An animated Michael Slater has a go at Rahul Dravid and the umpire after the latter was ruled 'not out' © Getty Images
An animated Michael Slater has a go at Rahul Dravid and the umpire after the latter was ruled ‘not out’ © Getty Images

The words ‘cricket’ and ‘mother of all contests’ transport us to the Ashes or India-Pakistan clashes. It is perhaps time to don the rethinking cap. Since the inception of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy (in 1996) India and Australia have been involved in some of the game’s most riveting contests — contests where cricket was intense, future greats took nascent steps, tempers flared and embroiled into controversies.

The Bengaluru Test that concluded on Tuesday will go down as one of the fiercest contests between India and Australia. The tussle between Test cricket’s top two ranked sides has intensified with India drawing level 1-1. India do not have the habit of drawing level in home series but Australia have pushed them well. While both the sides fought hard with India eventually clinching the low scoring Test, the unfortunate bit was the buzz about ‘DRSGate’ that overshadowed the cricket played.

India-Australia contests have seen them aplenty: the infamous Test series of 1969-70 where Bill Lawry’s men had to encounter riots, the Sunil Gavaskar-Dennis Lillee spat in 1980-81, the last decision of the tied Test of 1986 and more. Let us restrict ourselves to the ones in the past 25 years and since the inception of Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Here are 15 controversies that rules the roost.

Sachin Tendulkar adjudged shoulder before wicket, 1999-00: India had won the first two editions of Border-Gavaskar Trophy, in 1996-97 and 1997-98. Both series were played in India. Playing against Steve Waugh’s side at their den was a different challenge.

India were chasing 396 in the first Test at the Adelaide Oval. Skipper Sachin Tendulkar walked out to bat at 24 for 3. He ducked against a short delivery from Glenn McGrath. The ball kept low and struck Sachin on his shoulder. The Australians appealed, and Daryl Harper raised his finger. There was a furore in the Indian contingent and fans.

Harper still defends his decision. In an interview ten years after the incident, Harper told ESPNCricinfo: “I’ve got the video clip on my laptop still, and you can see it is still out! What I didn’t like was, when I left the ground, a lot of friends were expressing their disappointment. ‘Hey Daryl, we came to see Sachin bat, not to see you umpire.’ So I said, ‘Sorry, I was just doing my job.’ Sunil Gavaskar was the commentator and he agreed, saying it would’ve been out lbw if the stumps were six inches taller.”

India went on to lose the series 0-3.

Sourav Ganguly vs Steve Waugh: The historic 2000-01 series is also remembered for the Ganguly-Waugh conflict. The then Indian skipper repeatedly kept Waugh waiting for the toss during all the games. Australians were livid at this. In his autobiography Out of My Comfort Zone, Waugh alleged that Ganguly was late for toss seven times on the tour.

Steve Waugh (left) and Sourav Ganguly were not in best of terms during Australia's tour of India in 2001 © Getty Images
Steve Waugh (left) and Sourav Ganguly were not in best of terms during Australia’s tour of India in 2001 © Getty Images

Ganguly later hinted that he wanted to get under Australia’s skin. He was not happy with the opponent’s behaviour and had readied himself for ‘tit-for-tat’ reaction. India came from behind to win the series 2-1.

However, Ganguly admitted on Bengali reality show Dadagiri that he was delayed because he could not find his team blazer.

In the Hindustan Times Summit five years later, Ganguly revealed: “Then, in the 2003 series (on India’s tour to Australia), Steve said that let’s be on time for the toss now. I said: ‘If you behave, I will’.”

Michael Slater claims Rahul Dravid’s catch: During the first Test of the memorable 200-01 series, at Mumbai, Michael Slater had a “moment of madness” — or at least that was how Peter Roebuck described his antics.

Dravid had mistimed a pull to Slater, who thought he had pouched it clean. Dravid stood his ground. Replays showed the ball to have clearly bounced before Slater grasped it. Dravid was adjudged ‘not out’ and the green light blazed. Slater had a go at the Indian vice-captain for no apparent reason.

Slater was let him off after a warning. “Sledging Rahul Dravid was one the mistakes of my life,” he would later admit. “When the rage wore out on me, I realised that I was an animal and he was a gentleman. He won my heart instantly.”

