It was the 2000-01 series between India and Australia. It was labeled as the final frontier by Aussie captain Steve Waugh and Australia were heading into the game with a record breaking 16 successive test victories.
Australia had comprehensively beaten India by 10 wickets in the first test to take a 1-0 lead in the three match series. The current team was known as Steve Waugh’s invincibles. They were the defending world ODI champions as well as being the number 1 team in both tests and ODI’s.
This particular Aussie side has been hailed as the best ever assembled and included the likes of Shane Warne, Glen McGrath, Adam Gilchrist, Ricky Ponting, Steve Waugh among others. All are possibly the best ever at their respective roles.
However, beating India in India is a different ball game altogether, and India too boasted the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and two relatively unknown players who would soon become superstars in VVS Laxman and Harbhajan Singh.
Australia batted first on a beautiful Eden Gardens track, which was expected to take turn as the game went on. In the first innings, Australia managed to score 440 with Steve Waugh hitting a backs to the wall century.
With a good score on the board, the Aussies wanted to put pressure on the Indian batsmen now, which hey duly succumbed too. Bundled out for just 179, a defeat looked imminent and Australia seemed destined to extend their winning run.
But then in the second innings, came an innings of a lifetime from VVS Laxman, and a partnership with Rahul Dravid which has gone down as one of the best ever seen. The duo joined forces with India reeling under pressure, some 200 runs adrift of avoiding an innings defeat and 2 full days to go and 6 wickets in hand.
The two ended up batting out till the morning of day 5 and adding over 370 runs in the process, taking India to a position of strength from the jaws of certain defeat.
VVS would end up with the highest score ever by an Indian in test matches with 279, the knock going down as one of the top 5 in Wisden almanack. Dravid added 180 runs for good measure as they toyed with the much vaunted Australian bowling all throughout day 4 and for a while on days 3 and 5.
It wasn’t just the runs or the rate at which they were scored. The way they were scored totally deflated a team, riding very high on morale. They absolutely nullified the bowlers and picked off boundaries almost at will, rotating the strike in between with delightful ease. Always easy on the eye, Laxman’s natural grace made even the Aussie captain applaud him. The two just batted, and batted, and batted with such aplomb as if they were not meant to do anything else that day.
When finally the Indian innings came to an end, India had set Australia a target of 207 to win on the 5th day. And ofcourse with the line up Australia possessed, it would have taken a brave man to bet against them.
But India had a trump card of their own in Harbhajan Singh, drafted into the side only because of injury to Anil Kumble. Harbhajan had repeatedly scythed through the Aussie line up, picking up 5 wickets in 2 of the last 3 innings. He again repeated the dose, picking up vital wickets at crucial intervals, being ably assisted by Javagal Srinath and Sachin Tendulkar. In the end, Australia fell agonizingly short of the target and were bundled out to hand India one of the most famous wins in test history and they would soon go on to win the series in dramatic fashion as well.
This match and series both have gone down as one of the greatest ever played, and signaled a turning point in Indian cricket history and also the world order.
It showed the world that India can indeed perform at the highest level even when the odds are heavily stacked against them, something teams of the past had lacked. It showed a new aggressive side under Sourav Ganguly, that they are willing to fight tooth and nail for theitrwins. It also proved that the Australians can indeed be beaten and they were not the Invincibles everyone made them out to be. A defeat after following on, and that too after having the opposition reeling was quite uncharacteristic of Steve Waugh’s side. But this was no ordinary Indian team, or ordinary performance from one of the most decorated Indian batsmen of all time.
All in all, it was quite possibly the single greatest moment in Indian Cricket history, even more than their World Cup victories.
Signing off, Prateek