The new independent India was in its infancy. Two months after the country attained its independence, the Indian cricket team made their first-ever voyage Down Under, to Australia. The Australian summer of 1947-48 saw India compete in five Tests and nine First-Class matches. The tour is best remembered as Don Bradman’s last home series and the only one against India. Despite the occasional glimpses of brilliance from the tourists, especially from the likes of Dattu Phadkar, Vijay Hazare and Vinoo Mankad, Bradman’s men walloped India 4-0 in Tests. One of India’s two First-Class wins on tour was against the Bradman-led Australian XI side in Sydney.
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Seventy-one years later, Australia remains an unconquered territory for team India. It is India’s 12th Test tour to Australia, and their best results have been 1-1 draws, a feat they managed twice, first in 1980-81 and then 2003-04. Their only other drawn series in Australia came in 1985-86 where all the three Tests ended in draws.
India vs. Australia – Head to head (Series)
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The search for the elusive series win in Australia continues, as the Virat Kohli-led Indian side embarks on a new journey after heartbreaks in South Africa and England. The absence of Steven Smith and David Warner have altered the balance of Australia, so has India’s bowling ammunition. It is India’s best chance in many decades.
India vs. Australia – Head to head (Tests)
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Just five wins from 12 tours paint a dismal portrait of India’s adaptability in Australia, the most daunting arena in the sport’s history. However, some stood against the odds, and this piece reflects on the individuals who helped India salvage enough pride with their skills, steely nerves, and gutsy approach and that too on a more consistent basis amid all the hostility in a place and opponents like Australia.
Here’s India’s Greatest Test XI in Australia
Sunil Gavaskar (Captain)
Tours: 1977-78, 1980-81, 1985-86
M 11 | R 920 | HS 172 | Ave 51.11 | SR 40.2 | 100s 3 | 50s 3
Gavaskar’s spirited 113 during his maiden Test in Australia almost guided India to a remarkable win in Brisbane during the 1977-78 tour. Chasing 341, India fell short by 17 runs. He scored another hundred in the following Test in Perth, but couldn’t prevent a two-run defeat. At MCG though, Gavaskar’s hundred played a big role in guiding India to their maiden win in Australia, India lost the series 2-3.
Later, Sunil Gavaskar had a quiet series with the bat as captain in 1980-81. The tour is infamously remembered for his altercation with Dennis Lillee after being adjudged leg-before in Melbourne. However, India produced one of their most famous wins in that Test. Gavaskar redeemed himself in the 1985-86 tour where he slammed hundreds in Adelaide and Sydney.
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He has featured in three wins, three defeats and five draws in Australia. The 1-1 result from the 1980-81 series goes in his favour, and therefore he gets to lead the side ahead of Bishan Singh Bedi and Kapil Dev.
Tours: 2003-04, 2005-06, 2007-08, 2011-12
M 11 | R 1,031 | HS 195 | Ave 46.86 | SR 74.6 | 100s 2 | 50s 5
Quite a contrasting pair, but Sehwag and Gavaskar will even go on to open in the all-time Indian Test XI. The tag team of traditional-orthodoxy and flamboyance-madness is something the cricket world will only have to live through such on-paper teams or gaming consoles.
To say the least, Virender Sehwag redefined opening in Test cricket. During his first Australian tour, in 2003-04, Sehwag got four scores in the 40s, a 72 and the famous 195 at MCG that will be remembered as one of the best knocks played by a visitor on Australian soil. He returned to Australia in 2005, this time as a part of the ICC World XI contingent. He belted an 82-ball 76 against a rampant Australian attack consisting Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee, Shane Warne, and Stuart MacGill. The star-studded visitors were crushed by Australia with Sehwag the only half-centurion in the match from the visitor’s camp.
In 2007-08, Sehwag found himself on the sidelines and warmed the benches for the first two Tests and later marked a return in Perth Test. His 29 and 43 threatened enough and demoralised Shaun Tait, as India went on to notch up a famous win. He slammed 151 in the following Test in Adelaide as well.
The 2011-12 tour was a low point in Sehwag’s career. He got a fifty in his first and last innings of the series. His inability to convert the starts hurt India, as the visitors went down 0-4.
Notable miss: Murali Vijay
Tours: 1999-00, 2003-04, 2007-08, 2011-12
M 15 | R 1,236 | HS 178 | Ave 44.14 | SR 52.3 | 100s 4 | 50s 4
Not too many cricketers have tormented Australia as much as VVS Laxman. He was a part of India’s disastrous 1999-00 tour. Laxman had got 54 runs in the preceding five innings. After having lost the first two Tests, a defeat loomed over in Sydney too. Laxman only went on to delay the inevitable with a majestic 167, his first hundred in international cricket. He later bullied the great Australian bowlers at home, but even away, they bowed to his artistry.
