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14th March - A very special day in Indian cricket

What is so special about March 14th? I tried wiki, but couldn’t find one day in the history which could stand out. Yet, 14th March is special for me, a very very special day. It became special in 2001 – 14th March 2001 was a super special day.

14th March 2001 was a typical morning – a lazy one. The sun had come up like usual, people were busy responding to nature’s calls, busy with newspapers, busy with toothbrushes, busy with showers, busy sleeping. There was a rush in the hostel amongst those who attended classes. It was a typical morning.

Yet, there was something different about it.

I had skipped classes to watch the match. And what a match I was going to watch – The Australian juggernaut was rolling, the final frontier was about to be conquered, the Australians had stocked their dressing room with champagne. The day was supposed to show the Australians that there was sweetness beyond number 16 and they indeed were the best team of all time – having ruled all the continents.

The day was supposed to be the worst for the Indian captain – one of the best ever, but he had talked a bit too much before and during the series. The day was supposed to shake some careers too.

Yet, there was something different about the morning. I don’t know why, but there was a sense of optimism. Maybe it was hope of saving an innings defeat – so badly the expectations had fallen. Maybe it was some resistance shown by our own team on our own turf – such was the dominance of the Australians. But there was something different on that morning.

As the day unfolded, it showed its true colors. The colors carried the joy of brightness for Indians and gloom for Australians.

It was the day when VVS and Dravid batted on and on. They just batted – plain, simple, Test cricket batting. No hurry or stupidity,  and certainly no timidity. They just batted.

VVS pulled, Dravid cut. VVS drove straight, Dravid drove it through the covers. VVS flicked and so did Dravid. Both of them left a lot of deliveries. Both of them kept playing straight. Both of them, just batted.

VVS showed that he was not just another domestic cricket bully. Dravid showed that Warne was just another leg spinner. It was a day when we saw an angry Dravid – a rare sight.

Australians, with the best bowling attack, tried everything. By everything, I mean everything. They even tried Matthew Hayden.

But nothing could separate these two, absolutely nothing. I wonder why Fevicol hasn’t made an ad based on this day. But these two were inseparable.

Well, it was not a bed of roses all along. There were a few moments of trouble.

Laxman’s attempted dive wouldn’t have saved his wicket had the fielder hit the stumps. Yes he, Laxman, with all his elegance, dived. Such was the day.

Laxman’s attempted pull could have fallen straight in the hands of mid-off, but there was no one to catch it. It went for four. Such was the day.

Ponting, in the last over before lunch, troubled Dravid with his swing and Dravid survived a few close calls. On any other day, the umpire might have ruled it in the bowler’s favor, but not that day. Such was the day.

Laxman’s attempted cut went flying through the vacant slip region and Tony Greig said on air – “When you take them out from slips and put in covers, they don’t get caught”. But the stroke play had forced the field placing to be a bit defensive – making the mighty Australians go on the defense. Such was the day.

As the day was coming to an end, everyone looked tired. Batsmen were not willing to run, bowlers had given way to part-timers, and fielders were more interested in looking at the clock. Yet, I saw Ponting diving full length to stop a four. It was all in vain but did tell us a lot about commitment – Ponting was a disaster with the bat in the series and wanted to make amends in whichever possible way.

As the day ended, VVS and Dravid walked back to applause and a standing ovation. The standing ovation wasn’t just restricted to the stadium but had spread across the country. They were invincible that day. Even if the Australians had Truman, Larwood, Lillie, Thompson, Alderman, McDermott, Benaud and anyone else in their bowling line up, they would have failed to separate the pair. It was destined to be their day. We Indian cricket fans, who had tolerated the gaucherie for ages, were bound to witness such a day which started a turnaround in our cricket. It was destiny.

As the day ended, McGrath walked back, baggy green perfectly fitted and head held high. He had tried everything he could but failed. So did his other colleagues. Australia, on that day, was beaten by two men who had just started their respective journeys towards greatness. Australia had met the impossible on that day. Steve Waugh’s comment said it all – “It’s okay. Nobody died. Sun will come up tomorrow”. Australians had accepted defeat with complete admiration for the opponents.

That day spoilt me. After that day, I expected a miracle every time we were in doldrums – forgetting the basics of miracles that if they started happening every time you expect them to, they wouldn’t be called miracles but norms.

That day taught me. A miracle is always just around the corner. They don’t happen unless you expect them.

Yes, that day confused me. A part of me still lives in that day.

That day changed a lot.

The day, ladies and gentleman, will always be Very Very Special for me – the 14th of March, 2001.

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