Indians earn respect and admiration

A few days before the start of the VB tri-series, Australia's admiration and respect for Indian cricket increased manifold.

A few days before the start of the VB tri-series, Australia's admiration and respect for Indian cricket increased manifold. Going by the last seven Tests, Steve Waugh said that the Border-Gavaskar Trophy had the potential to gain as much significance as the `Ashes' battles (Australia verses England) and the Sir Frank Worrell Trophy (Australia verses West Indies). Waugh had been in the thick of the India-Australia skirmishes as captain though he was beaten by Sourav Ganguly's men while trying to conquer the `Final Frontier' in India in 2001. And spectacular deeds dominated the just-concluded four-Test rubber in Australia.

Things were bound to change for the better as India was prepared, positive and keen to prove its worth. The two teams have played each other four times in five years, a far cry from the times when India and Australia used to face each other infrequently.

The win at Adelaide and the overall good showing in the series, no matter the defeat at Melbourne, was the result of a careful study of the opponents over a period of time.

The Australian public has acknowledged India's excellent performance, and most importantly, the Australian team's perception has changed. The No. 1 team for more than a decade and a model for others to learn from, Australia has been quite generous in recognising India as a powerhouse.

No longer will a barrage of innuendos be hurled at the Indian team whose scoring rate almost matched Australian standards in the Tests.

Ganguly's team has played exciting cricket this summer. Snide remarks by players like Andy Bichel, Matthew Hayden and Shane Warne that the Indian batsmen would face `chin music' and succumb to the Australian fast bowlers changed dramatically to the extent that Adam Gilchrist, Justin Langer and Waugh lavished praise.

The Indian cricketers challenged Waugh's team man-to-man, and in the process, probably surpassed themselves. In the end, the 1-1 result seemed fair, though Waugh and Ganguly have legitimate reasons to believe each could have won. Ganguly aspired to clinch a series no captain has managed to do for 11 years while Waugh wanted to leave the big stage as a winner.

This was easily India's best Test series on Australian soil. Some 50 years ago, Lala Amarnath's team arrived at Darwin for the first series against Australia with the sole purpose of seeing Don Bradman bat. "Indians want Bradman to get 100th century against them'' was a bold headline in a newspaper following a statement from manager Pankaj Gupta that "Indians regard Bradman as a cricketing colossus and they would prefer to lose every match and see Bradman play than win every match and not see him.''

Of course, Bradman inspired awe universally and the Indian cricketers were no exception. Bradman made 700 odd runs in six Test innings and two more in a warm-up game, fulfilled the Indians' desire and scored his 100th first-class century.

Bradman, who once refused to meet the public and media's demand that he step out of the ship in which the Australian team was sailing — one that had a stop-over at the Bombay harbour — went out of the way to please the Indians on and off the field in the 1947-48 series.

Bradman praised his counterpart's captaincy, but Lala Amarnath's team that sparkled mainly through the batting of Vijay Hazare and Vinoo Mankad did not have more to offer to catch the imagination of the Australian public.

The present Indian squad under the stewardship of Ganguly, given all the professional support to scale new heights, was not going to be swayed by sentiments and be a party to the rival captain's last hurrah in international cricket. Ganguly's superb century in the first Test at Brisbane set the tone for the series. Dravid and Laxman followed suit, and Tendulkar came into his own at Sydney.

The main batsmen contributed 2246 runs with six centuries and seven half-centuries. Opener Akash Chopra missed out on a big score, but played the ideal foil to contribute his mite to the squad.

The selectors and the team's decision to pick Anil Kumble was vindicated. The experienced campaigner bowled with vigour after being dropped for the first Test and had the last laugh, bagging 24 wickets at 29.58. Ajit Agarkar showed improvement and Irfan Pathan raised hopes by his ability to swing the ball.