14th March - The day India made the epic comeback
14th March was a memorable day in Indian cricket history. The day when a young India announced its arrival to the big stage by taking the Goliath down. The match still stands as a beacon for the future generation of the Indian cricket. A fifty thousand cheering crowd witnessed only the third win in the history of Test cricket when a team won after forced to follow-on. The day when two Indian cricketers carried their bat through the day and India ended up with a lead from a hopeless position. And that day belongs to every Indian fan who shouted out their heart and supported their team. For this generation of young fans, it may be just any other win but for many people like me, it is something more than that. There are some pretty strong reasons for that too.
Have you ever seen a team coming from depths, after being forced to follow-on, to win a match? A team with as many as 16 consecutive wins being stopped by a young team? Did you ever stand up and applaud two men who carried their bats the entire day to keep their team safe? Did you witness a hat-trick, a double ton, a team following on, a team using 9 bowlers in vain in one day, and a win which changed the future of cricket in a nation? No, then you have missed something in your life which only few people who can boast of, being a part of that victory.
When Steve Waugh’s team had set foot in India, they were on a winning streak and this series was supposed to be the parting gift to their legendary skipper. The match at Mumbai proved to be too simple and the number of consecutive wins stood at 16. Eden Gardens and its capacity crowd were subjected to an Australian domination as their batsmen made merry of the Indian bowling attack, with Srinath ruled out for the series. The first day witnessed solid batting from Mathew Hayden and the day looked bleak for India. The day was a very special one as Bhajji led the Indian attack with ruthless bowling and ended up with a hat-trick. And the day ended up with Aussies 291/8. The second day saw a captain fighting for his team as Waugh put up a fighting ton. They ended up with a decent total of 445. And the misery of India started as the openers were dismissed cheaply and the biggest blow came with the wicket of Sachin. Barring Laxma, nobody else looked at ease at the crease and they were all dismissed for a cheap total of 171. The Aussies, who wanted to finish this quickly, made India follow-on, needing 274 runs to avoid an innings defeat.
The second innings started with a fighting effort from the Indian openers but it not good enough as it didn’t last long. This may be considered as the turning point for the whole match, as an in-form VVS was sent in at the no.3 position which usually Dravid filled in. Sachin disappointed again himself and the whole India. The skipper himself walked in and made a valiant 48 before being dismissed by McGrath. Rahul Dravid, the last specialist batsman walked in as India were on the verge of losing another Test match. India ended the day with 254/4 with Laxman on 109 and Dravid on 7.
The next day, 14th of March 2001, witnessed one of the finest Test cricketing feats ever in its history as the two batsmen set a new standards for the whole cricketing world. They made everyone there proud to say that they believed in the team. Against a formidable Australian bowling attack with the likes of McGrath, Gillespie, Warne and Kasprowicz, these two batsman were not supposed to survive the session. But they survived not only the first session but the entire day. These two gentlemen rewrote many cricketing records as they reached their tons and carried forward their marathon.
VVS looked in sublime touch which he carried out throughout the series and ended up a being a nightmare for the Aussies. Every time when the drive looked ordinary, with a flick of wrist it became extra ordinary, by finding its way to the boundary, which was done 44 times with ease in the innings. When Warne came around the wicket, he lofted him with beautiful inside-out shots. And the innings was beautifully packed with a variety of shots. This was equally complemented by Rahul Dravid from the other end with his timing and placement. He came back with a answer to all his critics and what a way it was to display his class. The bowlers were worn down, fielders were tired, and the audience kept on cheering their heroes throughout the match. It turned out be a picture perfect day for Indian cricket.
And as they stepped on the field on the final day, the stage was set for a dramatic win. The much eluded triple century remained a dream as Laxman walked back after making 281, waving to a very well deserved standing ovation from the crowd. With the absence of his partner, Dravid too took the long walk back with a match winning knock of 180 on the board against his name. Soon, the Indian skipper declared the innings, setting a target of 384 for the Aussies. Hayden and Slater stood up to the challenge and made a contribution of 74. But as they both fell, the rest just couldn’t survive out there. And there is no win without the Master’s hand in it. He chipped in with his bowling, claiming three important wickets. Bhajji did the rest as India completed a dream win, which they shall remember for a long time.
That day shall be remembered for the fighting spirit of those two batsmen, for a beautiful hat-trick of a young bowler, a fighting ton from the Aussie skipper and most of all, for the rise of an Indian team which eventually became the numero uno in Tests. If there was one match which not only changed the game but the very way how it is played, this was it!