THE Border-Gavaskar Series between India and Australia was the cause of most of the excitement during the early part of the year. Speculation was rife and expectations on both sides was very high, though, obviously, the Aussies held the upper hand. They had beaten nearly all the cricketing countries, both, home and away. Yes, they were without the services of their main pace bowler, Glenn McGrath and his opening partner Jason Gillespie, who had gained valuable experience with the tests that he played for Australia. But despite that, the Aussies had Shane Warne, the name that had spelt doom for so many batsmen around the world. The Aussies were ready and raring to go.
There was always the Indian factor. They had won the one day series in Bangladesh earlier in the year after an exciting final with Pakistan in Dhaka, where, for most of the series, they were much in command. The team, under re-appointed captain Mohammad Azharuddin, seemed rejuvenated and had a spring in their step, something which they had been lacking in when they were under the rather inexperienced Sachin Tendulkar. The latter himself seemed relieved to be off the job and was back to the business of scroing runs. The people were hopeful of a surprise Indian victory, or at least a commendable effort by the Indians in the series to follow. But what happened in the series was quite different than what was expected.
Act I: The first test started in Chennai, amidst the electric atmosphere and sweltering conditions. The first three days rather belonged to the Aussies and everything was smooth sailing for them until, on the fourth day, Tendulkar, who had been dismissed cheaply in the first innings, came forth with an unbeaten 155, a knock which seemed to knock out the Aussies. After that it was left to the Indian bowlers to finish the job and give the Indians a comprehensive victory.
Act II: Calcutta. A place where the Indians haven't fared to well in the recent past. But for Azhar, Calcutta was a different story. With scores ranging from 52 to 182 here, the Eden Gardens was certainly his favourite hunting ground. In a test match where the the top six Indian batsmen scored over 50 and the 7th one on 30*, with Azhar making yet another century, a magnificent 163*, the Aussies seemed helpless and lost by an innings and 219 runs. The series was won for India, and they had beaten the best contemporary side in test cricket twice in two test matches.
Act III: Bangalore A lucky ground for the Indians. One can still remember the victory in the ODI against the Aussies in 1996 where Anil Kumble and Srinath led the Indians to a nail-biting 2-wicket victory. Or the quarter-finals of the world cup against Pakistan. The first day belonged to the Indians and the next day they finished with 424 all out, where Tendulkar's 177 played an important role. After that, nearly all of the other days belonged to the Aussies, though they conceded a 24-run lead being all out for 400 in their first innings. The Indians never seemed to handle the turning track where the Australian bowlers bowled so well on. Shane Warne, though he didn't have the figures to show for it, bowled beautifully, along with Kasporwicz who complimented him excellently.
On the morning of the fourth day Kasporwicz destroyed the Indian batting lineup, taking 5 for 28. Chasing a modest target of 194, the Aussies, led by an unbeaten century by captain Mark Taylor, won in style by 8 wickets. The match was won, but the series was lost. The loss of the first two test matches must have done the Aussies a whole lot of good, and it was reflected in the third test. It geared them up for their forthcoming tour of Pakistan in October. It ensured that they did not become complacent, because they still are almost the world champions in test cricket. The Indians can only hope to aim at something like that if they win outside India. Tigers at home, but cats abroad just will not do.