October 5, 2008

Nice to be here

It used to be a hardship posting. Now India has become the number one destination for Australian players

We're back: Ponting and Clarke at Jaipur airport © Getty Images

For two decades whenever Australian supporters thought of the most rewarding overseas destination outside of England, the West Indies was the only place discussed. Like much in the cricket world, the focus has switched swiftly to Asia, where India is now the exotic travel highlight.

In the Caribbean the players, somehow looking more rugged, sweated heavily on the field while the supporters' sunscreen bubbled on noses. The beaches and Bacardi added to the lure, and my cricket friends and I rue not being born ten years earlier so we could have travelled to the islands when the Frank Worrell Trophy was the battle, instead of the more predictable engagement in front of echoing stadiums it is now. With West Indies dominating the 1980s and early 90s, they always provided the most strenuous and emotional obstacles for Australia's teams under Allan Border and Mark Taylor. Now those problems come from India.

Over the past seven years Australia - and Australians - have got to know India a little more with every contest. In 2001 there was shock at the dramatic turnaround and the end of Australia's 16-strong winning streak. At home in 2003-04 we saw India were losing their severe weaknesses on tour, and even when they were beaten, like they were earlier this year, they were not afraid to look or growl or swear back at their aggressive hosts. When Australia went to India for a Test series in 2004 they conquered their final frontier, with Adam Gilchrist leading the team to the most draining victory he had experienced. The drought had been so long that Shane Warne was the only person in the squad who was alive the previous time Australia had won in the country.

I once asked Steve Waugh why Australia were unable to beat India for so long. "Probably because we haven't played there," he responded sharply. It is a justification the current players will not be able to use. In the 1980s West Indies seemed to visit Australia every summer; now it's India and Australia who are living on top of each other. Apart from in 2005, they have contested a Test or one-day series each year since 2003, and the Twenty20 leagues have also increased the familiarity, even if Australians often confuse the IPL and ICL acronyms. And slowly, through heated arguments and mediated lessons of understanding, the teams are becoming more accepting of the culture of their opponents.

India had trouble adjusting to life in Australia during their 2007-08 visit and this trip will be as tough for Australia. The heat, different pitches, fanatical exposure, and heaving crowds in the streets and at the grounds will mix with the match pressure created from so many men around the bat and the need for Ricky Ponting's men to prove they can cope with a team that is unrecognisable from last time.

In 2004 the players were so exhausted after two Tests they were given a mid-series mini-break to escape and recharge. More novel measures will be necessary during the four Tests in five weeks that will help define Ponting's evolving outfit. The results will be fascinating, particularly if Australia have entered the final stages of dominance.

I've been to India three times, but apart from a quick look at Azad Maidan in Mumbai, I've never seen a game there. I can't wait for the dosas and dal, the ear-throbbing crowds and constant, thundering appeals. Australia are vulnerable in a major series like they haven't been since Border stepped down.

The next five weeks will be a fabulous adventure, like it would have been to see West Indies in their Caribbean prime. "Ten years ago it was the tour to avoid," Waugh said of India in 2004, "now it's the one to go on." Four years later it's the same for supporters.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mukund on October 5, 2008, 17:59 GMT

    hayden watson katich ponting clarke hussey haddin white mitchell clark lee 8 pure batsmen and 5 pure bowlers, the combination is better than india. The only thing australia lack is quality spinner else, they are far better unit than india. If they win toss those games will be hard for india to win.

  • Barath on October 5, 2008, 15:47 GMT

    Hope you have a nice time in India. And by the way, you actually want 'masala dosas'...the one with potato curry stuffed in the middle. I am missing those.....

  • Arjun on October 5, 2008, 10:02 GMT

    I'm Indian, and I don't think the article suggests any such thing. Stop overreacting. It says 'when they are beaten', implying in a test, such as in Melbourne. Well written article, and I'm looking forward to this series, more than any series I can remember in a long time.

  • Saptarshi on October 5, 2008, 8:55 GMT

    While the previous 3 to 4 test series between India and Australia have been extraordinary, I doubt whether we will witness the same amount of intensity in this one. The individuals to be blamed for this are the selectors from both India and Australia who have made some very defensive selections rather than blooding youth. I hope I am proven wrong.

  • Vasudevan on October 5, 2008, 8:18 GMT

    Will the Fab 5 help India regain the trophy? will ganguly shine?? Will Ponting succeed in conquering the last frontier ,still standing tall on him??How good will the spinners perform?? These are the questions with which this tour commences as will there be, more player specific questions. One thing is sure, whether the Aussie system still produces world quality cricketers or not will be known once the current series is over. Ideally, by the time this series is over, I hope Yuvi gets measured against the bowling of Lee& Clark& Johnson, to answer his critics,without doubt.Rohit sharma and Virat KOhli impress and should be tested. From Aussie view, my trumpcard would be Hussey & Clark respectively in the two depts. Watson is a threat, which Indians should beware.All the best to India....

  • Sashank on October 5, 2008, 5:41 GMT

    In the 2003-2004 series, India weren't beaten as the articel says. The series was drawn.

    Editor's note: Thanks for pointing that out. It has been corrected in the article

  • abhinav on October 5, 2008, 4:08 GMT

    in the 2003-04 tour India was not beaten! The TEST series was drawn 1-1. Get your facts right.

  • Danny on October 5, 2008, 4:07 GMT

    i think you will find that the 2003/04 series was drawn with India racking up 700+ in the fourth test and going close to forcing a series victory.

    Further, the series in January was only won by Australia on the back of the disgraceful result of the Sydney test where the umpires lost their grasp of reality.

    Finally, in India in 2004, India were robbed of a victory by the weather, that could have seen a very different series result...

    i am a little biased i admit but hopefully luck plays no great part in this series...

  • Ajesh on October 5, 2008, 3:59 GMT

    Nice article, Peter. India seems to have come a long way in two decades, much like its cricket team. Why, the team even wins Test matches abroad consistently these days!

    Let's undertake a little exercise is memory-jogging - in the 2003/04 series in Australia, India weren't actually beaten, as you suggest.

    After drawing the opener in Brisbane, India went ahead in the series, winning the next one in Adelaide on the back of an inspired Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman show. Australia came back by beating India in Melbourne despite Virender Sehwag's Boxing Day exploits. In the decider at Sydney, India piled on over 700 runs in the first innings and it took some heroics from Steve Waugh in his farewell Test on day five to save the Test and the series for Australia. The series ended 1 - 1.

    Judging by how much the Australians were stretched at home, even one-all actually seemed like a win, I suppose!

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