Since 2000, Australia, South Africa, England and India have been the four solid Test teams which have given us a great deal of competitive cricket and great matches.
From 2001 to 2007, India and Australia shared one of the greatest Test rivalries. The four series went as follows: 2-1, 1-1, 1-2 and 1-2. That’s quite close. We were by far the toughest opponents for the world champions.
There was a huge amount of drama too. That included the great VVS Laxman-Rahul Dravid partnership where we won the Kolkata Test despite following on. It included the great Steve Waugh’s retirement party, where the man who always targeted wins at any cost was forced to
play for a draw.
It included our low point loss of Monkeygate and our subsequent high in the form of a triumph at Perth’s green top where Australia tried to intimidate us with four fast bowlers.
It included the infamous Wankhede Test where the Aussies were 93 all down while chasing a victory target of 107! The pitch may have been rubbished, but the last innings chase was nail-biting.
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Then for no rhyme or reason the rivalry unravelled. Since then, here are the series scores in India’s favour: 2-0, 2-0, 0-4 and 4-0! It seems that competitiveness has jumped out of the window and one-sided series are the order of the day.
The curious part was that we beat them 2-0 at their peak and they beat us 4-0 when they were down in the dumps, being beaten by both England and South Africa.
With England we were equally competitive since 2000. The series read as: 1-0, 1-1, 1-1, 1-0 and 1-0! That also had its moments including Dravid scoring more than 600 runs when we toured England in 2002. The series also included the Leeds Test where Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly scored a century each in a single innings.
Then there was the Lord’s Test in 2007 where we scraped through to 282-9 at the end to ensure a draw and stay alive in the series. MS Dhoni played a fighting 76 off 159 balls in that innings and drew us the match so that we could live to fight another day.
What followed was Jellybeangate at Nottingham where Zaheer Khan led us to a series winning match.
In 2008 in Chennai, we chased 387 for victory. This despite the fact that England were 262-4 at one stage and looked to shut us out of the match. They collapsed to 311-9 and the rest is history.
In 2011, that rivalry too fell apart when we were thrashed 0-4 and we didn’t even look like drawing any of those matches. When England visited us, we narrowly escaped 1-3 when Dhoni and Virat Kohli ensured a draw in the final Test with a brilliant 198 run partnership.
The India-South Africa rivalry has been equally intense. From 2001-06, three series went 0-1, 1-0 and 1-2 in India’s favour. But the last time any of the two teams won a series against each other is way back in 2006. Since then the three series have gone 1-1, 1-1 and 1-1!
It’s not as if we’ve only done well on home soil and collapsed on South African soil. In our last two away series versus the Proteas, they lead us 3-2. That’s fighting and decent.
In fact in the last series in the final Test at Cape Town we had South Africa reeling at 130-6 in the second innings and India finally sniffed a first-ever away Test series win. However the Proteas tail took it to 340 and drew the match.
So now will the South African rivalry continue or collapse like England and Australia?
Of course there is hope.
The young guard won us the 2007 T20 World Cup.
A mix of the young and old guard won us the 2011 ODI WC.
Our youngsters won us the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy and got us our first ever 4-0 Test whitewash against Australia.
Interestingly while we haven’t won a single Test or ODI series on South African soil, in terms of T20s, we lead 3-1 there! Is that the shape of things to come?
It’s a good thing that the ODIs are being held first. With the form our youngsters are in, we are the favourites.
A first ever ODI series win for India would set up an extremely tantalizing two Test matches!
The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.
He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/