x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

India-Australia rivalry is up to sternest of tests

It may lack the history of the Ashes or the southern-hemisphere needle of a South Africa versus Australia contest, but between them India and Australia have contributed much to cricket's highlights reels in the new millennium.

There were serpentine queues around the ground even an hour before the start of play. A few fans had painted their faces, others carried flags and placards and some just milled around in anticipation of the next instalment in what has become Test cricket's most compelling rivalry. It may lack the history of the Ashes or the southern-hemisphere needle of a South Africa versus Australia contest, but between them India and Australia have contributed much to cricket's highlights reels in the new millennium.

The Bangalore Test is their 21st in a decade, and the record books show eight Indian wins, against six losses. Over the same period, Australia lead England 15-6 (25 Tests) and South Africa 13-4 (18 Tests). Last week's nerve-wracking contest at Mohali, which India won by a wicket, continued the tradition of epic Tests between the two and was also an enormous boost for a game still reeling from the spot-fixing allegations that ruined the latter part of the English summer.

Ricky Ponting, the Australia captain, had spoken of the importance of the series on the eve of the first Test. "You've got to expect that it's going to be a fierce contest because you've got two very good teams playing international sport," he said. "But both teams will understand that they can't overstep the line. There's enough negativity around the world at the moment about international cricket that we have to do the best we can in this series to ensure that people want to watch the game again. There's no doubt that things have been tarnished a bit the last few weeks."

In Bangalore yesterday, the stadium was nearly full, and it was not just the locals who turned up to watch a form of the game that is struggling to stay relevant in these Twenty20 times. Sophia Murday, who works for an asset management firm in London, landed in Bangalore only in the early hours of yesterday morning, but by lunch, she had made her way to the Chinnaswamy Stadium and a seat in the noisy West stand.

"I've seen lots of cricket in England - Tests, ODIs and domestic," said Murday, who is a Surrey fan. "But this is my first time in India. "This is one of the last chances to see the Indian middle order greats on their home turf, and a chance to see the Aussies in a decent contest pre-Ashes," she said when asked what prompted her to seek out a Test so far from home. "I'm a cynic and have assumed that some of the cricket I've seen has been bent, so the spot-fixing hasn't put me off."

Hari K Rajeev, who works with IBM, said that the recent scandals did not make him think twice about coming for the game. "All the Tests I've watched here have been draws," he said. "But I loved the experience when compared to ODIs or T20s." On a day when Australia piled on the runs and Marcus North resurrected his career, the crowd had to wait until the final session to really turn up the volume, erupting when Sachin Tendulkar went past 14,000 Test runs.

The shrieks of delight were heard in far-off London, where the Test Match Sofa team - an irreverent and entertaining answer to Test Match Special - had woken before 5am to provide live online commentary. "This is a huge Test series," said Daniel Norcross, one of the team. "India are No 1 in the world. Australia are about to play us. It's arguably the second-most relevant series around. "You have Dravid, Laxman, Tendulkar, Sehwag ... some of the giants of the game.

"We love Test cricket, and we're not sure how much more we'll get." 

sports@thenational.ae