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Wed, 16 Oct 2013 12:45:00 GMT | By Subash Jayaraman

Time to legitimize the rivalry in India vs Australia contests

On April 2 2011, when Dhoni launched the white orb far in to the Mumbai night finishing with a twirling flourish that would make a matinee idol proud, India had reclaimed the world cup after 28 years. But, every Indian fan worth their salt knew that India actually contested, and won, their final a week ago at Motera on March 24 2011, against an opponent that was the gold standard in international cricket.

Time to legitimize the rivalry in India vs Australia contests

The Test series between India and Australia when a young Harbhajan Singh and the awesome twosome of VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid dug India out of a hole all the way back to a series win was a high water mark in the India-Australia rivalry. Though India has managed to go toe to toe with Australia in the Test arena (Won 13, Lost 10, Drawn 6) since 2001, Australia has still owned the 50-over format against India by a margin of 2:1. A seven ODI series (and one T20) between these two nations that have faced each other 50 times since January 2001, starts shortly. Australia have been winners in 28 of these contests with 5 no results and 3 matches abandoned.

It’s taken a while for India to become good at ODIs; it is only now with the versatility and sheer ability of batsmen in their middle order (Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh and well, of course, MS Dhoni) that India can step on the field against any opponent with the belief that they can win.

Sure, memories of “Desert Storm” are still fresh on lot of our minds but those were the days when the Indian team comprised of one Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar and ten other warm bodies. This will be the first time Australia will be facing an Indian team in colored clothing without Number 10, in a long time. The last time around, Tendulkar was in the middle of a yearlong hunt for that 100th hundred. It would have been poetic if he’d scored that against his very own old enemy but it wasn’t to be.

The last decade of ODIs between India and Australia has featured some memorable ones and some thorough beat-downs. It was after India were humiliated during the round robin stage of World Cup 2003 that the team, under severe pressure from fans back home, turned it around and made a remarkable run to the final only to be blasted out of the Wanderers by the authoritative Ricky Ponting and the genius Damien Martyn. The Aussies were in the middle of a great run that probably will never be matched – winning 3 world cups in a row.

The smallest margin (in terms of runs) that Australia has won by in the last decade of ODIS vs. India is 3 runs, at Hyderabad in 2009. It was a terrific match that made the prospect of 200 runs by a batsman in an innings a real possibility. However, it was heartbreak hotel again for the India fans as Tendulkar was dismissed for a superlative 175 only to see the rest of the batsmen fold while the target was very much in sight. It happened in the last 7-ODI series these two teams played back then, which also featured another match, in Vadodara where Australia scampered by slim 4 runs.

It was in 1985 that India won something meaningful in Australia (in ODIs) and Audi was introduced to the Indian collective. It wasn’t until 2008 such a mark was achieved when India won the Commonwealth Bank Series on the back of (you guessed it) Tendulkar putting on a show in the finals with an unbeaten century in Sydney which was followed by a 91 at the ‘Gabba. It was necessary, and cathartic from the Indian fans point of view considering the river of bad blood that had flown during the preceding Test series.

The India tour to Australia in 2011-12 with what everyone considered to be best available players, fit and in form quickly got off the tracks and headed full on in to a brick wall. That series hastened the retirements of the aforementioned awesome twosome from the international game and brought the whole India-Australia rivalry of the past decade full circle. The only consolation for the Indian fans was Dhoni hitting Clint McKay for one of the biggest sixes ever to be seen at the Adelaide Oval and pulled off a great win.

But to say that India and Australia have had a rivalry, in ODIs, would be disingenuous, especially when one team has won 70 per cent of the head-to-head matches, and has collected silverware in unprecedented manner. Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees have had historic rivalry going back to early 20th century but it wasn’t technically a rivalry till Red Sox won their first World Series in 85 years in 2004. In the meantime, Yankees had collected 27 rings. The geographical proximity, the media markets, celebrated players and legends of the game turned out for each of these baseball’s much storied franchises gave an illusion of rivalry but that’s all it was. The last decade has seen Yankees win in 2009 and Red Sox in 2007 as well. Now, we have a rivalry.

The Aussie greats like Ponting, Mike Hussey, Adam Glichrist, not to mention the great bowlers have all said their goodbyes to the game and Australia seem to be in rebuilding mode. This 7-ODI series is as good a time as any for India to make up some lost ground and legitimize the word rivalry in this context.

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