Down memory lane at Eden Gardens
India’s shocking defeat at the hands of England in Kolkata has created a uproar across the country, with experts, ex-cricketers and fans demanding drastic decisions from the selectors. As the chips are down, India need a display of grit and determination from its star-studded side to bounce back from this dismal situation. One can’t help but wonder that team India’s successful decade has come a full cycle. Its at the Eden Gardens 11 years back that Sourav Ganguly and his men came from nowhere and stunned the Aussies by defeating them by 171 runs after being made to follow on.
A hoarding just outside the Eden Gardens captures a moment from the historic 2001 test against the Australians of VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid holding their bats aloft after their epic knocks. This was, and is most probably the greatest test match in cricket’s history. This match also marked the emergence of a new Indian team under Sourav Ganguly, not afraid of even the best teams in the world, and ready to match aggression with aggression.
However, this doesn’t diminish what Australia had achieved before the debacle at the Eden. Australia had arguably their best team ever in 2001 under Steve Waugh. They had won the previous 16 test matches on the trot, including the first test against India at Mumbai.
Australia batted first and started in trademark fashion, reaching 193/1 at tea in 53 overs. But a young Harbhajan Singh had other plans. After tea, the “Turbanator” had something special in store for the Australians. Ponting, Gilchrist and Warne fell in successive balls, giving Harbhajan a hat-trick, and Australia slid to 291/8 at the end of play.
India would have liked to restrict Australia within 350 but Steve Waugh played a captain’s knock, scoring yet another century against the Indians. He kept full confidence in Gillespie and McGrath and rotated the strike with them. The partnerships of 133 for the ninth wicket and 43 runs for the last wicket showed the world his confidence in his men. Australia finally finished at 445.
India started in their usual fashion, losing their first wicket with no run on the scorecard. The rampaging Australians had McGrath, Gillespie and Warne and India’s score of 128/8 at the end of day 2 was no surprise. Australia were looking at their 17th straight win and a test series win in India after more than three decades.
On day 3, India folded out for 171, and Australia imposed the follow on, unaware of what awaited them. India finished day 3 at 254/4, still 20 runs behind Australia’s first innings total and with their last recognized pair at the crease.
March 14, 2001, day 4 of the test, would be the longest day in test cricket history for Australia. India finished the day at 589/4.
Laxman made the highest individual score by an Indian going past Gavaskar’s 236. Dravid gave him able company at the other end. Both played some exquisite shots all round the park that day, and even McGrath and Warne were seen helpless. Laxman’s wristy strokes and Dravid’s class eroded Australia’s pride in that one day. Steve Waugh had all his players to bowl and try to get a break through. But even fate seemed to have deserted the Australians that day.
On day 5, Ganguly declared India’s second innings at 657/7, giving Australia a target of 384 runs.When Sourav Ganguly declared, he would have not thought of winning the match. But fate had something else in store as Bhajji and the Little Master spun the Australians for 212, handing India a victory by 171 runs.
Bhajji’s 13 wickets in the match (including a hat-trick), Laxman’s 281 and Dravid’s 180 in a partnership of 376 runs for the 5th wicket, and Tendulkar’s 3 wickets in the final session, all played their part in triggering the Australian collapse when they lost 7 wickets for 46 runs. All of Kolkata and India was celebrating like they had won the World Cup
This match will be etched in the mind’s of Indian cricket fans for years to come. Today, Dhoni and his men can revisit and take inspiration from the stupendous effort Team India showed at the Eden. Perhaps Sachin Tendulkar, the only player to be part of both squads can inspire his teammates to come all guns blazing against England in Nagpur.