‘Revenge match’ or not, Australia are now India’s biggest cricket rivals

Rohit Sharma and Pat Cummings set to face each other for a high voltage encounter. Source: ICC

If we talk of great rivalries in cricket at the moment, it doesn’t get better than India versus Australia. As usual, when they meet in a Super 8 encounter at the T20 World Cup in St Lucia, there’s a lot at stake for both these powerhouses of world cricket, each with designs on the coveted title. An Indian win could mean disaster for Australia, while an Australian success should be enough to make the last four with a superior Net Run Rate. 

Most suggest that this is India’s best chance to conquer what has been labelled their ‘nemesis’. If India can beat Australia, all Afghanistan would need to knock them out is a win against Bangladesh. That way, the defeat in the 2023 World Cup final could well be avenged. Rarely has an Australian side started a game as the underdog. Even more interestingly, neither the Australian team nor their media are contesting the tag after the defeat against Afghanistan. On the contrary, they are happy to let India start as favourites. Only time will tell if this reverse strategy of trying to put pressure back on the Indians is successful, and Australia bounce back yet again.

The Indian fans’ dislike of the Aussies, especially Travis Head, is palpable. “Hopefully, the Australians will now agree that Head can be dismissed,” said a fan while listening to a RevSportz discussion on whether Head is the biggest threat. “He is not even half as good as was made out to be.” His second statement was even more startling. “We need to beat the Aussies to avenge November 19, 2023, and inflicting trauma on our skipper Rohit Sharma.” The cricketing merits of these foaming rants will remain debatable, but the sentiment is unmistakable.

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Australia, it is evident, are gradually becoming the new Pakistan where Indian cricket fans are concerned. Unlike England, against whom we no longer carry any political baggage and where a loss is seen as part of the game, India versus Australia in cricket is now a proxy war, with those in baggy green/gold the new sworn enemies.

This works well for us in India. With bilateral series against Pakistan a thing of the past as a result of the political chaos across the border, Indian fans, with their great appetite for spectacles, needed a new great adversary. Australia fit the bill perfectly. It started in 2008 with incidents like Monkeygate, and Australian aggression on the field became grist for the hate mill. Race riots in the country helped churn the sentiment, and since then, every bilateral series has been more than high-powered. The Indian media has also done its bit to underline the political overtones to this contest—selling it as a nationalist spectacle rather than as a great cricket rivalry.

These deep passions will undoubtedly be aroused again on Monday night, billed by a section of the Indian media as ‘The Revenge match’. With an evolving political story adding an extra edge to this intense cricketing rivalry, the label might well turn out to be the perfect tagline, with an intense summer of cricket in Australia awaiting the two teams.
When George Orwell said: ‘Serious sport is war minus the shooting’, this is what he was alluding to. This is what really answers the question: ‘Why cricket, and not hockey, in India?’ If sport is, in fact, a metaphor (and in some cases, a metonym) for war, then cricket was simply a necessity in both India and Australia. And still is. Monday will see the addition of yet another chapter to this famed rivalry.

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