished the insipid Indian bowling line-up. But little master Sachin Tendulkar rose to the occasion and took the attack to the opposition.

The Australian bowlers had a terrible time on the field. Tendulkar hammered the Australians to amass 141, but India fell short of victory by three runs. Suresh Raina also scored 59 in that contest, but it was Shane Watson’s impressive bowling figures of 3/47 in 8.4 overs that made the crucial difference. It was a long series of seven One Day International matches, which Australia won by 4-2 as one contest was abandoned due to rain.

There were a couple of close contests in that series, but overall it was an all-round performance by Australia that proved its might over India and also exposed many flaws in the batting and bowling of the home side.

2011 – Yuvi’s All-round Heroics

Before the start of the 2011 Cricket World Cup, many cricket pundits wrote off Yuvraj Singh because of his dwindling form, but the confident left-handed all-rounder took it as a challenge and made his presence felt in the marquee event by producing some magnificent results, which eventually led to India’s title triumph.

Yuvraj ticked all the boxes and showed his true prowess in the quarter-final, when he emerged as a sheet anchor for the team and scored an unbeaten 57 and also took two wickets, with R Ashwin and Zaheer Khan also taking two each to keep Australia’s score below par at 260/6.

Yuvraj’s effort was complemented by Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir’s half centuries, and India went on to beat Australia for the first time in a World Cup since 1983 to progress further in the tournament. During his playing days, Yuvraj always thrived under pressure, but he brought out his very best in the quarterfinals, which made a huge difference.

2015 – The Great Indian Collapse

It was a high-expectation game of the 2015 World Cup. Team India was looking in a good position to test the mighty Aussies in their home, but that didn’t happen. Australia’s relentless bowling unit, featuring Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc and James Faulkner – simply outsmarted the Indian batters to storm into the semis with a 95-run win. Australia’s in-form batter Steve Smith took the Indian bowlers to the cleaners and scored 105 off 93 as the hosts put 328 on board for the loss of seven wickets.

The packed crowd in Sydney Cricket Ground, which had a huge number of fans rooting for the ‘Men in Blue’ that day, saw another Indian batting collapse as Captain MS Dhoni’s score of 65 a run-a-ball was the only saving grace in that match. Other top names in that batting lineup were Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma and they scored 1, 45, 34 respectively. Eventually, Australia went on to win their fifth World Cup title.

2019 – Batting Bonanza

On June 9, 2019, The Oval in London saw the very best of Indian batting as India’s top order fired on all cylinders, with Shikhar Dhawan’s century effort culminating in 117 off 109 balls, captain Virat Kohli scoring 82 off 77, and Rohit Sharma making 57 off 70.

India’s batting looked impervious in that contest, as they put 352 on board at the loss of five wickets. Australia made a fine start with opener David Warner scoring a half-century 56 off 84 balls and Steve Smith and Alex Carey also supported him with half-centuries, but in the end, that didn’t prove enough. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah both took three wickets each, and Australia were 316 all out. India’s batting performance stole the show in that contest, as they had Aussie bowlers under pressure throughout the match.

2018-19: Kohli and Co scripted history

India achieved the unthinkable on January 7, 2019, when Virat Kohli and his men became the first-ever Indian team to win a Test series in Down Under by beating Tim Paine-led side 2-1 in the four-match rubber. What started as an intriguing win in Adelaide would have easily ended with a 3-1 result for Team India if rain had not spoiled the Sydney Test.

While the opening match was clearly dominated by bowlers, it was Chetaswar Pujara’s gritty innings that decided the outcome of the next match. Australia did fight back in Perth as their opening pair got off to a fine start with a 112 partnership, but Virat Kohli gave a fitting reply with a century. In the end, India fell short to achieve the target.

The Melbourne Test saw another dogged innings from Pujara who battled well for his 193 and was supported by Rishabh Pant’s 159. Finally, Kuldeep Yadav’s fifer grounded the great Australian side as Indian went on to win the series 2-1.

2020-21: Gabba Conquered

Many came and tried their best, but the ‘Gabbatoir’ had the last laugh because the Brisbane Cricket Ground had emerged as the fortress of the Australian Cricket Team, where they had not lost a Test Match in 32 years.

But on January 19, 2021, – India breached that fortress, with mercurial wicketkeeper batter Rishabh Pant leading the charge to make Australia pay for taking the hosts lightly. Before that feat, Australia had won 25 and drawn seven Tests in Gabba. In that series, India were in trouble with their long list of injuries and Shardul Thakur and Washington Sundar chipped in to revive India’s innings but then Australia set a steep target of 328 for the final day.

Once Shubman Gill and Pujara added 114 for the second wicket, it looked like an achievable target, and what followed after that made it another remarkable series win for India. Rishabh Pant just went after Australian bowlers as if it were a one-day game and wrote his name in history books by chasing down the target.

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