Matches (15)
IND v ENG (1)
WPL (2)
PSL 2024 (2)
BPL 2024 (2)
Ranji Trophy (4)
WI 4-Day (4)
Rabbit Holes

Which is the best Australia-India Test played down under?

Melbourne 1981? Adelaide 1992? Adelaide 2003? Sydney 2008? Our panelists dive in

Mark Dadswell/Getty Images

Mark Dadswell/Getty Images

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan, writer: I guess this Rabbit Hole is going to be exclusively about Vinoo Mankad running out Bill Brown.
Andrew McGlashan, ESPNcricinfo deputy editor: We don't use that m-word word anymore, Sid. As our style guide now says, it's Vinoo "Run-Out-Backing-Up". Anyway, just confirming the parameters for this again - we're just talking Tests in Australia, right?
Vaidyanathan: Ya.
McGlashan: Bit coincidental, really, yesterday Eric Freeman, the former Australia seamer, passed away. His debut was the 1968 Test v India at the Gabba, which can probably be considered the first "tight" Test between the teams in Australia? India had a shot of chasing down 395.
Vaidyanathan: That was also the last time a day Test was played in January at the Gabba. Which will be the case again this time around.
Sambit Bal, ESPNcricinfo editor: I think there is something truly special about watching cricket in Australia for an Indian fan. The whole experience is a wonderful ritual. It's winter in India, so you wake up at five, put the telly on mute, stay curled up in your bed and watch cricket under truly bright skies…
McGlashan: You fancy doing the report for the series then, Sambit?
Bal: I am now too old and a cynic.
Vaidyanathan: "There is something ethereal about cricket at dawn; staying up late is a lesser magic. Indians turn to cricket from England and South Africa after lunch, from the West Indies before dinner. New Zealand is so far ahead that it is still our night. We only rise to cricket from Australia." Who else but Rahul Bhattacharya.
McGlashan: As an England fan growing up, you'd then turn on the radio/TV and hear: "Australia 0 for 145..."
Bal: My own affair started in 1977. No TV, but a small transistor radio stuck to my ear under the blanket.
Vaidyanathan: I never experienced cricket from Australia on the radio. That must have been truly magic.
McGlashan: "Truly magical" is probably stretching it for [Phil] DeFreitas and [Martin] McCague with the new ball in 1994. Anyway, this isn't an Ashes chat. Sorry, back to Australia v India. Those two games in 1977 were pretty special.
Bal: Yes. And it didn't matter to me then it was the Australia B team led by the 40-plus Bobby Simpson.
Vaidyanathan: The thing about radio is that irrespective of the quality of the play, it widens the imagination.
Bal: The series was truly enthralling - 3-2 to Australia, but India came back from 0-2 to make it 2-2.
McGlashan: Sunny's [Gavaskar] Gabba hundred was outstanding.
Vaidyanathan: There have been some lovely YouTube clips uploaded from that 1977-78 series recently. That includes this absolutely magical phase of play in Sydney when Kim Hughes goes after Bishan Bedi. Hughes smashes Bedi to the top deck of the members stand. Down the ground, gets the full toss, extravagant flourish. With the wind. Ball is gone. Then down the ground again, smashed past the bowler for four. Burning the grass. Next ball, on off, rips through after pitching, Hughes tries to cut, but the ball is at the stumps. Bowled. A cracker of a comeback.
Bal: There was Gavaskar scoring lots of runs, centuries from [Mohinder] Amarnath and [Gundappa] Viswanath, but as a ten-year-old, I felt truly terrified, on behalf of the Indian batsmen, of Jeff Thomson.
Vaidyanathan: Thomson must have been terrifying to play. That action is like the lovechild of Lasith Malinga and Paul Adams.
Bal: I actually thought I saw a few Indian batsmen back away to short leg when facing him.
McGlashan: Decent game to end this series as well - 48 runs short of chasing 493. They were 415 for 6 at one stage. Did it ever feel like India could get them?
Bal: Oddly my most vivid memory of an Aussie batsman is of Tony Mann, who came in as nightwatchman in the Perth Test and scored a hundred in the chase.
McGlashan: What a great part of Test cricket nightwatchman heroics are.
Vaidyanathan: What strikes me from that series is how confidently teams tried to chase 300-plus scores those days. Sunny was part of so many big chases. These days, 300 is almost surely a winning score.
Bal: Yes, the fourth-innings chase wasn't that daunting then. Test batsmen knew how to grind through. They built their technique for wearing pitches.
McGlashan: Back in your day, eh Sambit?
Vaidyanathan: Test batsmen knew how to play time. Like, imagine starting out a chase of 341 and being so comfortable at 147 for 2.
