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Learning from the 2001 Australia tour of India

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Coach-cricket-IPLThe Border-Gavaskar Trophy isn’t just another cricketing contest. It is one of Test cricket’s most compelling contests. There’s not just an acerbic rivalry between these two intensely passionate cricketing units. India and Australia also share an elaborate history.

As Rahul Dravid revealed in his address at the Bradman Oration in 2011, Indians rejoiced when Sir Don visited the sub-continent, spent some time in India and felt they were on Australia’s side when Bradman hoped to break new records against England.

That is something special. Feelings like these- rare and jubilant- make cricket a memorable contest and an ethereal binder of sorts.

But one’s not sure if Virat Kohli’s India would be entertaining such profound emotions as the Kangaroos hit India’s shores, once again to battle it out in a siege of 4 grueling Tests in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy of 2017.

A lot has changed in the pecking order of both confrontational forces, whether you speak of Kohli’s charged up, youthful unit or of Steve Smith’s new-age Australia. Time has cast its shadow on the 22 yards occupying both India and Australia’s crease and change is evidently the most telling force ruling both sides.

No more does one see giants like Tendulkar, Steve Waugh, Mark Waugh, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Shane Warne, Matthew Hayden, Anil Kumble or Glenn McGrath walking around the ground. New-age gladiators – Kohli and Smith, Ashwin and Lyon, Maxwell and Rahane, Jadeja and Warner – begin to flex their muscle and forge new incandescent rivalries that have the power to spring into record books and generate massive responses from the crowd.

But while the new age cricketers tackle one another in India- a thought goes out to the past.

 

It is worth to recognize and uphold the leadership and candid conduct of men like Waugh and Sourav Ganguly. As the tick of the clock signals time running out, you cannot control your thoughts that often linger in direction of these stalwarts. Men who didn’t just lead units but transformed destinies in battles that met at crossroads of emotion and unprecedented rivalry.

Ganguly’s India in 2001 wasn’t really the winning unit it became later. But the 2001 Test series against Australia kick-started a revolution of sorts. If the Mumbai Test was triumph of Australia’s ostentatious will, then Kolkata was the real turner of the series, one that didn’t have Warne’s fingermarks on it. Chennai was then a stamp of authority from an India wanting to punch above its weight, once viewed from the lens of popular opinion’s shape shifting. Just how many people actually entertained thoughts of an Indian win?

Central to this game changer of a Border-Gavaskar trophy were the batting failures of Tendulkar and Ganguly. Had those two fired (Tendulkar did manage a gem at Mumbai), we wouldn’t have seen the VVS Laxman special and Dravid at his obdurate best. That a mammoth 461 runs were scored between the two alone amidst signs of staggering despair given our batsmen’s downfall- Sachin, Sourav, Das- spoke volumes of the focus and grit these two mild-mannered giants brought at the most telling hour.

That Harbhajan saw in Australia the vision of a bounty hunter standing inches from an expensive hit made Australia actually minions, if only for that series, against spin, most noticeably on a track that was both good for batting and of assistance to spinners.

Waugh’s lot, fired up by their opponents for battle, gave Indians shudders and the Aussies hope. But even these burly, fighting fit and ruthless men failed to conquer what Steve Waugh, in his magical autobiographical account hailed as the final frontier.

McGrath was merely a token bowler, collecting 17 wickets from 3 Tests. Warne was confused and, at best, ordinary. Ponting and Mark Waugh failed to read Bhajji who horrified the Aussies by putting on a Kangaroo mask made of 32 Aussie scalps.

Only one man stood out from the dilapidated rancor of Australia’s failings: Matt Hayden. So little has been made of Haydos’ unique batting powers that to this day, we fail to regard him as an accomplished batsman, he is labeled just a merciless smasher of the cricket ball.

At a time when Australia failed to compile a single team total reading 500, Hayden scored a staggering 549 from 6 batting innings, including a domineering double century at Chennai. Even then, his brilliant hundreds at Mumbai and a famous 97, arguably the best Test innings after Laxman’s 281 in the 2001 series, failed to control the Indian juggernaut.

Playing amazingly well on either sides of the wicket, putting obdurate focus, strong defensive technique at par with fluent strokes, Hayden defended stood affirm against India’s fire and hit a turning Harbhajan out of attack when he was most dismissive at Kolkata.

Hayden’s weapon of choice: that amiable sweep shot. For his teammates- it was a failing but for him, a giant success. He had, as later revealed, and practiced it for months together.

There’s therefore this lesson in the amazing leadership of both captains and in Hayden’s monumental innings. Something that Aswhin and Jadeja would like and Kohli and Warner would pay heed to.

To put all possible forces behind an individual when a batsman or bowler gets going and not being too experimental and about sticking to basics!

That’s where glory could lie for both present day captains and inarguably, two of the best willow-wielders in modern cricket.

Will Kohli be doing most of India’s batting alone? Will Murali Vijay and a ton-hungry KL get going? Will Pujara and Rahane misfire? Most importantly, could David Warner be the carrier of Aussie hope that Hayden was 16 years ago?

Smith won’t mind that, though Kohli might.

 

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