Six memorable India-Australia matches
My first memories of Test match cricket are of a batsman vomiting. Five-year-old me watched Dean Jones puke, many times over. I don't remember what I thought or what my dad and his friends told me as the Australian batsman puked, peed and sweat his way to a double hundred. But I remember watching his innings, and the extraordinary finish three days later, knowing I had watched something special. My dad regaled me with stories of the first Tied Test as if he'd been there. He then explained how rare it was to see a tie, how a tie was different from a draw and that Ravi Shastri should never have given up the strike during that last over. Since that day, India v Australia in India has provided the most memorable Test matches of my life. Ahead of the latest installment of this unique rivalry, these are six of the most memorable matches I have seen.
The second Tied TestAllan Border set India 348 runs to win on the final day. I remember Indian batsman after Indian batsman playing aggressive shot after shot all through the day. I remember first innings centurion and captain Kapil Dev being the lone failure as a vaunted middle order, fresh off success in England, took on two spinners who bowled marathon spells. Greg Matthews bowled with his baggy green cap on, a gregarious character who reacted to every dismissal with a lap around the ground. I remember Allan Border looking puzzled, scratching his prickly beard all through the day (unaware of the era of success and dominance that lay ahead of his team and nation). I remember being excited by a spree of Ravi Shastri boundaries. I remember thinking this would be an Indian win. I remember Maninder Singh being given out lbw with one measly run to get.
The worst wicket-taking delivery ever bowled: Australia did not play a Test match in India for another decade. The next time I got to see Steve Waugh play a Test on Indian soil, it was on a smoggy October afternoon at Feroz Shah Kotla. It was the first appearance on Indian soil for Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, Ian Healy and Glenn Mcgrath. Shane Warne's absence, though, meant that Australia fielded mediocre spinners in the form of Peter McIntyre and Brad Hogg, who were no match for the home team. India pulled off an easy win. Nayan Mongia scored a hundred and Anil Kumble made the batsmen dance but my lingering memory from the game is of a horrendous Michael Slater dismissal. David Johnson was one of the many fast bowlers who played for India in the 1990s. He was inaccurate, inconsistent and lasted all of two Test matches. One of his deliveries to Michael Slater would have been called a wide except the batsman decided to have a go at it only to be caught at slip by Azharuddin. Slater would be dropped from the Test side for a couple of years. Rarely has a ball that bad produced a shot even worse, and affected a batsman's career as much.
Tendulkar vs. Warne: I was at the Chepauk on March 6, 1998. Sachin Tendulkar was the best batsman in cricket and Shane Warne was the best bowler. Their head-to-head battle was much-anticipated and lasted 7 minutes. Sachin was out caught at slip for four as Warne won bragging rights and shed any psychological baggage he may have held from a practice game in Mumbai, a few days earlier. Seventy-two hours later, the two men were at it again as the match lay poised on a razor's edge. No one who witnessed the carnage that Monday afternoon will ever forget it. Tendulkar was prepared for everything the maestro had up his sleeve. He played strokes with and against the turn, and negated the greatest spinner of all time on a fourth day Chepauk pitch. It was beautiful and brilliant, and the first sign that the all-conquering Aussies would have to work a little harder to conquer what would eventually be called the 'final frontier'.
The miracle of Kolkata: Faith, fandom and fairness in life were all questioned midway through the Kolkata Test of 2001. A new India captained by Sourav Ganguly and coached by John Wright was supposed to stop the omnipotent, 16-wins-in-a-row Aussie squad from conquering the final frontier. The only issue - the Aussies were pretty darn good. If Test cricket had a hall of fame, that Aussie team had eight hall-of-famers. I remember days four and five like they happened yesterday. Day four dawned with prayers to the gods that India would put up a fight. By tea on that day, pride and passion were restored. By lunch on day five, an impossible dream seemed very possible. By the end of the match, I was speechless, stunned, unable to believe what I had just seen. Harbhajan Singh picked up 13 wickets, including a hat-trick, and that was only the third biggest story of the game. I remember frustration turning into tears of joy. A generation of Indian fans would come to believe that anything was possible as the country entered its most fruitful decade of Test cricket not with a whimper, or a bang, but with a sonic boom.
Do you believe in shambles? There are few moments that match the abyss that Indian cricket reached in October 2004 at Nagpur. India had retained the Border-Gavaskar trophy in Australia and won a Test series in Pakistan in the last 12 months. Few fans expected this hard-earned success to be lost any time soon, especially at home. Oh, how we were wrong! After rain destroyed the prospects of a thrilling fifth day at Chennai, Australia entered the Nagpur Test with a chance to win the trophy and an away series in India. The pitch resembled Napier more than it did Nagpur, and Ganguly and Harbhajan were injured. An insipid Indian team would get dragged all over the stadium as Australia wrapped up their first series win in India in 35 years.
Very Very Special Laxman's final hurrah: VVS Laxman was Australia's nemesis from 2000-2010. Something about the baggy green made him elevate his game to heights seldom seen. And in a decade full of special knocks, VVS produced one final masterpiece at Mohali. I didn't watch this game live. Let me rephrase that - I couldn't watch this game live. India needed close to a 100 and, with only two wickets in hand, I had given up. For some reason, I couldn't fall asleep and kept refreshing the scorecard and my Twitter feed. VVS Laxman was shepherding Ishant Sharma at one end and I held on to my steadfast belief that my inability to watch the contest was in some way responsible for what was going on. India's one-wicket victory was an unbelievable, too-good-to-be-true sporting moment. Like so many that seem to happen when India plays Australia.