Goutham Chakravarthi

India hadn’t won the Boxing Day Test in its three recent attempts before this tour. They didn’t this time either. They come to Sydney with a similar track record: no wins in their last three attempts. And the last of those Tests will be remembered as the bloodiest among all India-Australia tests. It wasn’t cricket. Reputations were scarred. Careers suffered – both cricketers and umpires. Cricket burned.

Thankfully, the relationship between the two sides are more amicable these days and some credit for it should be given to the IPL. Four years have passed, and Symonds and Harbhajan are now teammates and reigning champs of Champions League T20. But Symonds might still feel let down by his Aussie teammates and the board with the incident four years ago. It affected him and eventually ended his Test career. He never made peace with the incident and felt more let down by his board and his teammates.

Neither India or Australia are the top Test team any longer, but cricket between the two sides, for most part of the Boxing Day Test, was exhilarating. It is a great moment for SCG as it is all set to host its hundredth Test. And Tendulkar’s quest for his hundredth ton has now reached Sydney (On the occasion of Sydney’s hundredth Test, Sydney Morning Herald listed the top 10 innings played there and Tendulkar features twice in it).

India have won only one Test in 1978-79 in Sydney in all their tours (in 9 attempts) of Australia so far. That it is supposed to be the ground that suits them the most in Australia is not translated in to more Test wins at least. When India walks in to the SCG on Tuesday, they will know that it is still their best chance of putting it across Australia in a generation.

SCG is all set to host its 100th Test. Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

India’s batting has shown up to be brittle over the last year. A famed batting order has been tamed. And as much can be inferred from their recent performances, it must not be forgotten what they are capable of. Each of them have defined some great batting moments of the decade gone by, and some, like Laxman’s 281, have redefined the fortunes of their country.

Sometimes, it takes an enormouns effort to change the tide. Viv Richards’ decline in his last three years of his career were offset by Richie Richardson’s backfoot strokeplay and the emergence of Walsh, Ambrose and Patrick Patterson. The swagger never really disappeared and Australia seemed to be more worried about hosting the first three Tests on bouncy wickets before going to Sydney and promptly lost the series before the Sydney Test came along in 1988-89. Yes, it was an Australian side still re-building and West Indies was still the overwhelming champion concealing its cracks rather well.

But this is more the opposite for Indians. They are not fighting Steve Waugh’s Australia of 2000. Their batsmen made their names with performances against the great Australian sides and then some others. This is more a case of a heavyweight boxer returning to the ring after being felled by a young challenger. Often, adversity was tackled and overcome. But apparently, not so over the last year. The mind knows what it takes to be the champion again, but it also wonders if the punch is as strong as before, if the reflexes are still good enough to sway out of strong punches and if the legs can survive twelve rounds of boxing.

Sometimes, you need to take a blow and stand the ground to know that you can still do it. It was the same for a young Virender Sehwag playing the Boxing Day Test in 2003. He was peppered with bumpers, and after an hour of ducking and weaving, he was hit on the head by a Lee missile. He stood his ground and scored one of the most celebrated near double hundreds in Australia. He would later say that getting hit made him realize that there was nothing more for him to be afraid of. He was hit and he was still there. He realized he could take it. And he realized he could scare the opposition as much as the quick bowlers scared him and his teammates. Perhaps that one ball was all it took to shape his career in the remarkable way it did.

There are more worries and question marks over India than Australia going into this Test. Once the game starts, it only takes one inspired moment of cricket to change things around. A top draw batting order will fight its battles individually and collectively and a celebrated captain has confessed to having been conservative when he had the chance to finish off the battle with the right call.

Remarkably, bowlers have come through well in the first Test, and the captain and the supporters will hope the fitness and form will continue through the remaining Tests. Australia still remains a fragile batting side and it will keep the Indian bowlers interested even when a strong partnership is flourishing.

It is still a battle of two teams capable of lot more than what they have achieved of themselves over the last one year. Series are won over jelly beans, and careers made in a single Test. India should believe Sydney’s hundredth has one inspiring moment in it that will change the fortunes for them.

More than that, let’s hope the cricket helps erase the pains of 2008.

You can read the match preview from the Australian perspective here

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  1. […] can read the match preview from the Indian perspective here GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", "other"); […]

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