January 20, 2008

New life for a young rivalry

Australia v India has, over the last decade, grown into cricket's premier face-off, and on the evidence of the current series there's plenty to come

India's young bowlers are inspiring a team that has for long been overly top-heavy in batting © Getty Images

The intense rivalry that now exists between Australia and India kicked into high gear in 1997-98, appropriately initiated by a wonderful contest between two champions Shane Warne and Sachin Tendulkar in Chennai.

With Warne now more interested in straight flushes than turning legbreaks, and Tendulkar's glittering career winding down, it was easy to assume this rivalry had been a sprint rather than a marathon. However, the startling events in the current Test series have shown that the contest has had a second wind. We're in for many more years of intense competition between these two proud cricketing nations.

The once great divide that characterised these two teams, the inability to compete away from home, has closed like an unhinged door over the last few years. Under Ricky Ponting, Australia broke their hoodoo and won a series in India for the first time in 35 years. Now Anil Kumble has led a vibrant side to an inspired win at the WACA, the bouncy graveyard of many touring sides, not just India.

For Australia, talented young cricketers like Michael Clarke, Mitchell Johnson and a revitalised Brett Lee are providing the spark for a continued run of success. On the other side, RP Singh, Irfan Pathan and Ishant Sharma are inspiring an Indian side that has for long been top-heavy in batting. The successful injection of new blood into both teams provides ample evidence that this rivalry is far from a dwindling affair.

The fact that India has been able to shrug off a turbulent loss at the SCG and disregard the ridiculous hyperbole surrounding the WACA pitch to bat first and dictate terms in the third Test is indicative of a changing mindset in the team. India is unearthing a new breed of Test match player, more competitive and resilient. Kumble has embraced this trend and Mahendra Singh Dhoni embodies its spirit.

The resurgence of Irfan Pathan is a particularly pleasing aspect of India's determined performance. Pathan has always been a talented and smart cricketer but that doesn't make him immune to the peaks and troughs all players have to endure. The good signs at the WACA suggest he's been to the valley and is now on the ascent, as a far stronger character.

His grit and strokeplay when batting was encouraging but it was the sight of him swinging the new ball at a reasonable pace that suggested his confidence was returning. He knew his bowling was needed in Adelaide, but just so the selectors would have no doubts about picking him, he strode to the wicket as a night-watchman and after outlasting four illustrious partners, returned to the pavilion a bonafide top-order batsman. He won't always have good days but this Test should have given him the confidence to avoid slipping back to the dark times he has just endured.

The fate of the Ashes in 2005 turned on England's ability to swing the ball, and last year India turned the tables on Michael Vaughan's side in the same way. Now we've had the result of a wonderful contest at the WACA determined by the swinging ball

On the other side of the ledger a young Australian fast bowler will have learned a good lesson after a few demoralising days at the WACA. With so much talk about the pitch being fast and bouncy, Shaun Tait was sucked into making an ill-advised comment about bowling the fastest ball ever delivered. This comment was delivered before the match started but he was unable to deliver on the field and finished low on confidence, bowling in the 130s, and couldn't even erase the tailenders at a crucial time in the match. Tait should now know that it's wiser to let your deeds do the talking and that Test matches are a far cry from the wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am razzmatazz of Twenty20 cricket.

Test cricket can be an absorbing contest when bat and ball are evenly matched. And in a game that can be sheep-like in its ability to follow meaningless trends, it's to be hoped the impact of swinging deliveries on recent Test series has been noted. The fate of the Ashes in 2005 turned on England's ability to swing the ball, and last year India turned the tables on Michael Vaughan's side in the same way. Now we've had the result of a wonderful contest at the WACA determined by the swinging ball. It's a timely reminder of the importance of this often undervalued skill.

Twenty years ago talk of an intense rivalry between Australia and India receiving a boost on the bouncy WACA pitch would have been sufficient grounds for certification, followed by insertion into a white gown and a padded cell. There's nothing like a healthy rivalry and a keen contest to quickly erase any thoughts of madness and conspiracy.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Azfar on January 23, 2008, 4:54 GMT

    The rivalry between India & Australia in the last 10 years has little to do with Tendulkar vr Warne as Ian Chappell suggestes. In 5 series between the two teams in the last 10 years Warne featured in only 1 of them.It seems Ian Chappell finds it difficult to make any point without talking about Warne! The India-Aus matches have the edge because India is the only team which has run Aus close in the last 10 years. In this same period Australia has enjoyed a period of dominance rarely seen in the history of the game. During this period India did things which no other team could do - they demolished Warne, they scored 700+ in an innings in Australia, they beat Aus after following on,they beat Aus in Perth, Dravid, Laxman, Tendulkar and Kumble have great records against Aus, Sehwag smashed 195 in less than a day in Aus. Now the time has come when India can consistently beat Australia.

