Author : Sougat Chakravartty
It’s that time of the year again when India locks horns with Australia in a seven-match ODI series and one T20 game starting two days from now, and as usual, the hosts start firm favourites.
But given the amount of cricket that’s on display these days, it won’t be stretching the truth a bit far when I say that the thrill of the contest between the top two ODI teams in the world might just have been lost. With the excitement of the on-going English Premier League, viewership of this series may take a beating.
Australia, traditionally, have done well in this part of the world in the 50-over format. Even the numbers stand in their favour – the Kangaroos have won 64 of the 109 games played with the Indian side since 1980. However, it will take all of their skills and no small amount of luck to dethrone the current world champions, and their recent form doesn’t suggest that.
George Bailey, leading the side in the absence of Michael Clarke, knows all too well the kind of form MS Dhoni’s outfit is in right now. A 5-2 scoreline will see the team from Down Under topple the Blue Brigade from the top spot in the rankings. That’s easier said than done, though it never pays to underestimate the opposition, as Dhoni will be well aware.
Be it Ravi Shastri’s heroics in 1985 or Mark Waugh’s magnificent century against the Indians in the 1996 World Cup, the battles between the two sides have not been shorn of excitement. But the Men in Blue have always come back hard at the opposition from defeat – with batting maestro Sachin Tendulkar leading the way in the late nineties before young turks Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan arrived to take the baton forward.
On the eve of the 2013 series, here is a look at five of the best ever ODI games played between the two sides, creating magical moments forever etched in cricketing history:
5. Second Quarter Final, World Cup, Ahmedabad, March 2011 (Dethroning the Champions)
Australia were in pursuit of an unprecedented fifth title in ODI cricket’s quadrennial showpiece, while India were looking to regain the trophy they had won 28 years ago. Eventually, it all boiled down to which team wanted the win more.
From the way the yellow brigade batted, it didn’t feel like they had their hearts in the game. On a slow pitch, the batsmen, barring skipper Ricky Ponting, came a cropper against the spinners; four out of the six wickets to fall were bagged by the slower bowlers.
Ponting led the way with a sublime century, and helped by a half-century from Brad Haddin and David Hussey’s cameo down the order, Australia eventually finished on 260.
Despite fifties from Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir, the Indian batting faltered. Dhoni’s early dismissal only exacerbated the situation further.
However, Yuvraj Singh played a blinder to resurrect the innings, and Suresh Raina managed to pull out a couple of cracking shots to get the chase back on track; the latter hit the winning runs with a fierce drive through the covers. Australian fielders were shocked, and so was Brett Lee – it was in his over that both southpaws turned the game on its head. India progressed to the semi-finals and eventually took the trophy home.
4. Seventh ODI, Mumbai, October 2007 (Kartik’s all round performance)
Every ardent Indian fan waited eagerly for Mumbai’s favourite son to sign off from his home ground in style with the kind of knocks he usually played to light up the stands for nearly two decades.
But it took a little-known left-arm spinner to steal the thunder with a magnificent all-round show as the hosts managed to sneak home with two wickets to spare.
On a day when the left-arm bowlers came to the party, Murali Kartik ripped the Australian batting to pieces with a magnificent six-wicket haul, having had two opportunities to take a hat-trick and thwarted every time – the only bit of resistance came from captain Ricky Ponting.
But the Indians fared no better with the bat, slumping to 64/6 before a vital partnership between Robin Uthappa and Harbhajan Singh resuscitated the innings. Mitchell Johnson and Michael Clarke, though, added further twist to the tale by removing both batsmen, and the writing was on the wall for India.
However, Zaheer Khan counter-attacked with a powerful six off Brett Lee, and with the help of nudges, pushes and prods, he and Kartik added the remaining runs to cap a thrilling win.
3. VB Series, Seventh Match, Sydney, January 2004 (The ultimate heartbreak)
Neither side anticipated the neck-and-neck thriller this game would turn out to be. It took a brief rain stoppage and one powerful hit to change the result of the game completely, leaving the Indians crestfallen.
After the Aussie pacers took out three rival batsmen early, they had to toil hard for the fourth wicket. The reason was simple – their long-time nemesis VVS Laxman was on the prowl. He batted sedately, giving steady support to the aggressive Yuvraj Singh, who unfurled the big shots at exactly the right moments, hitting with both power and precision.
The two put on a mammoth double-century partnership, both scoring their individual hundreds before Lee took out Yuvraj, while Laxman remained unbeaten as India posted a challenging total on the board.
Rain and thunder intervened mid-way through Australia’s chase, briefly giving the Indians a respite from a fierce onslaught by Adam Gilchrist. With 16 overs lost, the target was revised to a rather gettable one, but Irfan Pathan and Sourav Ganguly shared six wickets between them to send the match into the final over.
Lakshmipathy Balaji fired in three yorkers into the blockhole, but dished out a low full toss off the fourth, and Brett Lee clubbed it ferociously over long-off to take his side over the finish line. The Indians were dejected – so close, yet so far.
2. Fifth ODI, Hyderabad, November 2009 (Sachin’s 175)
For once, the Little Master had an opportunity to pull off an incredible chase on his own. He came tantalisingly close, but succumbed to the pressure just as India were beginning to smell victory. The remaining batsmen choked, and Australia managed to pull off an upset win.
Shane Watson and Shaun Marsh laid the foundation for a mammoth total, with the latter scoring his maiden ODI hundred. Australia was further bolstered by a buccaneering innings from Cameron White, whose quickfire half century took them to 350.
Having lost five batting partners with less than half the required runs on the board, Sachin finally found an able ally in Suresh Raina. The two took no undue risks, despite being dropped three times. They brought the equation down to 52 runs from the last eight overs when Watson dismissed Raina with a short delivery.
But the maestro kept going, despite losing Harbhajan Singh in the same over. He combined with Ravindra Jadeja and reached his 150, looking absolutely assured and determined to steer his side home.
And then Victorian debutant Clint McKay broke a million hearts – he sent down a slower delivery that Tendulkar tried to paddle –sweep over short fine leg, but Nathan Hauritz stood in the way, and held on to the ball. Shocked into sepulchral silence, the crowd stood still for one whole minute before according the veteran batsman a standing ovation.
The end came swiftly after his departure, and India surrendered the series lead.
1. Sharjah, April 1998 (Desert Storm – Sachin’s birthday special)
‘Desert Storm’ served to emphasize to the rest of the cricketing world the wonder that is Sachin Tendulkar. His back-to-back centuries against Australia in the 1997-98 Coca Cola trophy were enough proof of that. The second three-figure knock came in the final, and completed one of India’s more famous victories over the Kangaroos.
The bowlers finally delivered a performance worth every cheer that rent the night as they tied down the Aussies with clinical precision. After Gilchrist’s initial blitzkrieg, India kept things on a tight leash, and identical knocks from Steve Waugh and Darren Lehmann, with a late cameo by Michael Bevan, enabled them to reach a somewhat respectable total.
But Tendulkar, celebrating his 25th birthday, proceeded to play an innings that was as sublime as ever. None of the bowlers had an answer to his extremely aggressive approach; it was characterised by a pre-meditated plan to target the wily Shane Warne. Sachin used his feet beautifully against the blond leg-spinner, hitting boundaries off him at will.
His innings was highlighted by wonderful shots played with a straight bat; the six he hit off Michael Kasprowicz stands out vividly in everyone’s minds.
Ably supported by skipper Mohammad Azharuddin, Sachin took the total to within striking distance of a win before Kasprowicz trapped him LBW; however, the damage had been done, and Hrishikesh Kanitkar finished the proceedings with the winning boundary. Terrific stuff!