There is a history of bad blood. And bad blood is something all great rivalries need
Most people now agree that when it comes to cricket rivalries, India vs Australia is the new India vs Pakistan. Or even, the new Ashes. (Maybe.) When did this happen?
When did the most fabled rivalries in cricket cease to be ‘traditional’ and become so, shall we say, ‘commercial’? That said, it’s not fair to say the India vs Australia rivalry is built only on commercial foundations. There is a history of bad blood. And bad blood is something all great rivalries need. Successful and historic cases in point: the shared, violent histories of India and Pakistan, and England and Australia. In India and Australia’s case, the bad blood emerged, to begin with, from the confrontations between rival captains Sourav Ganguly and Steve Waugh in the 2001 series in which India came back miraculously to win 2-1 after losing the first Test.
The heart of the India-Australia rivalry today lies in the way India and Australia took everything Sourav and Steve tried to do (and outdo) to each other in that series so very personally. So much so, that it ceased to be about Sourav and Steve and became about all of India and Australia. Here was born one of the great rivalries of modern times. Yes, there were spectacular individual performances and failures, too, that periodically fuelled the growth of this bruising rivalry.
The legendary Shane Warne vs Sachin Tendulkar battles of yore. The 3-0 drubbing Sachin and Kapil Dev, as manager, were dished out by Steve Waugh and company Down Under in the 1999-2000 series. Harbhajan Singh’s incredible comeback in the 2001 series. VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid’s rearguard action in that series. Sourav’s Brisbane hundred in the 2003-04 series that’s almost as well known. The emergence of Greg Chappell as Coach. The ouster of Sourav. The return of Sourav. The ouster of Greg Chappell. The ‘Sydney Test’. Allegations of racism. Name-calling. Boxing. The colouring of Sachin by Gilchrist in his book. Ricky Ponting’s brand of brash captaincy. Matthew Hayden’s ‘Third World’ comments about sight screens on Indian grounds and the country, in general. Gautam Gambhir’s elbow. Shane Watson’s tongue. Racial attacks on Indian students in Australia. Oh yes, India and Australia certainly have a most healthy and sometimes unhealthy rivalry. Happily, this is one rivalry that won’t lead to any shooting of guns. (Only mouths.) But, make no mistake, it is a war.