2.4 - The Border-Gavaskar Trophy - Let's play!
When your four-month-old is turning his head 360 degrees with his eyes firmly entrenched on every ball, then you know summer is well and truly here. The fragrance of cricket is stimulating my olfactory nerves just as much as my mum's spicy curry.
Before anyone throws any vitriol directed this way, I hope you can understand that even though I am an Australian for the last 18 years, Indian blood runs deep through my veins for over a century. My great grandparents were taken from the South of India to work in sugar plantations in the beautiful Fiji Islands. The British called them indentured laborers. Make no mistake, they were treated as slaves. Moving to Australia has provided our family with acceptance, perspective and opportunity. And I have tried really damn hard to support the Australian Cricket team, but unfortunately, the predilection of once an Indian - always an Indian, is intensely embedded within me. Bring on the test series!
The Border-Gavaskar trophy, named after two individuals who exemplified the cricket played by both nations, is fast becoming one of the more iconic battles on world sport and between two proud countries with rich cricketing histories.
Allan Border was a gritty batsman but as impressive as he was with a bat, he will be known as the person that changed Australian cricket with his captaincy. Stoic, courageous, determined and honourable were the qualities that led the embattled Australian outfit from the dumps. He urged his team to play the "Australian way", which stood for playing hard but fair. This philosophy has recently been challenged by the famous Capetown scandal. I have no doubt, however, that Australian cricket will be on their feet again. It is in their DNA. That was what I admired and to an extent, envied most about them. They were so good that I was hoping they failed. Only recently have they shown vulnerability, which I hope India can capitalise on. Sunil Gavaskar, on the other hand, was a textbook opening batsman who as Harsha Bhogle mentioned: "instill(ed) pride in a generation of brought up on low self-esteem". Gavaskar was the hope India needed when all else failed around him. He encountered a plethora of some of the greatest fast bowlers that included Lillee, Thomson, Imran Khan, Richard Hadlee, and averaged an astounding 67+ against the deadly West Indies bowling line-up of the 70s and 80s. Gavaskar showed India that they can be the best of their trade. And the legacy of these two stalwarts of Indo-Australian cricket has given birth to some of the more memorable series in recent memory.
As an Indian supporter, there have been more times of disappointment than elation whenever India has travelled to Australia. There has not been much to write about apart from 2003 when India drew their four-match series 1-1 on the back of some brilliant Rahul Dravid batsmanship. Then there was the infamous 2007-2008 series that took the relationship of these proud cricketing nations to as low as a relationship can get. Watching the brilliant documentary - 2 Nations, 1 Obsession, by Peter Dickson has resurfaced the emotions that the 2007-8 series. I used to loathe the Australian cricket team due to a number of reasons which was not limited to, their behavior on the field, but deep down I feel it was more due to their excellence, skill and superior team mentality. India has not been saints themselves with the Monkey-gate scandal at the forefront of all cricketing controversies. These incidents and the presence of antagonistic characters have made the encounters between both nations heated and fiery.
For the very first time, India goes in as favourites. Even though I feel that India have their best opportunity to win a series in Australia, I am not convinced that it will be as one-sided as is the opinion of the broader cricketing public. The Australian line-up still has the best fast bowling cartel in world cricket and possibly the best spin bowler in the world in Nathan Lyon. Ian Chappell used to always say that it is not the batsmen that win test matches, but bowlers that can get you 20 wickets. And Australia has the potential to get them even if India is stacked with some outstanding batsmen. India has competed well both in South Africa and England, but as with their previous endeavors, they came back empty-handed. This is also one of the few times that India has some quality in their fast bowling department. Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammad Shami and Umesh Yadav can all hit speeds of 145km/h. But more than the speed is the development of maturity in their bowling. The key, however, is Ravichandran Ashwin who was very poor in England and had many opportunities to give India the advantage. But Ashwin's maturity seems to desert him when touring. This is where he can learn a thing or two from Lyon.
Whatever the scenario, I am hoping for closely fought series played in great spirits. I am keeping my fingers crossed for an Indian victory, but by no means am I disregarding that Australia will still be difficult to beat in home conditions.