Kolkata 2001- Dravid's supporting act to Laxman's monumental 281
VVS Laxman’s epic knock of 281 runs is considered as one of the best Test match innings played till date. A Herculean effort from Laxman stopped an Australian dominance. However, most people forget about the man batting at the other end, battling like a wounded soldier. He ws not as gifted a player as Laxman, but Rahul Dravid’s 180 is considered as one of the best supporting acts. Dravid’s innings was hardly classical but it was mighty effective.
180 v Australia, Eden Gardens, Kolkata, 2001
At the end of the second day of the Kolkata Test match, India had lost eight wickets. Seven wickets were lost in the post-tea session. Thankfully, there were no 24*7 news channels that time, but from whatever little news that was being shown at that time, India’s batting was condoned. A lot was being discussed about this man whose average was a whopping 52.23 at the end of 42 Test matches. Dravid was considered as a liability in the team. There was a proverbial sword hanging over his head.
In the second innings of the Test match, Dravid did not bat at his usual No.3 position. It was taken by a batsman who was an artist at work. It was a desperate move from a side which had no answers against the Australian domination. But luckily for India, this move turned out to be a masterstroke. Skipper Saurav Ganguly instinctively threw up India’s best batsman in the first innings at an important number three position.
Australia, who had won a record 16 Test matches in a row, were about to get battered for the next two days. Laxman’s belligerence made Australia look like a mediocre cricket team. If Laxman chose his aesthetic display of batsmanship to take India out of trouble, his partner Dravid chose the hard way- the only way he knew to bat. While Laxman was compiling a beautiful essay, Dravid was struggling to frame a proper sentence. What compounded Dravid’s agony was the physical discomfort he suffered while he was batting. Andrew Leipus, Indian physio, gave pain-killers to Dravid. He was struggling to run the singles. In the hot and humid conditions, Dravid’s mind had a single goal- not to gift his wicket.
When Laxman took strike, it was a comforting sight for the Indian supporters. The heart beats were normal, life was in a state of normalcy and often the aura of invincibility was personified. When Dravid was facing the Australian attack, things were a bit dicey. On the second day, leg-spinner Shane Warne flummoxed Dravid with his guile- a loopy delivery that pitched outside Dravid’s leg stump and disturbed his stumps. India’s first innings lasted 58 overs and the only shining light of the innings was Laxman’s 59.
In the second innings, Laxman batted at three to give some impetus to the Indian innings. And to be fair to the team management, they were looking for a No. 3 who would move on with the scoring rate, fighting fire with fire. Laxman was the man to take the mantle of batting at number three. Dravid had stitched a useful alliance with Sachin Tendulkar in the previous Test at Mumbai, but runs came at a snail’s pace and the bowlers were not put under any pressure. Laxman started his innings with a flurry of boundaries and immediately put the bowlers under a bit of pressure. In the meantime, India lost Das, Tendulkar and Ganguly. But he was in a murderous mood. Dravid came in to bat when eight overs were remaining in the third day’s play. India needed 42 runs to make Australia bat again.
It was a time when Australia’s tails were up. The Australians designed an attacking field for Dravid who was not playing any shots at the start of his innings. The umbrella field and the charging fielders occasionally indulged in a barrage of verbal volleys. Dravid looked calm, but surely was battling inner turmoil. He was unable to get the ball off the square. He was not middling the ball. Weaker men have succumbed under such pressure, ordinary batsmen try to hit their way out of the trouble, but Dravid endured all the embarrassment. He was tied down. On the other hand, Laxman was in a playful mood. He was busy dispatching at least one delivery per over from the Australian bowlers. Dravid’s misfortune continued when he inside-edged an incoming Jason Gillespie delivery towards fine-leg boundary only to see umpire SK Bansal signalling leg-byes.