Laxman had a brilliant 2003-04 tour but remained the bridesmaid. His 75 in Brisbane was overshadowed by Sourav Ganguly’s 144, his 148 in the Adelaide win was masked by Rahul Dravid and Ajit Agarkar’s spectacular shows, and his 178 in Sydney came in the same innings where Sachin Tendulkar slammed that iconic double ton.
Later, Laxman produced a couple of gems in the 2007-08 series, scoring a hundred in the infamous Sydney Test and followed it up with a match-defining 79 in Perth. Like Sehwag, Laxman too failed in the 2011-12 series, managing a sole fifty in four Tests. It went on to be his last series.
Tours: 1991-92, 1999-00, 2003-04, 2007-08, 2011-12
M 20 | R 1,809 | HS 241* | Ave 53.20 | SR 59.0 | 100s 6 | 50s 7
At 18, Tendulkar conquered Sydney and the chubby debutant, Shane Warne with a belligerent 148* in the third Test. It was only the first of the many battles he went on to triumph against Warne. Tendulkar took the world by surprise by quickly adapting to the lightening surface of Perth and stroking a 114 graced with serenity as well as power.
“This little prick’s going to get more runs than you, AB,” the hard-nosed Merv Hughes prophesied looking at his skipper Allan Border.
For Tendulkar, the hundred was one of the significant junctures in his career.
“You know, if you can go on and score a hundred in Perth against a world-class bowling attack, then you can basically prepare to go to any part of the world and tackle any attack. I felt that way. It lifted me,” Tendulkar told Wisden India.
The 1991-92 tour saw Australians rout India 4-0 but the series wiped off all the doubts over the teenager destined for greatness. Years later, Tendulkar led India in the 1999-00 series. The series was all about Tendulkar’s lone hands with little support from his colleagues, as Steve Waugh’s men romped to a 3-0 whitewash.
The Little Master was far from his best during the 2003-04 series. The red Kookaburra found his outside edge too often. He had managed just over 80 runs in the first five innings till the Sydney Test. Sachin Tendulkar made a conscious effort to curb his off-side play and essayed an iconic knock in Sydney. He scored 301 (241* & 60*) runs in the Test without getting dismissed.
The Australian romance continued for Tendulkar in the 2007-08 tour. He struck two centuries and two fifties in the series. His final Australian tour was in 2011-12, as a 38-year-old veteran. He looked in good touch but couldn’t convert his starts to big scores. The pressure of the 100th hundred lurked around. He got two fifties in the series, as India got whitewashed 0-4.
Tendulkar has to be the first name on this team sheet, followed by the man who follows next…
Tours: 2011-12, 2014-15 and current tour
M 8 | R 992 | HS 169 | Ave 62.0 | SR 59.3 | 100s 5 | 50s 2
It was in Australia where Virat Kohli announced his arrival in Test cricket. Already a big name in the ODI circuit, Kohli, then 23, was a part of the Indian contingent during the 2011-12 tour. Despite his failures in MCG and Sydney, he got retained for the Perth Test where he got those confidence-boosting 44 and 75. In Adelaide, he brought up his maiden Test ton. His show was one of the positives in an otherwise disastrous tour for India.
Virat Kohli returned to Australia in 2014-15 and this time, as a stand-in captain for the injured MS Dhoni. He continued his love affair with Adelaide by striking twin hundreds. Kohli’s 141 kept India in the hunt in their bid to chase down 364. Though India lost by 48 runs, all hailed Kohli’s ‘go-for-the-win’ attitude.
Later, Dhoni returned for the next two matches but retired after the Boxing Day Test at the MCG. Sydney marked Kohli’s full-time appointment as Indian Test captain, and he celebrated it with a 147, his fourth ton on tour. Virat finished with 692 runs in the series at 86.5. However, India lost the series 0-2, Kohli had hit a purple patch.
The Team India skipper is currently the No.1-ranked batsman in the world. The backbone of the side’s batting, India’s hope for their maiden Test series victory in Australia rests on his willow.
Notable misses: Gundappa Viswanath, Vijay Hazare, Ajinkya Rahane, MAK Pataudi, and Rahul Dravid
Tours: 1985-86, 1991-92
M 6 | R 391 | HS 206 | Ave 55.85 | 100s 1 | SR 36.2 | W 19 | BBI 4-45 | Ave 26.31 | Econ R 1.97 | SR 79.8
Out of the seven times he batted in Australia, Shastri got three scores over 40, including a double hundred in Sydney. Capable of dropping the shutters with his gutsy approach, Shastri was more than useful with the wood Down Under.
Despite getting denied an elusive five-for, Shastri managed four four-wicket hauls in Australia. With his miserly left-arm orthodox, he picked eight wickets at MCG in 1985-86 and followed it with six wickets in Sydney.
