Tendulkar's duel with Warne symbolised India's superiority
Rarely has a series revolved around the personal duel between two cricketers as much as the 1997-98 contest between India and Australia. Well before the start of the series, it was hyped as Tendulkar vs Warne and it was clear that perhaps even the result would take second place to the duel between the Indian batting maestro and the star Australian leg spinner.
Indeed, there was much good cricket in the three Test series which ended in India's favour by two matches to one. This was a bit of a surprise for even though India had a very good record at home, the Australians had come over, having beaten every opposition they had faced since they had lost to India in the one off Test in New Delhi in October 1996. In fact, there was something very emphatic about India's victory for they wrapped up the rubber by winning the first two games in Chennai and Calcutta before Australia pulled one back in the final Test at Bangalore.
The Tendulkar vs Warne duel ended meltingly in favour of the Indian. In the first match of the tour against Mumbai, Tendulkar hit a double century - the first in his first class career - and in the process whacked Warne to such an extent that the leg spinner conceded as many as 111 runs in just 16 overs. Round I then went to Tendulkar.
Round II followed in the first Test at Chennai. Warne seemed to have recovered some ground when he had Tendulkar caught at slip by Mark Taylor for four in the first innings. But in the second innings, Tendulkar was at his majestic best and scored 155 not out. Warne again came in for severe punishment and had figures of one for 122 off 30 overs.
Having won the first two rounds of the contest, Tendulkar proceeded to take the third too. In the second Test at Calcutta he was restricted to 79 but took his usual toll of Warne without conceding his wicket to the leg spinner and had the satisfaction of seeing the Australian finish with the nightmarish figures of no wicket for 147 off 42 overs.
In the final Test, Tendulkar scored 177 and 31 and did not concede his wicket to Warne who had figures of three for 106 off 35 overs and two for 80 off 25 overs. There was then no doubt as to which player had won the individual duel but if any further proof was needed, it was provided in the figures. Tendulkar finished with 446 runs at an average of 111.50 and conceded his wicket to Warne only once on five occasions. Warne on the other hand took ten wickets in the series but they cost him 54 runs apiece.
Tendulkar's overwhelming superiority over Warne in fact symbolised India's success. Outplaying their opponents in batting and bowling, the home team won with surprising ease. The batting was in full flow and with Sidhu, Dravid, Azharuddin, Tendulkar and Ganguly around, the Australian attack, in the absence of the injured McGrath had their hands full. Indeed, Sidhu always an excellent player of spin, softened up Warne for Tendulkar to tear him apart. There was high class batsmanship displayed by all the leading players and even VVS Laxman and Nayan Mongia in their limited opportunities came good.
Even the fleet footed Australian batsmen found Anil Kumble too hot to handle. The leg spin cum googly expert finished with 23 wickets at just over 18 apiece. And while the supporting spin cast of Venkatpathi Raju, Rajesh Chauhan and Harbhajan Singh provided Kumble with very little support, Javagal Srinath was consistent in providing the early breakthroughs.
The Australians came over with a side that was strong in batting but their vaunted line up failed to live up to their reputation. An order that starts with Taylor and Slater and continues with Mark Waugh, Ricky Ponting, Steve Waugh and Greg Blewett should not normally be dismissed for successive scores of 328, 168, 233 and 181. And even that score of 328 was reached thanks to a strong rearguard action by Ian Healy and No 10 batsman Gavin Robertson. The Australians did come into their own in the final Test with Mark Waugh leading the way with 153 not out and Mark Taylor coming good with an unbeaten 102 but by then it was too late though it helped the visitors to earn a consolation victory.
With McGrath out of action and Warne mastered, the Australian bowling was always going to be up against it. And the Indians in fact put them to rout with successive scores of 418 for four declared, 633 for five declared and 424. It was left to Michael Kasprowicz to salvage some pride for the Aussies. The medium pacer took five for 28 to bowl out India for 169 and Australia were able to win the last Test by eight wickets. But not before they had lost the first two Tests by 170 runs and innings and 219 runs respectively - the second being the highest ever victory margin in Indian Test cricket.