Sourav Ganguly answers chin music: You may see them playing in the Cricket All-Stars or posing together in panel discussions, but Ganguly and Shane Warne enjoyed a strictly hate-hate relationship during their playing days.

The war of words had begun prior to the 2003-04 tour. Warne was serving a year’s ban but that did not prevent him from showering his verbal volleys to his much-famed foe Ganguly, who was then the Indian skipper.

Warne had targeted Ganguly ahead of the first Test at a bouncy pitch at The Gabba: “Short-pitched bowling is his major weakness… I’m not surprised he is already struggling on the tour. He will have to overcome a lot of chin music to have a successful series.”

Ganguly was being considered the weakest link in the Indian line up but he went on to set the tone for the series with a majestic 144 at Brisbane. The innings put India in a strong position. He shut up the critics and later made a strong statement when he promoted himself to No. 4 to safeguard the out-of-form Tendulkar from a fiery Brett Lee spell. Ganguly scored a fluent 73.

India drew the series 1-1, retained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. With some luck on their side, they could have won it.

‘Poor’ Bucknor: There remains a feeling in the Indian camp that the series could have been 2-1 in favour of India. It would have been a big moment, as India had never won a Test series in Australia. The record still stays.

Waugh, playing in his last Test, saved the day for Australia with a typically gritty 80. Some poor umpiring decisions from Steve Bucknor hampered India’s chances. Justin Langer survived two confident shouts, while Damien Martyn too had a lucky outing.

Ganguly was livid. In the column of the report where an umpire is judged on his conduct and decision-making, Ganguly rated Bucknor ‘very poor’ on a scale of ratings that listed very good, good, average, poor, and very poor.

Ganguly, Harbhajan and Nagpur: India were down 0-1 when they reached Nagpur the third of the four-Test series of 2004-05. Ganguly was upset with the green wicket, which meant there was no home advantage for India.

Ganguly’s weakness against bounce was well known. He pulled out of the Test at the last moment, neither did Harbhajan Singh. Did Ganguly not play the Nagpur Test due to a green track? That is what the consensus was. Neither Ganguly nor Harbhajan was new to controversies, but the media had their reservations in admitting the skipper’s ill-timed groin injury and the off-spinner’s catching of flu.

Harbhajan (left) and Ganguly pulled out of the Nagpur Test at the end moment © AFP
Harbhajan (left) and Ganguly pulled out of the Nagpur Test at the end moment © AFP

Australia’s stand-in skipper Adam Gilchrist later wrote in his autobiography True Colours:  “When I got to the middle, Ganguly was not there. Dravid was in his blazer, ready for the toss. ‘Where’s Sourav?’ I said. Rahul couldn’t answer definitively; between the lines I perceived that Sourav might have pulled out from fear of losing a home series.”

About Harbhajan, he wrote: “Harbhajan was out of Nagpur Test with a ‘flu’, which he seemed to have contracted when he saw the grassy wicket. I still don’t know to this day what was wrong with Ganguly and Harbhajan.”

In his autobiography Standing My Ground, Matthew Hayden mocked Ganguly’s late withdrawal from the Test due to “greentrackitis, where you develop a severe intolerance to green wickets likely to give plenty of headaches as a batsman”.

Ganguly and Harbhajan went on to dismiss the allegations. Ganguly missed the fourth Test at Mumbai as well, due to injury. India won the dead-rubber Test 1-2, but not before Australia had beaten India in India after 35 years.

Mumbai pitch, 2004-05: Australia had dreamt of winning the series 3-0 but the hopes were squashed thanks to the pitch on offer at the Wankhede. Forty wickets fell in just over two days of play. Even the part-time spin of Michael Clarke fetched Australia 6 wickets in the second innings.

Chasing 107, Australia were cleaned up for 93. Ricky Ponting, who was making a comeback in that game, was left fuming after the end of the Test.      

“I think it [the wicket] was nowhere near Test-match standard. It was pretty obvious when 40 wickets fell in just two days, which is pretty much unheard of. It is disappointing that it has ended this way. It puts a sour taste in the mouth and it is hard on the spectators and on you guys to report on a game like that,” Ponting said after the Test.

