Almanac Cricket – Time to rewind: A recent history of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in Australia

In Australian cricket’s golden era throughout the early 2000s, it was always one nation who halted the green and gold from complete dominance. The likes of Waugh and Ponting could lead conquests to England and other victorious voyages through South Africa, New Zealand, the West Indies and most of Asia, but only once did they best India on foreign soil. With Australia’s fortunes tailing in the past decade (courtesy of both natural decline and self-induced controversy), the Border-Gavaskar Trophy has become a possession fiercely contested on both side’s shores. With India’s campaign to claim a second straight away series win kicking off tomorrow, looking back at their most recent efforts in Australia will excite fans for what is to come in Adelaide.

 

2011-12: The golden trio’s final expedition comes up empty

 

There’s only a handful of test batsmen who have come to Australia’s lively pitches and made an indelible mark on the entitled home crowd. Viv Richards. Brian Lara. Sachin Tendulkar. The latter did so as a teenager, dominating the SCG on his first trip down under before going on to score a century at the spicy WACA. Following years of being a thorn in Australia’s side, Sachin was to return in 2011-12 for his final bout around the arid island nation.

 

Coming with him for the last time would be some famous cricketing names. Dravid. Laxman. Sehwag. All put together created a menacing scorecard, especially for an Australian side coming off a horror home Ashes loss and a changing of the guard. In 2011 alone, Michael Clarke had usurped Ricky Ponting for the captaincy, while post-Warne spinners continued to come and go while the batting line up crumbled. Without the likes of Langer, Hayden and Gilchrist shoring up the order, Australia’s once feared batting group diminished into a collection of first-class players who struggled to average over 30. Their bowling wasn’t much better – Australia’s interchanging selectors had blooded a test off spinner who had barely played first class cricket alongside a wayward Mitchell Johnson and a bunch of other slower seamers. As Tendulkar docked on Australian land looking to reach his 100th international century, many expected his side to also claim a historic first series win down under.

 

With Australia revamping their line up, no one expected the Boxing Day test to provide a massive contest. But with Ed Cowan holding steadfast in his debut and Ricky Ponting winding back the clock alongside Mike Hussey, Australia defied Zahir Khan, Ishant Sharma and the impressive Umesh Yadav to post a handy first day total. Tendulkar and Dravid nestled in at the crease and both passed 50, only for Peter Siddle to rip through the former’s defences in the final over of day two. From there, the recalled Ben Hilfenhaus took his first test five wicket haul and James Pattinson sped past India’s tail enders to give Australia a shock lead. The home side would go on to claim the Boxing Day test easily, before rolling India on a green SCG deck on the first morning. Despite wobbling early, Clarke began a golden patch of form with a stellar 329 not out. Accompanied by tons from Ponting and Hussey, Australia made India’s bowling line up look one-paced, while their own bowlers displayed a level of aggression too high for India’s older bats. From there, centuries came solely off Australian bats and their bowlers constantly found ways to deny some of Indian cricket’s greatest names. Warner stroked a ridiculous WACA ton. Ryan Harris returned and swung a web through Laxman and Tendulkar. Ponting’s return to form was complete with an Adelaide double ton where Clarke also continued his run-making.

 

By the end of a long summer, only Shaun Marsh had failed to make a handy contribution against a humiliated Indian side that would face its own widespread changes. Tendulkar’s final trip down under had ended in a 4-0 whitewash and no 100th century. Only Virat Kohli would make a century and return the next series from India’s top six bats. 12 months is a long time in cricket, and Australia had gone from disappointing to domineering.

 

2014/15: An unpredictable summer until the end

 

The return of the brash Kohli dominated headlines leading into the 2014/15 series. Michael Clarke’s back then took over when he looked less and less likely of recovering for the first test in time. But everything flew out the window when Phil Hughes was struck at the SCG and tragically passed away in the days after. The first test, originally to be contested at the Gabba, had to be rescheduled after the Adelaide match. The international summer, and the contest between two strong sides, disappeared into the background. Cricket became dangerous, and flawed. By the time the teams strode onto the Adelaide Oval, Australia was emotionally exhuatsed.

 

All of this is what makes the 2014/15 series a remarkable feat by the home side. Fueled by emotion and adrenaline, centuries to Warner, Smith and Clarke put Australia in a match-winning position, but no one cared. What everyone came to see was their reactions, and the ways in which they paid their respects to Hughes while still traumatised. Indian bowlers were confused as to whether they should bowl bouncers, and instead just gave half-trackers or half-volleys. When Australia turned to bowling, Johnson had lost the edge off his fast pace aggression, allowing Kohli to strike a majestic ton. Having to chase over 300 on the final day, Kohli backed himself in and went for it, taking Murali Vijay closer to a historic win. Australia looked flat and worn out by the previous few weeks. They needed Nathan Lyon. He changed the game, taking seven wickets in a dramatic final session to wrap up a tight Australian win.

 

From there, the side needed to be refreshed. Clarke’s returning back injury gave Smith the chance to captain, where he proceeded to stroke tons with consummate ease. Josh Hazlewood made his debut at the Gabba and started with a five-wicket haul. Johnson found his spark in the second innings; Australia romped to 2-0 without their usual intent. It wasn’t the sparkling cricket of the previous year’s Ashes series – it was coasting along to victories without the fire in their eyes.

