It was one of those spring times when neither sun was too hot nor frost was too cold. A fine climate reined the Indian subcontinent.
Australia were touring India, riding high on their streak of 16 consecutive test match victories. They had defeated the home team in the first match and by God they had thrashed the men in blue in style.
The teams were in Kolkata to play the second test of the Border-Gavaskar series at Eden Gardens.
Meanwhile, in a small town of India somewhere, a little boy in third grade was pretending bad health to bunk one of his final exam papers. Who does that? And why would he anyway?
DAY 1, March 11, 2001
Australia won the toss and Steve Waugh decided that his men were going to bat first. The pitch was “Eden” for the batsmen. Mathew Hayden was in sublime form. There was no better way to demoralize India than by putting on a huge score. It was no brainer.
Aussies started the way they wanted. After losing Michael Slater for 42, Langer and Hayden cruised into their fifties. After being dropped by Dravid off Zaheer Khan on 67, Hayden looked unstoppable.
Right after tea break, making his comeback, young Harbhajan Singh who had a good first test was on the other side. Hayden lofted one off to mid on and low! He was caught. Australia’s score was 193 then. He had missed his century by 3 runs.
‘Turbanator’ as Harbhajan would be known later, didn’t stop there. He had a tryst with destiny that evening.
After a while, he did the unthinkable. Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist and Shane Warne were dismissed in three consecutive deliveries. The young Sikh lad had made history. He became the first Indian to take a test match hat-trick.
Australians were suddenly 269-8 from 193-1 within few hours. Steve Waugh, the rock solid skipper kept his temperament uptight and stood there alone while legends of Aussie middle order fell around him like dominos.
Number 10 Jason Gillespie had not much to his credit thus far. He was a good fast bowler but with bat, he was just ‘tail-ender’.
Gillespie and Waugh made sure that there were no more casualties on day 1.
DAY 2, March 12, a day of disappointments and dropped heads!
Waugh was a decorated player. He had nearly done it all but there were a few records that he had to accomplish. He ha a few demons in Indian subcontinent. That day, he conquered all his demons. On the way, many records tumbled.
He scored his 25th test hundred, leading his side to a mighty 445 from 269/8. After he made his first ever test hundred on the Indian land, the ever sober Waugh punched the air, as two drops rolled down his cheeks. He took out his kerchief and dried his eyes on it.
Waugh also passed Pakistan legend Javed Miandad to become the 4th highest scorer of the time in test match history.
Harbhajan ended up with 7 wickets in his pocket, announcing his arrival on the face of international cricket.
Indian batting then disappointed just like the first test. Sanjay Manjrekar, who was on microphone, pointed that it was a matter of concern that India were collapsing at home like this.
No one except VVS Laxman could really stand in front of the Aussie bowling. When the sun went west, India were tottering at 128/8.
Things had not changed much between Mumbai and Kolkata. The sight was disappointing. The faces were hung down all over the nation. It was shameful, embarrassing and utterly humiliating.
The end was near as they knew it.
DAY 3, the day of magic!
Laxman along with a wagging Indian tail, somehow took the score to 171. He had scored a gritty 59.
The home team were still 74 runs short from avoiding the follow on.
With a lead of 274 runs and with the bowling attack he boasted of, Steve Waugh had no hesitation asking India to bat again. The only thing more humiliating than being beaten at home is to be handed innings defeat.
This is where the young lad of third grade who had bunked his computer science paper of final exams came back in picture. He was little feverish, but not bad enough to bunk the final paper.
He had given a big sacrifice in favour of his heroes. He hoped for Sachin Tendulkar to usher some godly magic, Sourav Ganguly to show his prowess with bat and Rahul Dravid to just stand there like wall.
He had applied all his cricketing aptitude at the age of 8 and concluded in his own funny childlike way that, India would not just go down that easily.
Everyone else, his father, his uncle, friends were busy doing other things that day. For them, it was lost cause. They had better things to do than to sit and watch their team being humiliated by Kangaroos.
He sat there; in front of his old Videocon colour 29” TV, sipping his milk after being scolded by mother for bunking an exam.
He wanted some magic to happen and he wanted it to happen in front of his eyes.