Monkeygate: It all started during the World T20 semi-final and continued during the ODIs in India. Andrew Symonds, S Sreesanth and Harbhajan were the central characters during the limited-overs series. Symonds was a victim of repeated monkey chants from the Indian crowd. In Mumbai, four fans were arrested for taunting Symonds and making monkey gestures.

It was claimed that Harbhajan had called Symonds ‘monkey’ but the issue was resolved after the latter explained the off-spinner why that term was objectionable to him.

During the infamous Sydney Test in January 2008, Symonds and Harbhajan were in the midst of a heated exchange and Australians thought that the latter had used the dreaded ‘m’ word again. Symonds was heard in the stump mic saying, “You called me monkey again. You don’t know what you’ve said.”

Hayden joined in, “Twice, you’ve got a witness now, champ.” Harbhajan protested that Symonds started the war of words but Hayden replied, “Doesn’t matter, mate. You know this is a s**t word … racial vilification.”

The Harbhajan-Symonds row threatened to spoil diplomatic ties between the two nations © Getty Images
The Harbhajan-Symonds row threatened to spoil diplomatic ties between the two nations © Getty Images

Ponting reported the incident to the umpires, Mark Benson and Bucknor, who reported it to match referee Mike Procter. Indian captain Anil Kumble had requested Ponting to not press racial charge on Harbhajan, offering to apologise but the Australian skipper wouldn’t hear it.

Procter listened to the testimony of Hayden, Symonds, Ponting, Gilchrist, Tendulkar and Harbhajan, and stated that the latter was guilty and would be banned for three Tests.

Indians appealed against the ban and threatened to boycott the tour. ICC appointed New Zealand High Court judge John Hansen to oversee the appeal.

Symonds admitted that he provoked the incident and was unable to say conclusively that Harbhajan used the word ‘monkey’ or a Hindi slang. Hansen also trusted the words of Tendulkar, Harbhajan’s batting partner. The three-Test ban was overturned and Harbhajan was fined 50% of his match fees for using abusive language.

Symonds had gone into depression but later the duo became friends after Symonds was acquired by Mumbai Indians (MI) in the IPL auctions.

However, the Sydney Test had more to it…

India c Benson b Bucknor: Symonds scored 162 in the Test and was thrice wrongly adjudged ‘not out’ by umpire Bucknor. The match saw numerous horrendous umpiring decisions with India at the receiving end.

During India’s chase Dravid was given out caught behind while his bat was behind his pads. Later, Ganguly batting on 51 was caught by Clarke at slip. The ball seemed to have brushed the turf before carrying to the fielder. Instead of opting for replays, Benson chose to trust Ponting’s words. Indian journalist called for a ban on Ponting for what pundits claimed for appealing a grassed catch of MS Dhoni, and the Ganguly dismissal.

After India’s controversial defeat, captain Kumble was forced to say, “Only one team is playing in the spirit of the game.”

India found more support from cricket voices around the world. Bucknor was removed from remainder of the series. The Sydney Test threatened relations between the two nations.

A spirited India fought back hard at Perth and won the Test. India went on to lose the series 1-2, a series they could have won by the same margin had it not been for pathetic umpiring.

Simon Katich earns Gautam Gambhir’s ire: Gambhir is a feisty character. He was in a sublime form in the 2008-09Border-Gavaskar Trophy. At his home ground Kotla, he struck a brilliant double-ton in the third Test of the series (the last of Kumble’s illustrious career) but he had showdowns with his Aussie counterparts.

VVS Laxman played a straight drive and the ball ricocheted off Katich’s palms. Non-striker Gambhir and Katich the fielder came in each other’s way. A war of words followed before umpire Billy Bowden stepped in.

IPL has certainly helped Indo-Australian ties. The two have buried the hatchet, and currently enjoy a healthy captain-coach relationship in the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) camp.

Gambhir elbows Shane Watson: This happened earlier in the same innings. Angered by Watson’s relentless sledging in the same Test, Gambhir elbowed the bowler during his second run en route his double-hundred. Earlier, Watson instigated it by shoving a clenched fist towards Gambhir during the first run, and in return got elbowed by Gambhir.

“The decision to find Gambhir guilty of a level two offence is indicative of the fact that any degree of physical contact is unacceptable,” said match referee Chris Broad.

Gambhir was banned for a Test, while Watson escaped with a 10% fine on his match fees.