Bal: Maybe we should fast-forward to this century so you young lads can participate properly.
McGlashan: It's okay, the kids like hearing from the wise old man about history.
If we go onto the next tour, India defended 143 at the MCG.
Vaidyanathan: One thing I want to bring up, though. Watching those videos from back then, the grounds were so big and the bats so thin that batsmen actually ended up running a lot. All-run fours, so many threes. And you had fielders running so much. Then you see Virat Kohli in the last series and the ball is at the fence in like two seconds.
McGlashan: Catches running behind sightscreens at times as well!
Bal: All-run fours were pretty common. And I swear, I have seen (or heard about) some fives too, at Adelaide.
Vaidyanathan: Yes. People getting run out going for five. That's ridiculous.
McGlashan: I believe they want to bring the five back as a new BBL rule next season. Along with a 7 and a 12.
Vaidyanathan: Abolish boundaries. Let batsmen run them all.
Bal: And bring back the old bats.
Vaidyanathan: So anyway, we have skipped ML Jaisimha travelling from Hyderabad to Chennai to Singapore to Sydney to Brisbane in 1967-68, reaching the hotel at night, sharing drinks with skipper [Mansur Ali Khan] Pataudi and playing a Brisbane Test starting the next day, scoring 74 and 101.
But there is no way we can skip Melbourne 1981. That Test had so much drama. Gavaskar nearly forfeited the game with his tantrum.
McGlashan: So, Sambit, did you watch Kapil Dev's spell live?
Bal: No. Radio again. More than Kapil, when Karsan Ghavri bowled Greg Chappell around the legs, that felt like a series win by itself.
Vaidyanathan: "Where were you when Karsan Ghavri bowled Greg Chappell around his legs?"
Bal: You have to understand how Indian fans felt about their pace bowlers those days, leaving Kapil Dev aside. We used to joke about how the batsman had to take a walk around the stumps and rehearse a stroke before the ball arrived.
Vaidyanathan: And Kapil Dev had started out in 1978, so he was hardly a veteran. Greg Chappell must have been in a Steve Smith zone in that series. He was terrifyingly good in Australia. Apparently Sunny told Ghavri to bounce Chappell first ball and it just hit a crack and shot through low.
McGlashan: Almost identical averages home and away for Greg Chappell. Just reinforces what a player he was.
Vaidyanathan: Ya, but he didn't play much in the subcontinent. So there is that asterisk.
Bal: So to hear - never mind that that ball was a long hop and it squatted - that Ghavri had bowled Chappell was almost incredible. You draw up a mental image of some kind of an unplayable ball.
Vaidyanathan: To be fair, it was unplayable - a shooter on leg stump. Steve Smith may miss it. But was that ball more incredible than Ajit Agarkar's six-for?
Bal: Agarkar's six-for I watched live.
Vaidyanathan: I guess Agarkar's six-for was thanks to some sloppy batting as well, though he was accurate, of course.
Bal: There were some good balls too. Justin Langer was pinned on the back foot. That was the plan against him.
McGlashan: Clearly we could do an entire chat about Adelaide 2003-04. One of the more epic Tests.
Bal: The 1991-92 series was interesting. India lost 4-0, but with some luck, it could have been 3-2. In Sydney, Australia held on with Allan Border, like he had done in 1986, clinging on with the tail.
Vaidyanathan: In 1992, India collapsed too often. Bruce Reid finished them off in one session. Mike Whitney in another. Merv Hughes triggered some collapses. The batting was too frail.
Bal: Yes, they were often 90 for 5.
Vaidyanathan: Sachin Tendulkar stood out because the rest were so clueless. At Perth, nobody else could handle the bounce.
McGlashan: Guess we can skip India's 1999-2000 tour of Australia (all due respect to VVS Laxman's Sydney hundred), but what about the 1992 Adelaide Test - Mohammad Azharuddin's century?
Vaidyanathan: Azhar was at his best when there was little to lose. He used to smash hundreds for fun when hope was dimming.
McGlashan: Adelaide does produce some terrific Test matches. Don't think the pitch there has really been flat for Tests for a while, although the pink ball helps that. As in, it's flat if you bowled badly but not if you bowl well.
Vaidyanathan: Speaking of Adelaide Tests, you need to talk about Sandeep Patil's hundred. The YouTube clip has such crisp hitting.
Bal: That was some innings. Indian fans were not quite used to someone taking fast bowling on like that.
Vaidyanathan: Ya, Dennis Lillee and Len Pascoe were quick.
Bal: Just like with Laxman in 1999, Patil got hit on the head early in the innings and it perhaps awoke his senses. And just like Laxman, Patil hit through the line on the up - something you can only do in Australia.
