India vs Australia: How Adam Gilchrist’s Aussies conquered the ‘Final Frontier’ in 2004-05 tour

Beating the Indian cricket team in their own backyard, especially in the Test format, has to rank among the toughest assignments across sport. While home advantage is very much a thing in cricket, where weather and soil quality can be as influential for a team as can a stadium full of cheering fans, the Indians are known for taking that advantage to another level.

India have not lost a series across format on home soil since 2019, their last defeat coming at the hands of Australia in March 2019. As for the Test format, India have lost a home Test series just thrice since the start of the new millennium, the last of which was against Andrew Strauss’s England in the 2012-13 season.

Even legendary teams such as Steve Waugh’s Australia found the going tough, as was the case in the iconic 2001 series in which they came within an inch of conquering the ‘Final Frontier’ — Australia’s first Test series win on Indian soil since 1969-70.

The fortress, however, was finally breached a little over three years later when the Aussie team, led by Adam Gilchrist, dished out the performance of a lifetime to stun the Indians in their own backyard.

It was a feat that not only cemented Australia’s status as one of the greatest teams of all time across sport, but would also inspire future generations of Australian cricketers, including the Pat Cummins-led side that has arrived in India for a Test series on the back of a dominant home summer.

Ahead of the four-Test series between India and Australia that starts this Thursday in Nagpur, we take a look at how the Gilchrist and Co pulled off the mighty feat nearly two decades ago:

1st Test, Bengaluru, 6-10 October 2004

Gilchrist took over as captain from Ponting after the latter suffered a thumb injury during the Champions Trophy semi-final against England in Edgbaston, Birmingham. Ponting’s injury also resulted in a slot opening up for the then-uncapped Michael Clarke. And boy would the future captain make it count on Test debut, smashing 151 at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium to help Australia post a massive 474 on the board.

The Aussies decided against enforcing follow-on after collecting a 228-run first innings lead. Indian off-spinner Harbhajan Singh followed up a first-innings five-for with a haul of 6/78 to restrict Australia to 228, but chasing 457 was always going to be a Herculean task for the Indians even if they were doing so in their own conditions, especially against an attack comprising Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. Consequently, they crumbled to a 217-run defeat.

2nd Test, Chennai, 14-18 October 2004

Not for the first time, India would produce an admirable fightback after getting outplayed in the first match of a home Test series against Australia. The visitors, electing to bat for a second game in a row, were going strong on 189/2 when an inspired spell from Anil Kumble (7/48) helped trigger a spectacular collapse, resulting in the Aussies losing their next eight wickets for just 46 runs. Virender Sehwag, opening with Yuvraj Singh in this game after Aakash Chopra in Bengaluru, smashed a spectacular 155 to help India post 376.

Despite the Australian batters’s fightback in their second essay, riding on Damien Martyn’s ton to post 369, the 141-run first innings lead ensured India were set a very chaseable 229. Had it not been for rain washing the entire final day out, the hosts would’ve fancied levelling the series in style.

3rd Test, Nagpur, 26-29 October, 2004

The third Test in Nagpur witnessed India captain Sourav Ganguly stage a last-minute pull-out, handing over the reins to his deputy Rahul Dravid with the series still on the line. While a groin injury was cited as the official reason for Dada’s absence, with Harbhajan also sitting out after complaining of food poisoning, some speculated that the green top prepared at the VCA Stadium against the wishes of the Indian team management was the real reason behind Ganguly’s pull-out.

For a third game in a row, Australia elected to bat first with Martyn scoring a second century in a row to help Australia post 398. The Aussie pacers then thrived on the green track with Jason Gillespie (5/56) and McGrath (3/27) getting the lion’s share of the wickets, bowling India out for 185. The second half of the game would be just as one-sided: Australia declaring on 329/5 before bowling India out for 200 to finally conquer the ‘Final Frontier’ with a clinical 342-run win.

4th Test, Mumbai (Wankhede), 3-5 November, 2004

The surface for the fourth Test at the Wankhede Stadium could not have been more different from what was on offer in Nagpur, with the curator preparing a track that even then-Mumbai Cricket Association president and former batter Dilip Vengsarkar described as unsuitable for Test cricket. As many as 40 wickets fell in a little over two days’ time, though for a change, the Indians would emerge triumphant at the end of the low-scoring thriller.

The Aussies collected a 99-run first innings lead after bowling India, who finally won the toss and elected to bat, for 104. The Indian batters were marginally better in their second outing with VVS Laxman (69) and Sachin Tendulkar (55) scoring fifties though Clarke’s 6/9 ensured they barely crossed 200, they would still have needed a miracle to prevent the Aussies from chasing down 107 to complete a 3-0 series victory.

Luckily for the hosts, the miracle came in the form of a fifer for Harbhajan (5/29) who, along with Murali Karthik (3/32), bowled the Aussies out for 93 to help the hosts register a thrilling 13-run win.

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