16th April : When the Indian tri-colour flew proudly on Pakistan soil

Indeed a red-letter day in the history of Indian cricket.


On this day 13 years back, an Indian team led by their charismatic leader Sourav Ganguly registered their first-ever Test series victory in the neighbouring Pakistan after annihilating the hosts at Rawalpindi. With the ODI series already in pocket, the visitors completed a “rare double” away from home in their then seven-decade old cricket history.

Before moving on to the proceedings of that particular day, let me just go through the five weeks long tour that concluded on the historic day the title seems to portray. India started their Pakistan essay – their first full-fledged tour to their arch-rivals in almost a decade and a half – with a thrilling victory at Karachi to take the first bite on the cake in the five-game series. The hosts, however, came back strongly to pocket the next two games and reinforce their supremacy. In a do-or-die situation, the visitors showed their mettle and ran away with consecutive triumphs at Lahore. In a rare display of grit by an Indian contingency in Pakistan, the tourists registered their first series victory in the land of their colonial cousins.

In the final ODI, the skipper of Indian team, Ganguly, got himself injured and Rahul Dravid took his place. The stand-in-skipper received immense support from his teammates who led India to another piece of unprecedented achievement – the men-in-blue registered their first win in the Test arena in their 21st attempt across almost 50 years. Virender Sehwag – an opener always in acceleration mode – scored the first triple by an Indian batsman, scoring 309 off just 375 balls. It was certainly one of the quickest triple century of all time in the annals of Test cricket. Sachin Tendulkar – the supreme Indian legend – too played his part in the game, notching up 194 before a debatable declaration from the dressing room ended his hopes of registering his fifth double hundred. Later on, the Indian bowlers did their jobs very well to pick up 20 wickets and ended the match in almost four days (Just two overs were needed to pick the remaining Pakistan wicket on the final morning). Seasoned leg-spinner Anil Kumble appeared as the wrecker-in-chief with eight scalps from the match. The young sensation – Irfan Pathan – too played well his role in pocketing six wickets.

In the next game, India capitulated to the hosts tamely at the venue of their revival in the ODI series at Lahore in a match that was marred by some poor on-field umpiring from the best in the business at that time – Australia’s Simon Taufel and West Indian Steve Bucknor. Pakistan drew level in the series with the final Test to be played at Rawalpindi. Meanwhile Ganguly returned to the helm and India looked to pull themselves up for the decider.

Deciding to field first, India throttled their opponents inside just 73 overs on the first day to a paltry score of 224. However, it could have been worse for the hosts after their eight wicket fell for just 137. Mohammad Sami (49) and Fazl-e-Akbar (25) provided them with a facelift. The start was horrible for the Indians as local hero Shoaib Akhtar removed Sehwag on the very first delivery. Dravid took guard the next delivery and laid the foundation for the then longest stay at the crease by an Indian (later eclipsed by Pujara) in terms of balls played. Although the right-handed saviour looked shaky in the beginning and on the next day gave many chances that Inzamam-ul-Haq and his men failed to cash in, Dravid got into his natural mould on the third day as he scripted his 495-ball 270 and looked on course for a triple before an unexpected Imran Farhad delivery went through his defence. Dravid hung about in the middle for 175 overs (just two less than India’s total for the innings) and his 740 minutes vigil stands as an Indian colossal even to this day.

With a lead of 376, India went all-out to inflict another innings defeat on Pakistan and the hosts remained in the back-foot as they already were after two tiring days on the field – pacers Lakshmipathy Balaji and Irfan Pathan picked one each as Pakistan ended the day two down with two days remaining in the match.

Coming finally to the happenings of the glorious day, India needed to produce eight wicket taking deliveries whereas Pakistan needed another 327 runs to make India bat again. With Balaji once again striking in his second over of the day, wickets kept tumbling at regular intervals. Pakistan played themselves with aggression and that also worked against their favour to some extent as India were able to expose their tail at the stroke of lunch. Kumble came out to finish their lower order and to make the final moments sweeter, Tendulkar flattered Danish Kaneria to take a heave that the latter mistimed only to be grasped by the skipper Ganguly himself. Left-handed middle order batsman Asim Kamal remained the lone fighting figure for the losing side – scoring an unbeaten 60 off 90 balls. India trounced Pakistan by an innings and 131 runs.

India won 3-2 in the ODIs and 2-1 in the Tests – a display never seen from any of their former sides in an away tour, let alone in Pakistan. It was a glorious example of a new-century renaissance that was ushered in by the coach-captain duo of John Wright and Sourav Ganguly after the Indian cricket was hampered by the match-fixing scandals. The “ransack” at Rawalpindi also remained their last Test win on Pakistan soil as India is yet to visit Pakistan for a series since 2006 (India lost 0-1) in an exciting rivalry that is often victimized by political infeasibility. But on this day in 2004, a fearless Indian team truly conquered their inner demons and finally beat their eternal nemesis in their own den in both the formats available.