Austalia’s Pat Cummins and India’s Virat Kohli (right) at their net sessions in Nagpur. Pics/PTI, Getty Images
What's sport without a little - or a not-so-little - rivalry? Where's the fun in the absence of a little needle, an edginess that reveals a desperation to win, a desire not to be second best?
If you are looking for a cricketing rivalry that fits this bill, you can stop at India v Australia. Yes, the temptation will be to plump for Australia v England and the Ashes, or India v Pakistan, for obvious reasons. But the Ashes has been largely one-way traffic for a long time, the occasional fiercely fought series an aberration, and India haven't played Pakistan in Test cricket since December 2007 for reasons that don't need reiteration.
It's just as well that Australia and India have struck up a clash of the equals that has energised, often elevated, the five-day game. At a time when the longest format is under some threat, genuine or perceived, of losing its primacy, this battle has showcased the charm, magic, unpredictability and sustained exhilaration that no other version can parallel.
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Interestingly, the evening of the field between the two modern superpowers has coincided with the institution of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, in 1996. Until then, the Aussies were invincible in their backyard and India had the better of the exchanges on their own patch. In the last quarter of a century, though, both teams have started to travel with increasing confidence and composure. Surely, that has something to do with the fact that they visit each other so frequently for red-ball
India have toured, and beaten, Australia twice in the six years between the latter's last Test tour to the land of spin in 2017. Some of it has to do with the introduction of the World Test Championship cycle, though this is the longest gap between Australia tours to India since the ten-year hiatus between 1986 and 1996. Australia boast just one series success on Indian soil in the last 50-plus years, in 2004 when stand-in skipper Adam Gilchrist steered them to a winning 2-0 lead after three games. For Pat Cummins now to have the opportunity to pull off an encore is a wonderful development considering how few fast bowlers have gone on to lead their Test teams successfully for any length of time.
Australia's stalwarts, Cummins, Steve Smith and David Warner among them, have stressed the enormity of a Test series win in India - even more than triumphing in the Ashes. They will leave no stone unturned over the next five weeks - the first of four Tests starts here on Thursday - in that endeavour, but India won't be surrendering their proud home record in a hurry.