McGlashan: We've skipped over the one game I wanted to mention. The result wasn't close but the finish was: SCG 2008.
Vaidyanathan: It was actually a terrific Test. Sad that nobody spoke about the cricket at the end of it.
McGlashan: Yes, indeed. Turned into a diplomatic incident.
Vaidyanathan: Laxman played one of his finest innings. Certainly the best I saw of him live. The thing about that Test was - Australia had won so easily in Melbourne by suffocating India's strokemakers. And then the Sydney Test began with Rahul Dravid struggling for form. Like, epic struggling. In comes VVS and touch, touch, touch. Just took the breath away. Finally, you have a series that two teams are competing for, but the umpiring blunders make all the news. Also, side note: Mark Benson made more errors than Steve Bucknor in that Test.
Bal: There was the Tendulkar hundred too.
Vaidyanathan: Yes, splendid hundred. He came to the press conference with his bat in hand like he didn't want to get away from it.
Bal: And a big partnership with Harbhajan Singh.
Vaidyanathan: That partnership was the problem, because of what was said during it! Which, of course, became the story of the tour. But from a purely cricketing angle, that was a pulsating Test.
Bal: A thrilling last day. And for all the bad umpiring - two catches picked up from the ground, Dravid given caught behind off the pad - India still should have batted through.
McGlashan: The India-Australia relationship is a world away these days.
Vaidyanathan: The really epic India-Australia Tests have almost all been in India. If we were to pick the top ten India-Australia Tests, a majority will have been played in India.
McGlashan: For sure, there have been some wonderful games there, but we'd have been here all day!
Vaidyanathan: The tied Test in 1986, Kolkata 2001, Chennai 2001, Chennai 2004, Dharamsala 2017, etc. India in Australia - there are lots of one-sided games, but also some crackers amongst them. And India in Australia has produced some great individual performances that Indians remember fondly.
McGlashan: Worth looping back to the most recent tour and that Adelaide game where 250-300 was a par score. Makes for a great Test match.
Vaidyanathan: That was a brilliant Test. India's bowlers were very good in the final innings to wrap it up. Ishant Sharma bowled a brute of a bouncer to Travis Head. And Jasprit Bumrah was razor sharp.
Cheteshwar Pujara's hundred was so valuable there. India were struggling when he walked in.
Bal: It was Pujara's Test.
Vaidyanathan: I would rate that as one of his best hundreds. He scored big in Melbourne, but Adelaide was really challenging conditions. By conditions, I mean the match situation and the pitch. Melbourne was dead.
McGlashan: I just remember how animated Kohli was (because, of course, he never shows his emotions) when Australia's ninth wicket fell in the chase. He was sensing it getting a bit tight. It is funny looking at that Australia batting order now, though. Pujara set up that series. Without that innings, Australia may have won.
Bal: It wasn't quite the Adelaide pitch we were used to.
Vaidyanathan: Let's all agree that Adelaide has grown up.
Bal: India played some poor strokes in the first session, but there was life.
Vaidyanathan: Pujara drove Nathan Lyon to distraction. He is so good against spin, but to see him change his game was a sight. He would never play Lyon like that in India. He would use his feet and pad more. Here, he stayed back longer.
Bal: He has always been a batsman who could use the depth of the crease, but here he could trust the bounce.
McGlashan: I know this is a chat about great Tests, but that Bumrah slower ball to Shaun Marsh could be a whole rabbit hole on its own.
Vaidyanathan: It was the last ball before lunch and apparently Rohit Sharma told him to try it since nothing was happening. They could have won the series 4-0 had they batted better in Perth. Sydney, of course, they would probably have won if not for the weather.
McGlashan: Indeed, but just shows how vital those 30 runs in Adelaide were! Never quite felt like Australia would chase them, but it got interesting.
Vaidyanathan: Josh Hazelwood and Lyon did try. But 30 runs in a last-wicket stand is a big deal.
McGlashan: It was getting into Lee-Kasprowicz Edgbaston 2005 areas. Unless you have Ben Stokes and Jack Leach.
Vaidyanathan: Not Kusal Perera-Vishwa Fernando area? You forget your Sri Lankan epics.
McGlashan: Sorry, Stokes-Leach is always my first point of reference. Blame the Big Three. Reckon we can start wrapping this up now? It is Test preview day down here.
Vaidyanathan: Are you talking to yourself?
McGlashan: Probably. Let's hope there's a Test match (or two) from this series that can join the ones mentioned above.