India started their second innings with some clench. Sadagoppan Ramesh looked good, so did local lad Shiv Sundar Das.
They had added 52 when Ramesh was caught in the slips by Mark Waugh. Das was joined by Vangipurapu Venkata Sai Laxman, a young South Indian who had seen a few ups and many downs in his 4 year career. He had played a gritty 59 in first innings when entire star cast failed.
“Why hasn’t Rahul Dravid been sent? He is the number three,” the little lad onthe other side of the television screen said to himself, certainly not satisfied with Ganguly’s decision. After all, Dravid was his favourite, though out of form.
Other kids came back from school after taking their tests and asked why he was sitting at home on exam day. He just pretended to be sick, not wanting to be disturbed at such crucial stage.
SS Das got out on 39 which brought master blaster to the crease. Sachin failed again after looking good.
“Damn”, the young lad shouted.
Dravid was here. The day was about to be over. Laxman got his 2nd test century as day ended with India hanging onto 252-4.
*Laxman is one of the six batsmen in cricket history to make a century in one session.
DAY 4, A ‘very very special’ partnership.
Next day, the boy was not alone in his living room. It was exam break for kids around and cricket always felt good when watched in group.
14th March 2001, that day was Wednesday, a working day. Who wanted to work though when they heard what was happening in Kolkata?
One temporary middle order batsman was creating magic along with the wall himself! “Very Very Special” Laxman made the entire world watch as he surpassed Sunil Gavaskar’s 236.
The crowd at Kolkata and all over the world cherished and relished every shot Laxman played. He was a class apart. His art was breathtaking.
Rahul Dravid kept his stand upright and went on to make his 9th test century. It was his first of the many tons against the mighty Australians.
When day ended, both batters remained unbeaten and India standing tall on 589/4; they had batted through the entire day without losing single wicket. India had lead of 315 runs by then.
DAY 5, when the Invincibles were tamed!
Day 5 was a houseful not only at Eden Gardens but also at the young boy’s house.
There was this uncle who once was a Ranji player, and friends and father and, another score of people glued to the screen.
Finally, Laxman got out on a legendary 281, Dravid was run out for 180 as finally Ganguly decided to call it a day at 657/7.
Australia had 75 overs in hands and 384 runs to win. Harbhajan Singh was on fire in first innings and day 5 pitch meant, he was going to have some fun.
For the Aussies, the best bet was a draw. They couldn’t win from here.
Openers Hayden and Slater again began well as Australia reached 166/3 in 45 overs.
Steve Waugh was in good touch and it seemed like if Australia would pull a draw out of here. 30 overs, 7 wickets and two set batsmen, it was all going fine for them.
Out of nowhere came Harbhajan with an expected fury and took care of Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting in succession. Ponting was dismissed by Harbhajan for the 3rd time in the series.
As if that was not enough, Sachin Tendulkar chipped in with two wickets out of nowhere and they were biggies. Sachin had picked Adam Gilchrist who got his first and last “king pair” in a test and the only by an Aussie, a record which still stays alive. And then in the very next over he took care of the great Matthew Hayden. Shane Warne was the next victim of the little genius in the very next over.
Meanwhile, Harbhajan had broken the nose of Nayan Mongia, Indian wicketkeeper, which kept him out for a while. He didn’t stay back too long and returned with bandage. It was too big an occasion to miss.
After Sachin dismissed Warne, there were oohs and aahs all over the nation over every delivery bowled. The inevitable, the unthinkable was just around the corner.
It was a matter of time before Harbhajan took two more wickets to take his match tally to 13. Aussies were all out on 212.
India came back after following on and became only the third team in history to win from such predicament.
India had chased and snatched their destiny from mouth of the mighty Kangaroos, hence breaking their record of 16 consecutive test wins.
The Eden Gardens was a bundle of joy. There was a small eruption in front of television screens too.
The little boy had seen magic. There were tears and hugs and handshakes all around his house, his colony, his city and the entire country. This was how one of the greatest test matches that was played, one of the greatest triumphing stories was written and above all, the invincible Aussie side was overwhelmed by a set of passionate and hungry Indian lions.
- Sports & Recreation