In what was one of the watershed moments of the Indian cricket history, a new brigade under the talismanic leadership of Sourav Ganguly picked themselves up to regroup and finally prosper in what could be billed as the “mother of all comebacks”.

Coming into Eden for the second match of the 3 Test series to India, Australian skipper Steve Waugh and his invincibles were on a record 16-match winning streak – including their resounding victory over the hosts in Mumbai in the opener. So it was an opportunity for the visitors to seal the series in Kolkata and complete their conquest of the final frontier in the subcontinent. The match at the iconic Eden Gardens was slated to start on the morning of 11th March 2001 and go on for the next four days.

Winning the toss and electing to bat first, the world champions started well. The scorecard that read 88/0 at lunch improved to 193/1 at tea. Michael Slater was the man to fall after lunch on his individual score of 42 and team score of 103. On the other end, the man in form Matthew Hayden once again dominated the Indian bowlers to make a good 97, while Justin Langer – who would later in his career replace Slater to open the innings with Hayden and thus create their joint legacy – chipped in with 45 at the stroke of tea.

However, just four balls into the final session, India’s rookie off-spinner Harbhajan Singh struck and dismissed Hayden – the latter failed to add to his tally after the break. A few overs later, left-arm seamer Zaheer Khan too sent half-centurion Langer packing. And then came the collapse with the vintage Harbhajan running through the Aussie middle order – including the first Indian Test hat-trick comprising Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist and Shane Warne. From 193/1, the tourists slumped to 269/8 in the space of 25 overs. However, skipper Waugh found a foil in Jason Gillespie and the two helped Australia meander to 291 without further loss at the end of the day.

The day two started well for the guests who managed to see off the morning session without losing a wicket – scoring well enough at the same time. After lunch, Waugh completed his century although Gillespie fell four short of a fifty – after complementing his skipper over three hours in the middle. Number 11 Glenn McGrath too added 21 off 28 in his unbeaten cameo. Harbhajan finished with career-best figures of 7 for 123 – the last two wickets going into his pocket.

India’s reply to Australia’s 445 started on the wrong foot with opener Sadagoppan Ramesh falling for a duck in the second over. The other opener SS Das, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly all got starts but failed to capitalise on the early perks – each of them perishing in their 20s. Like Australia on the first day, India too lost seven wickets in the final session to have themselves almost certain of the prospect of following on at 128/8 at stumps.

The next started on a note of despair despite VVS Laxman and the last man Venkatesh Prasad adding 42 to lessen the arrear. Laxman in fact, looked the only Indian batsman to enjoy his time in the middle – scoring 59 off 83 before being controversially adjudged caught behind in the slips. In his two hours’ stay in the middle, he hit 12 times to the fence. India finally were folded up on 171 – McGrath spearheading the attack with 4 for 18 while Gillespie, Kasprowicz and Warne picking up two each.

With 274 needed to avoid an innings defeat, India started solidly with the openers holding their fort through to lunch. However in the afternoon session, India lost three wickets before Ganguly joined Laxman – the latter promoted up the order to No. 3 – in taking India to almost stumps before the skipper fell for 48. India still needed 42 to wipe out the deficit at the time of losing their fourth wicket. Dravid joined forces with the Hyderabad batsman and the duo added 22 more at the close of play.

With little depth in batting, few would have bet on the fourth day morning of the possibility of the match going into the fifth. With Dravid not in the thick of things of late, the hosts were not in much with a chance to bat in for more than a session or two. However, the duo in the middle – the same pair who put up a stand of 409 for the third wicket for the South Zone in a Duleep Trophy encounter just a couple of months back – had some other plans as they bat through the day fighting cramps, the might and slight (to talk of a Gillespie tricking to distract the batsman while running into bowl) of their opponents and almost all-conquering the inner demons to put up something that remained etched in the folklore of Eden Gardens.

If one were to neglect a few mixed-ups in running between the wickets or a couple of edges, the day could be well summed up by these figures – 122 added before lunch, 115 between lunch and tea and 98  post tea. A total of 335 runs were added without a fall of the wicket on the same pitch that saw 8 wickets fall on day one, 10 on day two and 6 on day three. The duo extended their partnership to 357 that was to finally end on 376 on the final day morning. Laxman – who scored his century on day three itself – surpassed Sunil Gavaskar to own the most scored in an innings by an Indian. VVS finally perished on 281 followed by Dravid on 180 – Zaheer Khan’s pyrotechnics took India to 657/7 in the first hour before Ganguly decided to go for an unlikely win.

A score of 384 from 75 overs is certainly a tall ask on any wicket as was with the Eden ground that day. Yet, Australia started on a positive note – with their top 3 amongst the runs. At tea, Australia were placed 161/3 with a stalemate looking the possible outcome. However as was the case on the first two days, the trend helped India as Harbhajan (took six wickets) and Tendulkar (three) triggered an Australian collapse – in a span of 31 balls, the tourists lost 5 wickets including their front man Hayden and saviour Waugh. While Warne recorded a king pair, Gilchrist went one step ahead for a golden one of the same. Gillespie once again tried to dig deep before Harbhajan ended his 38-ball vigil while McGrath might still be cursing home umpire Shyam Bansal for his divisive decision.

India won the game by 171 runs – the same number of runs they made in their nonchalant batting display in the first innings. Australia’s 445 and 212 added up to India’s 657 in the second – a reminder of how dominant the hosts were in their second innings courtesy Laxman and Dravid. Australia’s juggernaut of 16 consecutive wins came to an unanticipated end and their dream of conquering India remained unfulfilled as they were to go on losing a thriller at Chennai. The third instance and unarguably the first in case of a massive triumph for a side finishing victorious after following on made many a skipper in the coming years around the globe think for an extra minute or two before asking on the opponents to bat again.

A lighter note to end the piece with was to just wonder whether Steve Waugh while making the hosts bat again, threw cautions to the air on some soothsaying on the lines of the famous Shakespearean phrase that goes “Beware the ides of March!” The final day of the Kolkata Test and that of Australia’s doomsday too coincided with a certain 15th of March.

Photo by Chippu Abraham

Photo by partha.b

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