Mumbai:Champion batsman Sachin Tendulkar on Thursday rated the current rivalry between India and Australia as bigger than that of the traditional one between India and Pakistan because of the "competitiveness" exhibited by the two teams over the last eight years.
"I think it (India v Australia) has become bigger largely because of the competitiveness. All the series between us from 2001 onwards have been very keenly fought and have been very close ones," said Tendulkar at a function here to unveil him as the global brand ambassador of Royal Scottish Bank Group.
The ace batsman, who is at handshaking distance of overtaking West Indian great Brian Lara as Test cricket's highest run-getter, pointed out that India have been the only team in the world to have run world champions Australia close of late in the latter's backyard.
"We have gone to Australia and beaten them. We have been able to surprise the Australian team and that's what the Australian public likes: competition and high standards of play. They love to see challenges and competitiveness.
"The fan following for the India-Australia series has definitely increased as compared to say 15 years ago. The coming series would also be very closely fought. Talking on behalf of the Indian team I can say we will play hard but fair and I feel the Australians also will do so," said Tendulkar.
Asked whether the absence of Andrew Symonds from the Australian side would lessen the tension in the upcoming rubber starting on October 9, Tendulkar said such things had happened even before the unsavoury spat between the Aussie all-rounder and Indian off-spinner Harbhajan Singh during the ill-tempered Sydney Test in January.
"Such things happen but don't happen every week. They have happened in the past (before the Sydney Test)," Tendulkar said and indicated the incidents grabbed more attention nowadays because of media coverage and the presence of ICC match referees.
Symonds, an integral part of the recent Test and ODI sides, has been omitted from the Aussie touring party to India on disciplinary grounds after preferring to go fishing instead of attending a team meeting during the recent ODI series against Bangladesh Down Under.
Tendulkar did not lay too much emphasis on the fact that the Australian team, led by Ricky Ponting, was lacking in experience, saying the team looked to be a good blend of experienced players and new comers with lots of first class experience.
"They (Australian squad) have a lot of experienced players and some of them have been playing for a long time now. They are the number one team in the world and we are prepared to face all challenges.
"It's going to be an extremely well-fought series which would be played in the right spirit and the cricket would be played very hard," said the scorer of 81 Test and ODI hundreds.
Asked about his impending landmark (of highest Test runs), Tendulkar said he never played with an eye on creating records but if and when they come they were welcome additions to his well-adorned cricket cap.
"I don't think much about records. I want to enjoy my game. If players focus on their performance, records automatically fall into place. I focus on playing the game well. If it (new landmark) comes in doing so I will be happy," said the ace batsman who is only 76 runs short of overtaking Lara's world bench mark.
Tendulkar has 11877 Test runs to his credit as compared to the retired West Indian champion's 11953.
The champion batsman did not agree with the general view that he had the habit of singling out Australia for special punishment.
"I look at it differently. Whenever I play, whether for India or not, and against any opposition, I try and put my best foot forward. Whenever I lift my bat I do so. I respect cricket and enjoy playing it," he countered.
He also dismissed a scribe's inappropriate query about his retirement plans by shooting back, "I think you are at the wrong press conference."
About his signing as brand ambassador with RBS, who are associate sponsors of the home Test rubber against Australia and title sponsors of the following series of Tests and ODIs against England, Tendulkar said "it was a dream come true" to be associated with the foreign bank alongside sports legends like golfer Jack Nicklaus and race driver Jackie Stewart.