It was a hot and humid morning in Kolkata in the month of March 2001. People were rushing on the streets, metro routes were changed, trams were full and all were heading towards the Eden Gardens. The day promised a lot for the cricket fans in India. Coming into the Kolkata test, one thing was sure that no matter what happened earlier, cricket crazy Bengali fans will show enormous enthusiasm and support for the Indian team and its captain Sourav Ganguly.
A week before that day Indians were handed a drubbing by Australia en route to their 16th straight test win. The Mumbai test defeat reminded India of their horrific time in Australia in 1999-00 where they were whitewashed by almost the same opposition side. Although, a lot had changed for India since that, they had a new team, captain and coach. India was just recovering from the tragic match fixing scandal which had rocked the entire cricket fraternity.
The only thing in favour of India was that Australia had not won a test series in India for the past 32 years. But, after the dismantling of the Indian team in Mumbai, history seemed to be writing a new chapter for Australia.
The match started with Steve Waugh winning the toss and deciding to bat on a low-slow track in hot and humid conditions. It looked like that nothing had changed for India since the Mumbai test as Australian batsmen, especially Mathew Hayden, made merry in the first two sessions. But, a sudden turn of events happened and a young Harbhajan Singh took the first ever hattrick for India in tests and Australia went down from 252-4 to 7 wickets down. His scalps were Ponting, Gilchrist and Warne. The Australian captain watched the events standing on the other side of the wicket. The first day ended with a high for India.
The next morning, Steve Waugh did what he was best known for, he played a captain’s knock and scored a century with the help of lower order batsmen. The mighty Australians posted 445 runs on the board. Indian team came out to bat and were soon bundled out in less than 60 over’s posting a total of 171 runs, that too was possible because of Laxman’s counter-attacking 59 runs.Laxman’s innings only gave a glimpse of his brilliance and abilities.
At that time, Australians had some respect for Laxman as they had seen his class in Sydney about a year ago. After the Sydney test, Laxman decided never to open the batting and he scored heavily in first class matches to force his way back into the Indian team. But, what Laxman was about to do was beyond anyone’s expectations.
India was forced to follow-on. There was only one incident in the history of test cricket that a side following-on, won the test. India lost the first wicket after a relatively good start and VVS Laxman came out to bat. What happened after that is history.
Laxman’s attacking stroke play, immaculate timing, the lazy-elegance, accurate placements said it all. Against a world class bowling attack Laxman defied all odds and played arguably the best test innings by any cricketer in the modern era, considering the circumstances and the context of the match. Watching him play was sheer pleasure. The ease with which he dispatched Australian bowlers McGrath, Gillespie and Warne was truly admirable. His sublime touch made it all look simple.
Meanwhile, wickets continued to fall at the other end, but, Laxman kept mesmerising the spectators with his stylish display. Soon, Rahul Dravid joined him in the middle and they put together a record breaking partnership of 376 runs for the fifth wicket. They batted together for a whole day in the warmth of Kolkata.
Laxman’s partnership with Dravid was so frustrating for the Australian’s that spinner Shane Warne started bowling bouncers, Steve Waugh tried nine bowlers leaving out only himself and Gilchrist, the fielders tried sledging but nothing seemed to be working against the determined Laxman and Dravid.
During his epic knock Laxman scored 281 runs and hit 44 boundaries. Laxman went on to become India’s highest scorer in a test match innings surpassing the great Sunil Gavaskar. Australians were set a target of 384 runs in two and a half sessions, and the Indian spinners, especially Harbhajan, ran through the Australian batters and India won the match by 172 runs.
After this match, Vangipurappu Venkata Sai Laxman turned into Very Very Special Laxman. His innings made him a national hero. The stylish Hyderabadi had just announced his arrival.
Published with permission from Leading Edge.