For any cricket team, winning in Australia remains one of the toughest tasks in the game. More so for Asian sides who have historically found it difficult to adapt to the hard and bouncy pitches. From 91 combined matches, the likes of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have only 9 Test victories in the country.
While the latter two teams are yet to win a match on Australian soil, India have won five Tests and Pakistan emerging victorious in four games. From the late 90s to the mid-2000s, the task became increasingly onerous for all sides in world cricket with the Aussies boasting of an imposing batting lineup as well as a ruthless bowling attack.
When Sourav Ganguly’s team entered their shores during 2003/04, not many gave them a chance despite the fact that they had defeated the Steve Waugh-led side in the indelible 2001 series in India. With conditions in Australia’s favour, the Border-Gavaskar Trophy was predicted to change hands once again.
Despite the injury-induced absence of Glenn McGrath and the then suspended Shane Warne, the visitors were still up against it. Their previous victory down under had come in 1981 and their bowling unit was not perceived as a major threat to the power-packed Aussie batting lineup in those pitches.
However, this was not the India of 90s. Under Ganguly’s ambitious leadership, they were ready to meet the challenge of playing away from home head-on. It became evident in the Brisbane Test when he himself led from the front to ensure a draw.
Exactly 13 years ago, the action shifted to the Adelaide Oval. India lost the toss on a typically batting-friendly surface and saw the hosts pile on a mammoth first-innings total. Aside from Anil Kumble’s marathon spells, none of the other bowlers looked even remotely convincing.
To make matters worse, they were reduced to 85/4 and were now threatening to collapse to scoreboard pressure. But, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman constructed a remarkable rescue-act reminding the Australians of a similar rearguard at the iconic Eden Gardens a few years back.
Although they were behind by just 33 runs, India were not out of the woods yet as they had to bat last on a surface which had historically taken a turn during the business stages of a match.
Ajit Agarkar turns unlikely hero
But, Ajit Agarkar had other ideas. Swinging the new ball prodigiously, he trapped Justin Langer in front and followed it up by getting rid of Ricky Ponting who had scored a double ton in the first innings. After a troubled stay at the crease, the aggressive right-hander finally perished for a 17-ball duck with Aakash Chopra completing a smart catch.
After Sachin Tendulkar had brought India back into the contest with a double-wicket salvo, Agarkar returned for a crack at the lower-order. All-rounder Andy Bichel could not put bat to ball to a delivery which hit the seam and picked out the off-stump.
Simon Katich, the last recognized batsman, attempted to pull a rising delivery from the seamer and could only find the deep square-leg fielder. Agarkar cleaned up the tail with the scalps of Jason Gillespie and Stuart MacGill to attain career-best figures of 6/41.
Riding on the back of Dravid’s sublime form, India chased down the fourth-innings target of 230 to register a memorable victory. Fittingly, Agarkar was the other end when the winning moment came.
Despite losing the next Test in Melbourne, the tourists performed admirably during the final Test at Sydney to emerge with a highly commendable 1-1 draw. Having successfully defended the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, the image of Ganguly holding the cup aloft has become a part of Indian cricket folklore.
Meanwhile, since the Adelaide loss, Australia went on a decimating spree at home with 21 victories and three draws from 24 Tests. Interestingly, it was India once again who halted their dominance with the 2008 Perth triumph.
India’s moment of glory at the Adelaide Oval was all the more special as it came through a magical spell from a bowler who had been pigeon-holed as a white-ball specialist. Agarkar had well and truly risen to the occasion.
Watch: Agarkar’s high-impact spell in Adelaide (Video courtesy: loduuu1 YouTube channel)