The first hour of the fourth day did not change Dravid’s fortunes. He was facing Glenn McGrath, who beat Dravid on a couple of occasions in one over. Dravid soon punched McGrath for a boundary towards mid-off. Soon, he was safely negotiating McGrath’s deliveries. A trademark forward defence and a good leave around off stump. In Michael Kasprowicz’s first over after drinks, Dravid hit the ball towards mid-wicket for a boundary. Dravid’s rhythm was finally getting back after a hiatus of 92 deliveries.
Just a few minutes before lunch, Dravid was tormented by Ricky Ponting’s brief spell. A couple of inswingers hit Dravid on his pads. There was a loud appeal. It was heart-in-his-mouth kind of anxious moments for Dravid. The impact was marginally outside off-stump on both the occasions. Dravid was batting on an unbeaten half-century by lunch time. India had added over a hundred runs in the first session. They were 102 runs ahead of Australia.
After lunch, Steve Waugh continued with Ponting. One particular delivery awkwardly bounced from a good length and hit Dravid on his right glove. Laxman called Dravid for a risky single. Laxman stopped. Ran again. Stopped. Sprinted like a gazelle. Dived. He was saved. Things were going India’s way.
India now were 132 runs ahead. Australia had employed only one slip. The Dravid-Laxman alliance looked inseparable. Dravid was slowly getting in his groove. Mark Waugh came into the attack bowling his off-breaks. Dravid danced down the track to him and hit him through wide mid-on, all along the ground. Were these signs of vintage Dravid? India’s lead reached 150 and Dravid was now batting in his eighties.
Gillespie came into the attack and troubled Dravid with his off-cutters. Gillespie generated a lot of pace with his beautiful bowling action. He was reverse-swinging the ball. He used every trick in his repertoire. Yet lady luck eluded him. Dravid was facing Gillespie with full concentration. Laxman had slowed down considerably as he was approaching his maiden double hundred. Laxman got a full toss from Mark Waugh which he dispatched for a four. Laxman raised his arms and Dravid hugged him.
Dravid was in his nineties. It was a dangerous territory for Dravid. He was dismissed on four occasions in the nineties (at Lord’s, Bridgetown, Mohali and Nagpur). Here too, Dravid sliced a hook off Kasprowicz. But everything was okay. At 97, Dravid survived a run out. Finally he had the audacity to step out to the bowler who had dismissed him on seven occasions in seven Test matches. Dravid took Warne’s delivery on the half-volley and dispatched it through mid-wicket boundary to bring up his maiden Test century against Australia. Dravid was animated. He waved his bat towards the dressing room. The 70,000 people at the Eden Gardens gave Dravid a rousing reception. India’s lead exceeded the 200-run mark. Dravid’s immediate target was to bat for the whole day.
Australia let the Indian batting duo lead the field at tea. Laxman was the first person to go in the dressing room. Dravid followed him. Leipus was a busy man inside the dressing room. Dravid was cramping up. But deep inside there was a voice reverberating- “You have to bat till the end of the day.”
Australia came on the field with a brave face. Deep inside they were bruised. The main bowlers were tired. They would not have expected such a backlash from the Indians after the humiliating first innings collapse. Hayden, Australia’s star batsman of the series, was given the ball by Steve Waugh. Dravid was in a trance. He played out maiden overs off McGrath and could not stand after that. The physio made another entry and gave Dravid a pain-killer.
The instances of unscheduled drinks break became a regular affair. Umpire Peter Willey did not allow such breaks anymore. Dravid was again battling against all odds. He was stoic – the objective in his mind was to bat, bat and bat. The day ended. Dravid and Laxman joined Vinoo Mankad and Pankaj Roy and Gundappa Vishwanath and Yashpal Sharma in the unique feat of batting for an entire day. India was 315 runs ahead. The two warriors again led the way off the field.
On the fifth day, Laxman was out on 281 and Dravid sacrificed his wicket in pursuit of getting quick runs. He headed towards the pavilion a satisfied man. All his detractors were made to eat humble pie. A career-defining innings of 180 personified the grit and character of Dravid.Published 26 Jan 2013, 11:35 IST