December 16, 2003. When the Indians walked out to bat at the Adelaide Oval on the final day, they needed another 193 to create history. Their last Test win in Australia had come almost 24 years prior. The great Australian batting line-up had managed just 196 on the previous day. All Australia needed was one excellent bowling spell like the one Ajit Agarkar produced on Day Four. They had better bowlers in Jason Gillespie, Andy Bichel, and Stuart MacGill.
On a track that was close to a subcontinental batter's liking, the Indian batting armoury had enough firepower to cover the remaining score. The challenge was mental. But Australian skipper Steve Waugh knew a thing or two about mental disintegration.
Even Virender Sehwag, who had belted a 41-ball 47 in the first innings, was more subdued in his approach. His opening partner Aakash Chopra fell to Gillespie with the score on 48. India needed another 182.
Rahul Dravid had batted on Day Two, the entirety of Day Three, and also in the first session of Day Four. Less than half an hour into the fifth day's play, Dravid walked out again, knowing India were at the cusp of an extraordinary achievement.
Setting the stage: India's 2003-04 tour of Australia
Disastrous would be the word used to describe India’s 1999-00 tour of Australia. A year back, in the 1998-99 season, Rahul Dravid made a severe reputation for himself as an overseas batter by scoring heavily in New Zealand. But Australia had tested him like never before.
All he managed was 93 runs (from 368 balls) from the three Tests at 15.5. Even Anil Kumble got more runs, and Shane Warne finished with almost twice of Rahul Dravid’s average. Sachin Tendulkar’s India were whitewashed 0-3. They managed a solitary win in the long tour that came against Pakistan in the tri-series ODI competition.
Four years later, India returned with a better reputation. The change in leadership had ensured a flow of younger cricketers to the mix. In 2001, Sourav Ganguly’s India had reclaimed the Border-Gavaskar Trophy from the Australians with a sensational 2-1 win at home. In 2002, India drew a series in England, mastering the challenging situations at Leeds and pulling off a win.
Ganguly’s leadership had made a difference in India's approach and ensuring the influx of young talent, but Rahul Dravid remained one of the principal architects of India's resurgence through spirited batting displays. If there was one side in the world that could test Australia’s supremos at their den, it was India.
The visiting Indians made the Australian press eat their own words on 'chin music' by putting up an inspired show in the first Test at Brisbane. India had responded to Australia's 323 with 409. In his first-ever outing in Australia, Zaheer Khan picked a five-for, and India's batting was led by Ganguly’s inspired 144. It was the weather that hampered India's march at Brisbane. Chasing 199, India had raced to 73 for two as the Test ended in a draw.
Rahul Dravid had scores of 1 and 43 not out in Brisbane. Dravid’s 47-ball unbeaten 43 in the second innings had intent written on it.
Rahul Dravid's crucial innings in the Adelaide Test
Australia came hard in the Adelaide Test. Riding on Ricky Ponting's 242, Australia piled up 556. India found themselves reeling at 85 for four on the second day. Tendulkar was woefully out of touch, and the in-form Ganguly had just been runout. Before this day, Rahul Dravid still averaged under 20 in Australia.
“When I joined Rahul when Sourav, unfortunately, got run out, the reaction of Rahul was he was still amazed, he was dazed when I walked in because of the fashion in which Sourav got runout. All I had to tell to Rahul was forget about what has happened and let us think about what we are going to do. Because he was really upset the way Sourav got run out,” recalled Laxman.
Taking a leaf out of their Eden Gardens exploits against Australia in 2001, Rahul Dravid and Laxman added 303 for the fifth wicket. Rahul Dravid’s 233 guided India to 523.
Just like Rahul Dravid proved himself on Australian soil, another man desperately awaited to redeem himself Down Under. Agarkar’s five scores of ducks made more news than the 11 wickets he claimed in the 1999-00 tour. Back then he was making a mark as a bowling all-rounder. Despite that hundred at Lord’s, Agarkar was looking to end the Australia humiliation.
The Test was marching towards a ‘draw’ – a more than acceptable result against the dominant Aussies, who were still looking to squeeze out a ‘win’ possibility. Agarkar’s six-for ensured the Test would have a winner. Australia were bowled out for 196, which meant India needed 230 to win with over a day’s play left. If India batted that long, they would win. But even the best crumble under pressure and Australia had enough in their bowling ranks to challenge India.
Aided with form, India required the zen-like calmness of Rahul Dravid to see them through.
Sehwag fell for 47 with the score at 79 for two.
Brad Williams was nursing an injured shoulder. Playing only his second Test, the Western Australia paceman troubled Rahul Dravid with pace and reverse swing. Adam Gilchrist grassed a chance off Williams when Rahul Dravid was on nine. Dravid hung in and made Australia pay.
Tendulkar brought some urgency to the Indian innings with 37 before falling to MacGill. India were 149 for three when Ganguly walked out. Soon the southpaw walked back at 170 for four. The partners-in-crime were united at the crease. By then the Australians had grown a dislike for the Rahul Dravid-Laxman pair at the crease.
Laxman only grew his reputation of being an iceman under duress when he released the pressure immediately by caressing three fours in an over off MacGill. His breezy 34-ball 32 brought India nine runs short of the target before he fell to Simon Katich.
Parthiv Patel was born four years after India's last Test win in Australia. Rahul Dravid trusted him with the winning shot, but the teenager perished to Katich. The following over, the 73rd of the innings, Dravid cut MacGill through point before clenching his fist in delight. It was fitting that Agarkar witnessed the moment as the non-striker.
Up went Ganguly’s arms. He went on to rate this win even higher than the one he achieved at Eden Gardens in 2001. Amid the celebrations, Steve Waugh, the eternal warrior and the original iceman, picked the ball from the gutter and handed it over to the Indian warrior.
Dravid would later recall, “I still have that ball with (Waugh’s) signature on it on my house. Steve Waugh was someone I grew up watching and admiring a lot. His consistency and the way he went about his cricket was something I looked up to. It was really special to get the ball from him.”
Before the Adelaide Test, Rahul Dravid had 137 runs in Australia from eight innings. He now had 305 in one Test.
Steve Waugh failed to win his farewell series. Australia won in Melbourne and India almost sealed it in Sydney. The scoreline remained 1-1 after the Sydney draw which meant India retained the Border-Gavaskar trophy.
Australia 556 (Justin Langer 56, Ricky Ponting 242, Simon Katich 75, Jason Gillespie 48*; Anil Kumble 5 for 154) & 196 (Steve Waugh 42, Adam Gilchrist 43; Ajit Agarkar 6 for 41) lost to India 523 (Virender Sehwag 47, Rahul Dravid 233, VVS Laxman 148; Andy Bichel 4 for 118) & 233 for 6 (Virender Sehwag 47, Rahul Dravid 72*) by 4 wickets
Player of the Match: Rahul DravidPublished 16 Dec 2020, 21:57 IST