Every once in a while comes a Test series that captures the imagination of the cricket-playing world. The confluence of circumstance and action seems magical, for the cricket sparked is grand, dramatic, and uplifting. The context of bilateral series has changed significantly since the colonial era, when playing England was a means of engaging the imperial power. It is a sign of the times that two of the three most memorable series in the last decade have involved the two most influential teams in modern-day cricket: Australia, the playing power, and India, the commercial and political power. The sides contributed to an epic series in India in 2001, a series that turned on V.V.S. Laxman’s fairy-tale knock in Kolkata. Then, belying expectations, India put on a stirring display in Australia in 2003-04, often dictating play to the home side, which, it must be said, was without Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. Such was the emotion invested in the two series — particularly with India retaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy — that the profile of the rivalry was elevated; some in Australia suggested it had surpassed the Ashes. It was almost inevitable that the series in 2004-05 would fail to live up to its billing. Australia conquered the ‘Final Frontier’ (as Steve Waugh had dubbed it), underlining its supremacy in the world game — but in a neat twist, the sides were tied four Tests apiece over the three series.
The narrative of every contest draws from the backstory between the sides: considering the even head-to-head record since 2001, the anticipation that precedes the forthcoming four-Test series is justifiably high. The series is pregnant with possibility — for a start, it features several contemporary greats from both teams. For Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Laxman, Sourav Ganguly, and captain Anil Kumble, the series represents the final opportunity to overcome Australia in Australia, a feat not accomplished by any country since 1992-93. Much will depend on the playing surfaces. In 2003-04, the resplendent Indian batting had its finest hour, outperforming Australia on favourable pitches. There are positive signs this time too, for Kumble has a problem of plenty in his batting unit. Yuvraj Singh’s skilful, bristling century against Pakistan has ensured he will be tough to keep out. The prospect of a duel between India’s batsmen and an Australian pace quartet is enticing and not without significance; but it’s the transpose, the battle between India’s relatively lightweight bowling and Australia’s formidable batting, that could prove decisive. India’s best chance lies in attacking Australia and provoking errors — the style it embraced in 2001 and 2003-04.