Before Twenty20 transformed cricket, one of the game’s regular attractions every year was the tri-series in Australia. Some of you may remember the men in coloured clothing — at a time when cricketers still dressed in white for ODIs — and the fabulous commentary team of Channel 9.
In the 1994-95 season, four teams, instead of three, took part. The fourth team was Australia-A. England, Zimbabwe and the main Australian side were the others. The best-of-three finals were contested by the two Australian teams. The senior men won 2-0.
Among those who played for Australia-A were Ricky Ponting, Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Damien Martyn, Darren Lehmann, Merv Hughes, Paul Reiffel and Tom Moody. Such was the depth in Australian cricket then.
If that sounds scary, consider what happened over the last one week in India. A second-choice Indian team defeated the first-choice South Africa 2-1 in an ODI series.
That is a truly remarkable feat. India’s only defeat was by nine runs, while both the wins were by seven wickets with plenty of overs to spare.
The first time India fielded two separate teams was in 1998 — for the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur and the Sahara Cup series against Pakistan at Toronto. India was thrashed by its arch-rival 1-4, while the team in Malaysia was knocked out in the group stage itself. S
India’s bench has, of course, become astonishingly stronger since then. The world got a good idea about it on India’s tour of Australia in 2020-21. After getting shot out for 36 in the second innings en route an eight-wicket loss in the first Test at Adelaide, India staged a magnificent fightback to win the series 2-1.
The series was clinched with that unforgettable victory in the fourth Test at Brisbane, where India was forced, by injuries, to field bowlers who had taken merely 13 Test wickets among them.
In fact, T. Natarajan and Washington Sundar, were making their debut and both played key roles — the latter with the bat, too — as India ended Australia’s unbeaten run of 32 years at the Gabba in sensational fashion. To do that without Virat Kohli and Jasprit Bumrah was commendable.
The IPL is the main reason behind the depth in Indian cricket. The robust domestic system, built around the Ranji Trophy, is another.
South Africa’s Keshav Maharaj said India had so much depth that it could even field four or five teams.
That may be praise too profuse, but remember, players like Prithvi Shaw, Mayank Agarwal and Umran Malik weren’t part of either of the Indian sides.