After the successful tour of 2003-04, India toured Australia again in 2007-08, this time led by Anil Kumble as Rahul Dravid stepped down as Indian captain after winning the Test series in England in 2007. Thus Kumble became the captain and led India to a win vs Pakistan 1-0 in 3 Test series at home before travelling for the Australian series. Little did he knew ,what events will unfold.
The 2007-08 series turned out to be a high voltage and a highly controversial one after certain unsavoury incidents and some poor umpiring in the 2nd test at Sydney. After a huge loss in the 1 st test at MCG , Indians fought gallantly in the 2nd test , with Tendulkar scoring a brilliant 154 ably supported by VVS Laxman scoring another hundred and superb 60s by Ganguly and tailender Harbhajan Singh to counter Australia’s big 1st innings score. However when Tendulkar and Harbhajan were involved in a big partnership, the later had some arguements with Andrew Symonds in particular, when certain expletives was uttered by Bhajji, which Symonds mistook for a racial slur against him and a major controversy broke out with umpires also getting into the act warning Harbhajan. Other Australian players also got involved as Tendulkar tried to diffuse the situation. However the whole incident snowballed into a major crisis, where both the cricket boards got involved. Meanwhile some horrendous umpiring decisions by both Steve Bucknor and Mark Benson hurt the Indians in particular in SCG test . Symonds who got a big 100 in 1st innings ,was given notout after he edged Ishant and was caught behind ,half way through his innings. When India batted in 2nd innings to save the match, Dravid and Ganguly were at the receiving end of poor umpiring decisions with India almost on verge of getting a draw. India duly lost the SCG test by 122 runs as off the field incidents had already taken an ugly turn , with Indian board threatening to call off the tour ,if Harbhajan Singh’s level 3 suspension for 3 matches, as was levelled by match referee Mike Proctor was not revoked. Anil Kumble went on record in the press conference stating, only 1 team was playing the game in the right spirit and he expected Australia to do the same. With pressure mounting to resolve the Bhajji-Symonds issue ,an enquiry commission was set up chaired by a New Zealand judge, (hearing attended by the Manager, Tendulkar and Harbhajan from India’s side) who finally after all the hearing , ruled in favour of Harbhajan citing no concrete proof available for any racial abuse and his 3 match ban was overturned and replaced by a fine. Finally a joint statement issued by both the boards diffused the situation and the tour went on as per scheduled but the Australian players were disappointed with the final ruling . The whole incident did sour the relationship between both the teams.
3rd Test at Perth (Jan 16 to 19) – India won by 72 runs.
Thus India went into the Perth Test, 0-2 down and in the backdrop of the “Monkeygate” scandal ,which even if diffused did cause a bit of bad blood between two teams. Perth is supposed to be Australia’s den with fast and bouncy pitch expected to roll over India . Thus the Aussies were poised to close out the series at WACA. However the courageous cricketer that he was, Anil Kumble, after going through so much mental stress in the off field controversy that preceded the 3rd test , won the toss and batted. With Perth assisting pace, Harbhajan had to sit out.
Australia went into this match with 4 fast bowlers ,so Shaun Tait joined the fiery Brett Lee, Mitch Johnson and the accurate Stuart Clart. India brought back Sehwag and Irfan Pathan, both making a comeback . Sehwag contributed in a 50 run opening stand, that set the stage for Dravid and Tendulkar to have a long partnership of 139 runs. Dravid who finally got his timing right in this series , played well for 93 and Sachin ,in great form this series, scored 71, with India managing 330 in 1st innings. Lee and Johnson getting pace and carry from the pitch claimed 3 and 4 wickets respectively.
In reply Australia faced a rejuvenated bowling attack with both Indian left armers Irfan and RP Singh able to generate some swing. Pathan despatching both openers Jaques and Rogers and RP’s unplayable outswinger accounted for the dangerous Mike Hussey- Aus 14/3 . Ponting edged Ishant to be brilliantly caught by Dravid at gully and Clarke followed soon after-Aus 63/5 which brought India’s bête noire Andrew Symonds and Gilchrist together.
