London, June 8: The cold numbers might not suggest so, but the India-Australia rivalry is one of the most intense and absorbing in the cricket world. There was a time when Australia were the unquestioned bosses, no matter where the teams played. Gradually, India have been able to rein their big foes in at home and away, emboldened by their own skills, their increasing familiarity with conditions worldwide and an attitude that doesn’t allow them to take a backward step.
Australia comfortably lead the head-to-heads, both overall and in World Cup play. They have won 77 and lost just 49 of the 136 matches between the sides – there have been 10 no-results – and lorded over eight of the 11 World Cup face-offs. While that might indicate predominantly one-way traffic, India have gone a long way towards correcting that skew over the last two decades and a bit, matching their celebrated opponents blow for mighty blow, toe for little toe.
Nothing exemplifies the yo-yoing swing of fortunes when the teams lock horns than the outcomes of their showdowns this year. India bounced back from 0-1 down in January to grab their first One-Day International series win on Australian soil, completing a 2-1 triumph. Aaron Finch’s men, in the middle of their worst slump ever with defeats in six successive bilateral series at home and away, returned the compliment in India in March, rallying magnificently from a 0-2 deficit to conquer the hosts 3-2.
Top session 🤙💪 pic.twitter.com/DutuQ52k0Y— Virat Kohli (@imVkohli) June 2, 2019
A fresh chapter in their glorious rivalry will be written at The Oval on Sunday (June 9) as Australia seek to extend their winning run to 11 matches and India attempt to scuttle their opponents’ status as one of only three unbeaten teams in the World Cup so far. These are still early days in the competition and it will be imprudent to gainsay Sunday’s result having a decisive impact on qualification prospects. Yet, such is the burgeoning magnitude of this no-holds-barred pow-wowing that this is clearly one of
the marquee clashes in the 45-match round-robin league phase.
It might be tempting to pigeonhole India’s markedly transformed approach towards white-ball cricket as an extension of the Aussie way. Truth to tell, India have charted their own path, seamlessly moving from followers to trend-setters and often setting themselves up as the example that the rest of the cricketing world strives to emulate. Their cricketing expressions are a reflection of a brave new India – vibrant, cocky bordering on the arrogant, fearless and intrepid, and unwilling to take things lying down.
In India, Australia might see a mirror image of themselves; India, by contrast, are seriously busy focusing inward, trying to figure out where they can get better and what areas they must address to not just stay close to the top of the pile, but ascend it and occupy the throne for as long as possible.
When India were in Australia during the last southern hemisphere summer, it was fascinating to see the reactions Virat Kohli elicited from the die-hard Aussie fan. In India’s aggressive, in-your-face, tempestuous captain, the Australians identified a kindred spirit. They didn’t always approve of his snarling and his antics, particularly during the Perth Test when he produced one of the most sparkling gems in recent times, but they couldn’t help a grudging admiration for his passion, his never-say-die attitude and his wondrous skills.
While Kohli looms as the leader of the pack in all ways conceivable, he has at his disposal an array of riches with bat and ball that his predecessors weren’t so fortunate to command. Overtly or otherwise, each of his foot soldiers is as committed to the cause as the general, which contributes to a unit whose sum is greater than its well-oiled parts. There is a reason why India are looked at warily; their standing as strong contenders is neither exaggerated nor the consequence of a happy accident.
As for Australia, well, they have won the World Cup a staggering five times. They know what it takes to repel a furious assault, they are past masters at lording the big stage, they have made winning a habit. No matter the personnel, that winning habit is ingrained in their system. They are the immovable object to India’s irresistible force. Buckle up for a rocky Sunday adventure.
(R Kaushik is a cricket writer who has followed the sport closely for nearly three decades, and is covering his seventh World Cup)