Ravi Shastri didn’t bowl enough in the 1991-92 tour but produced one of the finest all-round show in Sydney that went on to be his last Test in the country. He followed his 206 with a four for 45, as Australia sneaked out with a draw.
M 4 | R 314 | HS 123 | Ave 52.33 | 100s 1 | 50s 2 | SR 41.0 | W 8 | BBI 3-14 | Ave 31.75 | Econ R 3.22 | SR 59.0
Phadkar showed a lot of heart against Bradman’s men who in the months to follow would be labelled as ‘Invincibles’. Phadkar opened the bowling with relative success against a power-packed batting. His best performance came in Sydney where he got a three-for in the drawn Test. He got the prized scalp of Bradman in the New Year’s Test at MCG. He will play the role of the third seamer in this side.
Dattu Phadkar got at least a fifty in each of the four Tests. Twice he remained stranded after running out of partners. He stroked a steely hundred in Adelaide, stitching a 188-run stand for the sixth wicket with Hazare.
Tours: 1980-81, 1985-86, 1991-92
M 11 | R 355 | HS 56 | Ave 19.72 | 50s 2 | SR 71.1 | W 51 | BBI 8-106 | Ave 24.58 | Econ R 2.39 | SR 61.5 | 5wI 5
Kapil Dev is the strike bowler for this side. He started his Australian sojourn with a five-wicket haul in Sydney in 1980-81 but couldn’t prevent an innings defeat. One down and going into the final Test of the series at MCG, Kapil was battling injury. The Australian chase of 143 seemed like a cakewalk. Fighting the pain, Kapil produced an inspiring spell to shoot out Australia for 83. Kapil finished with five for 28, as India drew the series.
During 1985-86 series Kapil took an eight-for in Adelaide. He remained India’s best bowler in 1991-92 tour, claiming 25 wickets from five Tests bagging a four-for in Brisbane and five-fors at MCG and Adelaide. As a batsman, Kapil was far from his usual best. He managed only two fifties from the 18 innings he batted.
Notable miss: Mohinder Amarnath
Tours: 1977-78, 1980-81, 1985-86
M 11 | R 471 | HS 55 | Ave 29.43 | SR 48.7 | 50s 2 | Dismissals 27
The Indian wicketkeepers have struggled to make an impact with the bat in Australia. Kirmani did not set the stage alight with his batting, but he did contribute with some invaluable knocks. He has two fifties and three scores in 40s in Australia.
Krimani has got a start most of the times and chipped in with significant contributions. In fact, he crossed 25 in 11 of his 17 innings in Australia. He also effected 27 dismissals behind the stumps — 18 catches and nine stumpings.
Notable miss: Farokh Engineer
Tours: 1977-78, 1980-81
M 6 | W 21 | BBI 5-107 | Ave 30.52 | Econ R 3.16 | SR 57.8 | 5wI 1 | R 151 | HS 64 | Ave 16.77 | SR 33.8 | 50s 1
A left-arm medium pacer, Ghavri was one of the rare consistent pacers from India who performed consistently in Australia. He picked seven wickets in the Adelaide Test of 1977-78, dismissing the then Australian skipper Bob Simpson in both the innings. He started with a five-for in Sydney in the first Test of 1980-81 tour.
Gharvi supported Kapil well in India’s MCG win. He picked two wickets at a miserly economy rate and his show in the Test will be best remembered for his wicket of Greg Chappell, who got dismissed for a golden duck.
Karshan Ghavri, who played as an all-rounder, scored a fine fifty in India’s win in Sydney in 1977-78 tour.
Bishan Singh Bedi
Tours: 1967-68, 1977-78
M 7 | W 35 | BBI 5-55 | Ave 27.51 | Econ R 2.41 | SR 68.3 | 5wI 3
Bedi was a part of Pataudi’s touring side in 1967-68 and remained largely ineffective in the two Tests that he played. Ten years later, when international cricket found itself clutched under the claws of Kerry Packer, Bedi led the Indian side against Simpson’s Australia. The series was tightly contested.
India pulled off their maiden win in Australia but eventually lost the series 2-3. Bedi was the best bowler in the series, picking 31 wickets at 23.87. He also grabbed a five-for in Brisbane, a ten-wicket haul in Perth. He also got four-fors in Melbourne and Adelaide.
Bedi will be the principal spinner in this side, partnering fellow left-arm orthodox Shastri. The other spinner options are the part-timers, Tendulkar and Sehwag.
Notable misses: EAS Prasanna, Bhagwath Chandrasekhar, Shivlal Yadav, Zaheer Khan, and Ajit Agarkar
India’s Greatest Test XI in Australia: Sunil Gavaskar (c), Virender Sehwag, VVS Laxman, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Ravi Shastri, Dattu Phadkar, Kapil Dev, Syed Kirmani (wk), Karshan Gharvi, Bishan Singh Bedi (vc).