Australia going on a red-hot winning streak before being halted in their tracks by a cornered Indian side, was the central theme in 2001, when Sourav Ganguly’s men notched up a scarcely-believable Test win in Kolkata.
Seven years on, the high-flying Aussies would end up licking their wounds in one of their favourite hunting grounds at home. The Waca in Perth had turned into a nightmare for the visitors; Australia were unbeaten in a decade, registering as many as five innings victories during that time. The pace, bounce and the heat of Western Australia had the quicks pulverise hapless tourists to the ground.
There was no love lost between the two teams either. The acrimonious manner in which the Sydney Test ended had India nearly threatening to abort the tour altogether. Harbhajan Singh was slapped with a ban following the infamous “Monkeygate” incident, also involving Andrew Symonds.
India’s bowling comprised three pacers and captain Anil Kumble. After electing to bat first on a balmy day, the Indian batsmen showed a remarkably subdued approach. The intent was to grind the pacers down and take the fight deep into the match. And the plan worked remarkably, led by stalwarts Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar. The tone, though, was set by the grit displayed in the first session by openers Wasim Jaffer and Virender Sehwag, despite not getting big runs.
The steely 139-run stand between Dravid and Tendulkar frustrated the Aussies, and handy contributions from the lower order took India to a competitive total of 330 in the first innings. For a side capable of batting opponents out of the game in space of three sessions, the target in front of them might have not been daunting.
However, India’s doggedness might have taken the wind of Australia’s sails. Opener Chris Rogers, who made his debut in the Test after Matthew Hayden missed a fitness test, remarked that the Australian pacers struggled with the Perth wicket behaving slightly differently. Australia, as mentioned earlier, had frequently steamrolled opponents in the unforgiving, ruthless cauldron.
“Tennis-ball bounce and the lack of swing or seam took the sting out of [Brett] Lee, [Mitchell] Johnson, Stuart Clark and [Shaun] Tait,” Rogers said. “Both Lee and Tait were reaching the 150 kph mark, but the Indians seemed to have time to spare playing them.”
India, though, remained unfazed by the conditions. This was a side that felt targeted, victimised, and had a point to prove after Sydney. And, the bowlers instantly responded, reducing Australia to 61/5. Despite breezy fifties from Symonds and Adam Gilchrist leading a recovery, India had a 118-run lead to work with. For once, Australia’s aggressive approach had backfired and the India smelt blood.
Dravid and Tendulkar didn’t last long in the second innings but the perennial thorn in Australia’s flesh, VVS Laxman, rallied with the lower order. Dhoni and RP Singh’s valuable cameos gave the Indian bowlers a 413-run target to bowl at.
Ishant vs Ponting
It was a duel that started in this series but Ishant Sharma would go on to consistently torment the Australian captain during the course of the year. After losing their openers, Ponting and Michael Hussey were steadily wrestling back momentum in the first session of day four. Ishant was in the middle of a long spell and had Ponting look clueless repeatedly with deliveries that shot off a good length using a scrambled seam.
Ishant, though, somehow could not get the outside edge. On innumerable occasions in the past, Ponting would labour to his first fifty, only to blaze away to a big score. Kumble’s intuition played a key role here. He sensed that a wicket was around the corner, and handed another over to the lanky 19-year-old, who was tiring under the scorching heat. Lunch was another 20 minutes away.
Yet again, Ishant got the ball to jag back in and Ponting edged it to Dravid at first slip, who made no mistake. The Delhi teenager had arrived on the big stage, showing supreme control. That wicket would alter the proceedings during the rest of the day.
A fired-up India picked up four more wickets in the second session to leave Australia on the ropes. Michael Clarke was running out of partners following a surprise double strike from Sehwag. Everything was falling in place for Kumble and India and this was yet another masterstroke following the gamble to have Ishant steaming in for a nine-over spell earlier in the day.
The game look done and dusted after the India captain had Clarke stumped early into the final session. The future Australia captain was at his fluent best before being dismissed for 81, driving and flicking with panache.
Invincible no more
An entertaining 73-run stand between Johnson and Stuart Clark may have set the alarm bells ringing for India. We’ll leave it to Ravi Shastri for a slightly more graphic description of what the Indians might have been going through. The second new ball did the trick as Pathan and RP Singh knocked off tail-enders Clark and Tait.
The Bollywood-style revenge plot line made the contest all the more riveting. From nearly catching the first flight back home from Sydney after a harsh defeat, India scripted one of its most memorable away wins in its folklore.
Australia’s 16-match winning streak came to an end and the series was still alive. Harbhajan, the eye of the storm before the Test began, didn’t miss an opportunity to rub it in, galloping onto the field with the Indian flag and going on a victory lap with his teammates.
Importantly, the invincible tag started to wriggle away from Ponting’s men. Later in the year, South Africa became the first team in close to two decades to win a series Down Under.
India humbling the No 1 ranked side in their fortress, went a long way in giving visiting teams confidence to take the bull by its horns, and tame it.