  • Keyur on January 22, 2008, 12:27 GMT

    Mr Ian is very right as we can see from the test matches played since 1998. both teams trying to overcome each other, but never outplayed opposition. A far better opposition Oz have faced at home in last decade. If the administrators could have manage more time for Indian team to get used of Oz's conditions on this tour, we would have seen a completely different results apart from some unfortunate poor umpiring. This kind of rivalry will make test cricket more pleasant. Best of luck team India

  • Narendran on January 22, 2008, 9:06 GMT

    Its been a terrific series so far. And its clear that the mighty aussies are susceptible to genuine swing bowling. I guess we would have been in the front had Zaheer and Sreeshant been fit. Their abiliy to swing the ball at a good pace would have made life worser for the aussie batsmen. However i feel that now is the real test for the Indians. They got the Aussies off guard at Perth and now they will be raring to take revenge. It will be fascinating to see how the young pacemen respond. On thing is for sure though. If the Aussies try too hard they are going to hit the ground. Cheers

  • Kapil on January 22, 2008, 5:31 GMT

    If India wins the test in Adelaide, I hope this series is remembered for the right reason i.e. to re-affirm the faith in the age old saying "Everything is fair in Love and War". You can neglect the "Love" part but I hope you understand the "War" part. Play hard, play tough, be crooked, cheat, bribe, do whatever without getting caught (to say stay within rules) and WIN --- that's the bottomline!!! There is no reason to deviate from this stance. Be firm on this because there is nothing wrong with this. Not everyone has the capacity to think or comprehend that "There is something more than Winning". Only the life can teach this. And there is no point in believing this unless someday down the years you learn it yourself. There is no point in just faking it for anyone because in essence you are still not enlightened. Trying to fake this, will create just another rule book with infinite number of loopholes - Just like the Spirit of Cricket.

  • Jiten on January 22, 2008, 2:14 GMT

    An interesting insight from Ian. Now, moving forward and talking about the forthcoming tri series, below are the lists of India's Playing XI for two possible pitch condition:

    On Batting Pitch 1. sehwag 2. gambhir 3. sachin 4. Yuvraj 5. uthappa 6. dhoni 7. pathan 8. harbhajan 9. RP singh 10. Ishant sharma 11. Sreesanth

    On Balling Pitch 1. sehwag 2. gambhir 3. sachin 4. Yuvraj 5. uthappa 6. suresh raina/ rohit sharma 7. dhoni 8. pathan 9. harbhajan 10. RP singh 11. Sreesanth /Ishant sharma

  • Ashok on January 22, 2008, 2:04 GMT

    India Vs. Pakistan rivalry is based on politics. But India Vs. Australia rivalry is based on Cricket mastery. In the first test India were outplayed. The other two tests were close, high on intensity and quality of cricket. If Umpiring decisions were split 50-50 instead of 80-20 for Aussies in the second test, India most likely would have won it. Amyway India showed their determination and resolve by winning the third test overcoming the bad luck of Second test. Indian 5-day test team is strong in batting which countered Australian pace attack more confidently than any other team. Make no mistake, the Indian ODI team selected is very young & balanced and will put up a creditable show against the present Aussies. The bulk of this ODI Indian team is the team which Aussies will likely face during the next decade. With Haydon, Gilchrist and Hussey retiring soon & Ponting and Gilchrist to follow, Aussies need to find Quality repalceble batsmen for continued rivalry.

  • Steve on January 22, 2008, 1:46 GMT

    Oh come on!

    India win ONE match and now there is a cricket "rivalry" between Australia and India? Are you joking???

    Even with their stars, India are at best a mediocre team. Their batsmen don't run well between wickets, they can't field, and they still fold under pressure.

    India's win in Perth resulted more from Australian errors than "inspirational" performances by the Indian team.

    Australia lost in Perth because they overestimated the bounce on the Perth wicket (picking 4 quicks) and then underestimated the Indian bowling attack (with their attempted "slogfest" in their own first innings).

    Finally, with the quicks getting on top in India's second innings, Ponting was forced to bowl part-time spinners for 21 overs to catch up on the over-rate. This gave India at least 80 runs more than they would have otherwise had.

    As India rely on Aussie errors (which don't often happen) in order to conjure up a token "win", it will either be Aus 3-1, or Aus 2-1 after Adelaide.

  • Venkatraman on January 21, 2008, 16:25 GMT

    Indian team has bounced back from the 2 losses. Indian bowlers performed very well in the conditions that were supposed to suit the Aussies. I am also glad that Cricket ultimately prevailed and moved on from another dirty chapter. If India wins in Adelaide, then even though the series will be 2-2, India could be said to have won the series (considering the Sydney at best can only be viewed as a draw).

  • Dieter on January 21, 2008, 13:06 GMT

    Good to see the great rivalry developing between India and Australia - it can only be good for the game. Reading through all the comments posted though, I get the impression of over confidence on the side of the Indian supporters. Well done for winning at the WACA, but don't get carried away. All teams (including Australia) have their off days. Also, when talking about the top teams in the world today, don't forget South Africa. With a younger team than both Aus and India, and probably the most exciting young bowlers in world cricket today, WATCH OUT! SA is coming to seriously challenge you...

  • Jeremy on January 21, 2008, 9:41 GMT

    Also from this series we have seen that Australia has little to no depth. Players such as Tait, Rogers, Hogg and Johnson really haven't made much of a mark in this series, and two of them are over thirty years of age. Australia better find themselves some quality rookies or they could find that they are no longer a great threat to International cricket.

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