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It could have been 3-0 for India

In the end it was close but no cigar for India in regard to breaking their overseas hoodoo, writes Ian Chappell...

india Updated: Jan 07, 2004 01:46 IST

In the end it was close but no cigar for India in regard to breaking their overseas hoodoo. However, as a consolation prize they will depart on the homeward journey with the Border-Gavaskar trophy for the first time.

The big improvement in this Indian side from previous touring teams to these parts is the batting on bouncier pitches, their attitude and the ability to swing the ball in Australian conditions. If you add Anil Kumble's resurgence -- built on his intelligence and fierce competitive spirit and the emergence of a good young pace bowler in Irfan Pathan -- it has been a profitable tour as well as one full of promising results.

The fact that India was extremely competitive to the point where they were the better team in the series; if they hadn't gone to sleep for a session at the MCG and had got the nod on two of the close lbw decisions on the final day at the SCG it could easily have been three-nil.

India's superiority at the SCG is rammed home if you look at the overall scores. In the match India scored nine hundred and sixteen runs for only nine wickets while Australia was bowled out in the first innings and lost six in the second. The Test produced a draw, the result Steve Waugh has tried his hardest to avoid throughout his reign as captain, but it was what players would call a winning stalemate in India's favour.

The Test also witnessed the resurgence of Sachin Tendulkar. Even though the New Year turned a run drought into a flood it still wasn't Tendulkar at his best. At times during his double century it looked like Jonny Wilkinson playing the World Cup final in a pair of slippers; Tiger Woods in contention in a Major using his mother's clubs; Pete Sampras trying to win Wimbledon wielding a wooden racquet. It was only cussed determination that brought Tendulkar three hundred runs in the match without being dismissed.

Whether he was trying to prove to those Indians who adore him but question his right to be classed a match-winner, or just his highly competitive nature we'll never know but boy he fought the fight of his life on day one of this enthralling Test.

It was appropriate that Tendulkar should be the man to catch Waugh in his final innings off the bowling of Kumble. There have been no better competitors for India in Waugh's time and I am sure that respect is reciprocated. It was a disgrace that Kumble didn't win the man of the match award. On a pitch where batsmen dominated, he took twelve wickets and the next best was Brett Lee with five but he paid dearly for each victim. Kumble was relentless and tireless and even when he had a palpable lbw turned down he didn't sulk for even a ball; the next delivery was right on target.

He is an improved bowler from his experience on the last tour of Australia and when Harbhajan Singh recovers from injury and with Murali Kartik now a viable Test match proposition India is regaining strength in spin. This means India should now be able to field a well-balanced bowling attack as Ajit Agarkar has improved and Pathan is good back-up for the talented Zaheer Khan.

Australia on the other hand have problems with their attack and they will welcome back Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath as soon as they are available. Lee is struggling and MacGill wasn't that effective while Nathan Bracken is not a Test match bowler unless he learns to swing the ball.

One legacy of Waugh's captaincy is the insistence on bowling a line wide of off-stump. It hurt Australia badly on the first morning and they never recovered from a poor first session and Ricky Ponting will do well to discourage this tactic. He will also be well-advised to take over full control of the team as Mark Taylor did when he took over from Allan Border. The Australian catching has slumped to a low ebb and this problem has to be addressed.

It was an entertaining and hard-fought series with the batsmen ruling the roost. The fact that India is now competitive in Australia confirms my feelings that this could well be the next great rivalry in Test cricket.