Symonds in fine form this series irrespective of the controversies surrounding him, proceeded to play solid strokes in company of Gilchrist,who looked in good touch on his home ground. Both hit half centuries and took Australia to 163 before Symonds was caught by Dravid off Kumble’s leg spin to give Kumble his 600th test wicket. A stupendous achievement and first Indian to reach 600 wickets (incidentally Kapil Dev reached 400 tests wickets at WACA only in 1991-92 series).
After Gilchrist went for 55, the Aussies collapsed to 212 all out with RP Singh cleaning off the tail to take 4 wickets with impressive Irfan ,Ishant and Kumble claiming 2 wkts apiece to put India 118 ahead ,with lots of playing time left. So the Aussies under the pump in their own den, the WACA.
In the 2nd innings Sehwag (43)and Irfan Pathan (46) ,batting at 3 had a fruitful stand to further extend their lead but there was a batting collapse with Tendulkar,Dravid and Ganguly dismissed cheaply with India 125/5 and Aussies fighting back with Lee,Clarke and Johnson on fire.
However VVS Laxman again showed his class and his traditional liking for Australian attacks. Batting at 7 he scored a fluent 79 and prevented Australia from creating further inroads. Getting support from Dhoni (38) and tailender RP Singh (30), Laxman took India to 294 before he was last out and India setting a psychologically tough target of 413 to Australia in last innings with 2 days remaining.
Irfan Pathan using the afternoon breeze at WACA to good effect getting swing and removed both openers before the end of 3rd days play . Australia 65/2 with Ponting and Hussey in charge.
On day 4. India went all out to get Ponting ,who was supposed to be the backbone of Australia’s innings. The tall Ishant Sharma getting pace and movement bowled an extended spell and beat Ponting many times before finally got one to move away to take the edge to slip for Dravid to pouch he same and Ponting (45) finally departed. However Micheal Clarke (81) played fluently to keep Australia in the game as Hussey (46) ,Symonds (12) and Gilchrist (15) failed to make much headway with Indian bowlers working as a team as Irfan, RP, Kumble and even Sehwag with his off spinners Sehwag who had Gilchrist bowled round his legs and also had Lee caught by VVS at silly point as the dangerous Clarke stumped by Kumble’s leg spin. Australia 253/8 and the match looked over.
However the indomitable spirit of the Aussies surfaced again. Mitchel Johnson ,who is capable of getting few runs batted aggressively with Stuart Clarke also attacking the Indian bowling, runs came at a fast pace causing some tensions amongst the Indians with pitch still playing perfectly and Australia within striking distance of the target. However Irfan induced an edge from Clarke (32) to be caught behind and soon after Shaun Tait was bowled middle stump by RP Singh. India achieving a fantastic win, easily one of their best in overseas tests on the most unlikeliest of surfaces. Johnson batted gallantly for 50 notout with 5 4s and 2 6s but unable to get Australia home. India winning by 72 runs in a great team effort by both their batsmen and bowlers in particular. Irfan Pathan for his 5 wkts in the match and two crucial knocks of 28 and 46 , was the deserving Man of the Match in his comeback test. Great satistaction for Kumble personally after all the unsavoury incidents that he and his team had to deal with off-the field just preceding the Perth test match.
Brief Scores: India 330 and 294. Australia 212 and 340. India won by 72 runs
India after reducing the margin to 1-2, went on to play the final test at Adelaide. In a high scoring game ,India did have some anxious moments on the final day but Sehwag’s superb 151 secured India a draw. Though India finally lost the series, they signed off on a high note having won the Perth Test inspite of heavy odds on and off the field and then using that momentum to finally win the annual tri nation ODI series in Australia beating the hosts 2-0 in the best of 3 finals powered by two superb knocks by Sachin Tendulkar (117 and 91 ), who had his finest Australian tour in 2007-08.