 

A dull MCG test didn’t help anyone. Smith continued to dominate in his quirky fashion. Haddin wound back the clock, but no one could remove Kohli and Rahane. The pair both made wonderful centuries and batted out the test into a boring draw. Nothing changed in Sydney – Warner made a ton, Rogers another fifty. Smith continued to dominate – Marsh and Burns batted well. But Virat couldn’t be stopped, picking up the slack from his lacklustre bowlers to prevent a humiliating defeat. KL Rahul made a century, but none of it mattered. After the second test the care for the series dropped. Australia clinched the series 2-0, Smith was man of the series. Yet cricket had changed forever. It only started to return slowly when the home side won the World Cup the following March, but exhaustion was already rising for the Australian cricketing public.

 

2018-19: The final frontier claimed

 

Following 2018’s ball tampering scandal, Virat Kohli led his side to Australian shores with one goal in mind; a series win in Australia. It had never been done by an Indian side, and now, without Warner and Smith, the home side were the most vulnerable they had ever been. If Virat couldn’t come away with the win, he never would.

 

Talk surfaced about a dream net session where Kohli looked at his imperious best. After numerous tons on his previous tour, everyone hushed when he strode out early on the first morning at Adelaide, and was snared by a blinder from Khawaja in the gully. The series was different, India were no certainty. Australia’s fight couldn’t stop Cheteshwar Pujara’s patience and class, but it allowed them to restrict India. In normal series, their batters could then go to work and secure the lead. Instead, Australia’s short-comings came to the fore. Finch was thrust into the opening position and lost his stumps in the first over. Marcus Harris chugged along to 20 on his test debut. Khawaja had the weight of the world on him at first drop, and couldn’t defy India’s snarling pace bowlers for long enough.

 

In the past series, India’s bowlers had looked pedestrian and trickless. Now, with new names in Bumrah and Jadeja accompanying Ashwin, Sharma and Shami, their pace department took a sharp turn upwards in speed. Bumrah was the chief destroyer, bowling economically with his awkward action. Australia never could score freely or put on a major partnership, and crumbled to lose in Adelaide despite a late rear guard action from their fed-up bowlers.

 

Perth saw the christening of the new Optus Stadium. On a spicy green pitch, Finch and Harris defied India, setting the groundwork for a competitive total. Yet Kohli came into his element, making Australia fight for the match. A ton to the king meant the likes of Khawaja and Paine had to dig deep against uneven bounce and an angry Kohli. They held on for long enough, and the diligence of Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins saw Australia level a hotly-contested series.

 

Boxing Day was hyped up. For the first time in years the series was even going into Melbourne, but a dry and flat pitch met the two sides. Batting first, Pujara once again denied Australia as India crept up to a handy total. Australia, now behind, tried to force the win too much, and crumbled in a dismal heap. Their shaky batting line up had no answers for Bumrah, and a refusal to edge along slowly saw them lose the test easily.

 

Sydney was no better. India had their tails up, and pounced. Pujara stroked runs for fun. Kohli led his side superbly. Their bowlers ran through Australia easily and ensured there was no get out of jail card played by the home side. At the summer’s end India had baulked past a stubborn Aussie side lacking any class with the bat. Full of fight, they now have the personnel required to challenge India this time round. The question is – will this return of stars correlate with a change of fortune, or have India now cracked the Australian code?

 

 

 

For more from Sean Mortell, click HERE.

 

 

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Comments

  1. John Butler says

    A useful reminder her, Sean.

    Do we read this as a record of steady improvement on these shores by India? Or do we take the absence of Smith and Warner for the last series as a reason to treat 2018/19 as an outlier?

    Cheers

  2. Time certainly flies.
    Many of these moments seem like yesterday.

  3. Brian The Ruminator says

    Really like this precis of the rivalry that has developed in recent times. India’s two greats, Sachin and Kohli, have proven themselves here and that has spurred interest in both countries. The large wave of Indian immigration in recent decades has ensured all venues become cauldrons for each test, rivalling that of the Ashes.

    Although we all know the Ashes will remain the pinnacle, just the fact this contest bears the names of talismanic figures in each country that almost singlehandedly brought their respective nations back from the brink means more than most appreciate in my view. Here’s to AB and Sunny.

  4. It’s interesting how different series become prominent at different stages.

    The Ashes is The Ashes and will be forever more. Yea and Amen to that.

    Then, for a couple of decades from the 70s onwards, there was the latest iteration of the great rivalry between Australia and West Indies. I’ll leave you to rattle through the iconic names involved there from the 60s through to the 90s.

    Australia v South Africa also had a certain prominence in the 90s and 00s. Fierce competition indeed!

    Australia v India has bubbled away near the surface for ages and, at the moment, seems next to The Ashes as the pinnacle contest for Australia.

    Of course, Australia v NZ always has its own special tension regardless of the teams’ respective Test rankings.

    Ah, cricket – what’s not to love?

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