Australia in India 2004-05 November 2, 2004

Three times trouble

India go into the Mumbai Test knowing that defeat will complete their worst set of home results in almost three decades

Marshall was unstoppable in 1983 © Getty Images

India go into the Mumbai Test knowing that defeat will complete their worst set of home results in almost three decades. For all the inadequacies away from home, India have usually been formidable opponents on home pitches, and if Ricky Ponting can conjure a win at the Wankhede Stadium, his Australia side will join the West Indians of 1958-59 and 1983-84 vintage and Tony Greig's English team of 1976-77 as the only ones to leave India with three Tests in the bag.

Gerry Alexander's men enjoyed crushing victories at Kanpur, Calcutta (as it was then) and Madras (now Chennai), inspired by the batting of Rohan Kanhai, Garry Sobers and Basil Butcher and the terrifying pace of Wes Hall and Roy Gilchrist, who never played again after going bouncer-happy in a tour game. A quarter century later, the greatest pace attack in history eviscerated the Indians to take emphatic revenge for defeat in the 1983 World Cup final.

Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding and Andy Roberts were unmatched as a triumvirate, and Winston Davis and the wretchedly unlucky Wayne Daniel gave them wonderful support. As if that wasn't bad enough, Gordon Greenidge piled on the runs and the misery as the West Indies won at Kanpur, Ahmedabad - despite Kapil Dev's 9 for 83 in the second innings - and Calcutta.

That was a home series to forget, but it doesn't even begin to compare to the shame of 1976-77 when England made India's batting line-up look second-rate en route to comprehensive victories in the first three Tests. At Delhi, they won by an innings and 25 runs, and the margins at Calcutta and Madras were 10 wickets and 200 runs respectively.

Like the present-day Australian team, England arrived in India with three quality seamers - Bob Willis, John Lever and Chris Old - and a great spinner, though Derek Underwood didn't quite fit any classic slow-bowling mould. And like these Australians, England won by bowling to a plan. In those three Tests, India's highest score was 234 and they scraped the bottom at Madras where they were bowled out for just 83.

With the series long gone, a dustbowl was rustled up for Bangalore. Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Bishan Singh Bedi duly bowled India to a 140-run triumph, but it couldn't erase the embarrassment and pain of previous humiliations. When Rahul Dravid - who was five at the time - leads his men out tomorrow morning, redemption will be high on the agenda for a team desperate not to fall back into the abyss from which they emerged after the debacle at South Africa's hands in March 2000.

Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.