March 2001, Eden Gardens.
Well, the idea will be pretty much clear and certain after reading the very first sentence. Yes, we are talking about undoubtedly the greatest test match ever played featuring team India. The 2001 test against Australia is not just another test match or a game of cricket, but rather the game in itself is an emotion.
It was a game, which defined the true Indian spirit of not giving up and being extremely resilient. The adage, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” was absolutely apt for this test match. As this was the very game, which team India won, after being asked to follow-on by the mighty Australians led by the enigmatic Steve Waugh.
Before the start of the test at Eden Gardens, the Australians had won 16 consecutive test matches on the trot. That included test matches played at home, as well as away. This was the second test of the series, and the hosts were already 0-1 down, after being thrashed in Mumbai. Waugh won the toss and had no hesitation in batting first. Slater and Hayden registered a century stand before finally Zaheer Khan broke through.
The visitors looked in great shape and seemed to be headed for a big total as the score read 252-4. In came Harbhajan Singh, to bowl a career defining over. On the second ball of the 71st over, Harbhajan trapped Ponting LBW and set off in celebrations. On the very next ball, Adam Gilchrist was trapped plumb, making it a golden duck. In walked Shane Warne. Would Harbhajan become the first Indian to take a hat-trick? Yes indeed, as Shane Warne offered an easy catch to S. Ramesh.
The Australians were reduced to 252 for 7. That soon became 269-8 as Kasprowicz was trapped LBW by Ganguly. However, Steve Waugh led like a lion and in collaboration with Jason Gillespie, staged a 133 run stand for the ninth wicket. The Australians were eventually bowled out for 445. Harbhajan Singh ended with 7 wickets.
Things went southwards for India as barring VVS Laxman, none of the batsmen contributed a bit. The Indians were bowled out for a mere 171 and Laxman was the last man to be dismissed for 59 by Shane Warne. Waugh, wanting to end the game early, enforced the follow-on.
Ramesh and S. Das provided India with a half-century opening stand before Ramesh fell to Warne. Surprisingly, in walked Laxman at number 3 instead of Rahul Dravid. India were 232-4, as Ganguly was dismissed after a defiant knock of 48. In walked Rahul Dravid, and the greatest test partnership in the history of cricket for India was about to commence.
Dravid negotiated the remaining few overs of day 3 and India ended with the score reading 254-4, still trailing by 20 runs. The fourth day was nothing less than a miracle for India, as Dravid and Laxman continued their run making spree. The first session without losing any wicket quickly turned into the second session and India’s lead kept on swelling. Laxman and Dravid batted as though there was no tomorrow. Shane Warne was treated by a net bowler and the two batsmen played some breathtaking shots. An inside out drive by Laxman on the bowing off Shane Warne became the most memorable shot of the game.
The two batted the entire fourth day without losing a wicket and consolidated India’s position. The next wicket finally fell on the fifth morning as Laxman was dismissed for 281. Eden Gardens rose up, to salute an innings played by a Very Very Special batsman. Dravid was dismissed run out for a brilliant innings of 180. Ganguly, finally declared on 657, giving Australia a target of 384, in a little over two sessions.
Australia looked positive from the outset and Hayden once again scored a half century. At 166-3 in 45.1 overs, the game should have headed for a draw, but a miracle was to occur. Waugh was dismissed by Harbhajan Singh, with the score being 166. In the same over, Ponting also made his way back without troubling the scorers. Ganguly then played a masterstroke by giving Sachin Tendulkar the ball. Sachin struck immediately by trapping Gilchrist for another first ball duck. Exactly 12 balls later, Tendulkar trapped Hayden LBW for 67. After exactly two overs, Tendulkar got rid of Shane Warne on a googly by trapping him in front of the wickets.
Jason Gillispie was the ninth batsman to be dismissed as Harbhajan got him. The last wicket stand between McGrath and Kasprowicz lasted for 53 deliveries before Harbhajan Singh got his 13th wicket for the match. The unthinkable had indeed happened! The mighty Australia had been defeated by 170 runs after enforcing the follow on.
The entire nation went into the frenzy as India won and the players themselves couldn’t believe. The Indians carried this momentum into the third test at Chennai and won that game, and thus regained the Border- Gavaskar Trophy. This was the specialty about Sourav Ganguly as the skipper. He motivated his players to such an extent that even the unimaginable was made a reality!