Virat Kohli’s finger: Kohli took forward the legacy of Ganguly and Gambhir in terms of giving it back to the Australians in 2011-12 — his first appearance in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy as well as his first tour Down Under.

Reacting to the abuses from a section of Australian fans, Kohli was caught on camera flaunting his middle finger. He was fined 50% of his match fees for the offence and later apologised for the indecent conduct.

Virat Kohli was criticised for his act © Getty Images
Virat Kohli was criticised for his act © Getty Images

Expressing his anguish on Twitter, Kohli posted: “I agree cricketers don’t have to retaliate. What when the crowd says the worst things about your mother and sister. the worst ive heard”.

Kohli went on to slam his first Test hundred in the fourth Test at Adelaide but could not prevent India’s 0-4 drubbing.

Homeworkgate: India won the first two Tests of the 2012-13 series. In the second Test, Australia became the first team to lose the Test by an innings after declaring the innings. Ahead of the third Test, vice-captain Watson, Mitchell Johnson, James Pattinson and Usman Khawaja were excluded from the third Test as a part of disciplinary action.

Earlier, all players were asked by coach Mickey Arthur to submit their replies on how to improve the performance in a stipulated period. The mentioned players did not submit their reply. Captain Clarke supported the coach’s decision.

Watson was furious over this treatment and was quite vocal about it and even mulled retirement. A couple of months later Arthur lost his job and Darren Lehmann was appointed coach.

Post retirement, Clarke revealed in his book that Watson was a part of the group then that was “like a tumour and if we don’t fix it, it’s going to turn into a cancer”. Watson hit back at Clarke stating that the comment revealed more about Clarke than him.

Kohli does not respect Johnson: The 2014-15 tour was an emotional one. Before the tour commenced, Philip Hughes lost his life after being struck on the head by a bouncer in a domestic game at SCG. The Tests were rescheduled and when Johnson floored Kohli with a bouncer first up at Adelaide, the look on Johnson’s face suggested that he did not want to be a bowler. He cut a sorry shadow of the man who had tormented England a year prior.

Kohli was vocal against Johnson during the series. The rivalry continued every after the series. Johnson had the last laugh as he went on to dismiss Kohli in World Cup semi-final 2015 © Getty Images
Kohli was vocal against Johnson during the series. The rivalry continued every after the series. Johnson had the last laugh as he went on to dismiss Kohli in World Cup semi-final 2015 © Getty Images

However, as the series progressed, the heated arguments between the two sides surfaced. Kohli was at the centre of things. There were a few minor incidents where Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma got engaged in arguments with David Warner and Steven Smith, but the ugliest of these was put on hold till the Boxing Day Test.

Kohli and Johnson were involved in heated exchange throughout with the former slamming another splendid ton at Melbourne. On one instance, Johnson, aiming at the stumps on his follow-through, hit Kohli, who was looking to avoid a run out. An argument ensued before umpires stepped in.

Kohli criticised Johnson in the press conference citing he had little “respect” for the express pacer.

“I was really annoyed with him hitting me with the ball, and I told him that’s not on. ‘Try and hit the stumps next time, not my body.’ You have got to send the right message across. I am not there to take to some unnecessary words or chats from someone. I am going there to play cricket, back myself. There’s no good reason that I should respect unnecessarily some people when they are not respecting me,” slammed Kohli before adding that he did not mind being called a ‘spoilt brat’ by Australians.

Fiery Kohli, ignorant Smith and DRSgate: The No. 1 ranked Indian side were expected to whitewash Australia in the 2016-17 series. However, Smith’s surprised all by winning the first Test, and even went on to dominate the first three days of the second Test.

Captains Smith and Kohli were expected to grab headlines throughout the series for their run-making abilities. They did after the Test ended but for different reasons. Smith was trapped leg-before during Australia’s chase. He looked at the dressing-room to seek help if he should review it or not. At this stage Kohli stepped in and fumingly reminded Smith that he cannot do that before umpire Nigel Llong stepped in and reminded the same to Smith.

Kohli accused Smith of deliberately seeking help from dressing room. Kohli had stated that he had twice seen Australians seeking help from the dressing-room for DRS referrals and almost called Australians ‘cheat’.

Smith called it a ‘brain fade’ moment.

ICC decided to let off both the captains but we can expect the buzz to continue for a while.