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The 2001 Eden Test : When Cricket Taught To Trust Miracle

After being way behind the game in the 2001 Kolkatta Test against a strong Australian side, Indian team did an miracle to win the Test match shouldering on mostly three players- Rahul Dravid, VVX Laxman & Harbhajan Singh.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, …it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”.  These lines are borrowed from Charles Dickens, an English writer and social critic. We all are aware of the fact that cricket is a game of uncertainty. Here the course of a match can take a sharp turn at any instant of time to welcome something incredible to happen. But there are some matches which witnessed such dramas and turnaround of events which nobody could think of even at their wildest of dreams.

In this article I, Ritam Roy, will talk about the epic test match between India and Australia at Eden Gardens, Kolkata in the year 2001, arguably the greatest test match of all time. In this article we will find the answer “Why?”. We will see the metamorphosis of the match from coldness of despair to the “Spring of Hope” and how two batsmen and a bowler registered their names in the book of cricket history.

Australia’s Golden Form:

Now before delving deep into the discussion regarding that very match, Let’s look into a scenario. Undoubtedly Waugh led Australia was the most dominant team of that era. Waugh’s brilliant captaincy and the excellent wholesome performance of the Aussie team, both the things combined, led Australia to become a superpower in the field of cricket. They had been winning 16 consecutive test matches before the Kolkata test. They were already in a leading position in the series after they had won the match in Mumbai.

However there came the day-11th March. Australia won the toss and for obvious reasons opted for batting first. Slater & Hayden were looking very good. And both of the openers did their job quite well. The partnership broke when the scoreboard was showing 103 runs. But Hayden was in a sound form and he scored 93 runs in that innings after being dropped on 67 by Dravid.

It was then 193/2. From that very moment Australia faced a sudden collapse when young Harbhajan Singh took the first hat-trick as an Indian in the test cricket. He picked up the wickets of Ponting, who was always terrible against Bhajji, Gilchrist and Warne. Soon Australia were 252/7. But the skipper was at the crease. Supported by Gillespie, Waugh went on to hit he 1st century in India. He also surpassed Javed Miandad to become 4th highest run scorer in test. The Australian innings ceased at 445 runs.

India had been asked to follow-on:

In reply India collapsed badly in the 1st innings. India lost 7 wickets in a session like the visitors had done previously. On day 3 India ended up scoring 171 runs. The only stand out performance was delivered by VVS Laxman who scored solid 59 runs. VVS was given out wrongly as the ball hit the arm not the bat. Whatever it might be, it was a disappointing display of game from the Indian side.

As expected, Aussie captain asked India to follow on. India were to achieve a total of 271 runs to avoid an innings defeat. Nobody, not even the most hard-core fan of Indian cricket, could take into consideration the fact that India would be able to win the match. The best they could have thought that India could put a decent total and at most they could save the match. But most of the spectators had perhaps already digested another clinching defeat after the poor performance of 1st innings. All in all, an atmosphere of despondency was prevailing over the city of joy.

However, the openers came to the crease. They were looking good. For the first time in the series they managed to take India over 50 runs without any loss of wickets. But soon Sadagopan Ramesh fell prey to Shane Warne. All the eyes were then focused on Very Very Special Laxman as he was the only decent run scorer of the previous innings. Laxman started taking on the bowlers. He showed aggressiveness right from the beginning. S Das, who was playing nice shots, got himself unfortunately out after his feet touched the stumps and the bells fell down. Then came the master blaster.

As always, he brought with himself immense hope. But he could not meet the expectations after he had been caught on 10 by Gilchrist. Then it was the turn of the local boy-Prince of CalcuttaGanguly was playing fluently. He partnered Laxman to hit another fifty. And he himself was racing smoothly towards a half century. His cover drives and playing with the front foot were inculcating hope among the Indian fans. But he got to leave the ground just 2 runs short of a magnificent half century. The Indian skipper had no answer to an excellent McGrath delivery.

Rahul Dravid-VVS Laxman In Eden 2001:

When Ganguly departed and Dravid came India were 40 runs behind to give any lead. Dravid initiated the innings with a slow start. There was a time when Dravid scored only 15 runs spending 75 balls. However, Laxman was driving, pulling and playing against the spin. And he crossed the benchmark of 100 with Dravid at the other end. It was 2nd test century of Laxman. By the time India had started giving lead. The mountain was yet to be climbed. And it was a herculean task.

There were a few chances where the two batsmen faced hair breadth escape. Otherwise their exhibition of super batsmanship can easily be as one of the best. They were the paragons of that era. There is nothing much to talk about the day 4. As nothing special happened except the glorious shots of them on loop and frustration of the Australian bowlers. Laxman gradually crossed the benchmarks of 200 and 250. He became highest Indian run scorer in a test innings at that time. Dravid on the other hand crossed 150. Both of them were applauded by the opposite side as Warne and other players clapped at their achievements. But they were extremely demoralized with the way Laxman and Dravid were batting. 

Now can anybody even imagine that at a point of time when Australian team was the ultimate power with their world class bowlers, two Indian batsmen would remain unbeaten throughout a day in test match?? But cricket always gives us records, goosebumps, leaves us awestruck with its wonderful events. Yes, it did happen. The greatest bowling attack of that era which had the ability to knock out any other batting attack within a remarkably short span of time, as they did only a day earlier, failed to alter two stalwarts of Indian cricket. Both Laxman and Dravid batted all day long.

Keeping Injuries away, VVX Laxman & Rahul Dravid stunned the Aussies: 

Now Cricket does not merely provide us with entertainment; Cricket teaches us life lessons. That very day both the batsmen taught us of determination, character, fighting spirit even at the worst of situations. They showed that nothing is impossible if there exit a strong will power. These teachings, morals make 2001 Kolkata test different from others.

Another important fact was that VVS was suffering from a back pain and Rahul had recently been struck with fever. So, he didn’t have any time to practice before the match.

However, that day two players were leaving the iconic Eden Gardens at the evening with fading sweet sunlight kissing their sweaty but smiling faces.

As they left the ground the scoreboard read: – India- 589/4, leading by 315 runs.

And an epic was written in the history of cricket. Epic of an unparalleled exhibition of batting and determination. The two lads took crestfallen India at the top of the mountain.  On that day even God would have probably failed to deviate them from their positions.

On day 5 VVS succumbed to McGrath as he gave a catch to Ponting. He ended after scoring iconic 281 runs. Dravid fell prey to an unfortunate run out. His inning lasted with the score 180 runs. Then Zaheer Khan played a pivotal cameo innings of 23 runs in just 15 balls. When Ganguly declared India had left the innings with a mammoth total of 657/7 on the scorecard giving Australia 384 runs to chase. Only Steve Waugh(C) and Adam Gilchrist (WK) did not take part in bowling in that innings.

Harbhajan Picked up a Hat-trick:

As Australia went out to bat in the 2nd innings, an ensuing draw seemed to be evident. Moreover, solid batting of Slater and Hayden consolidated the probability of draw. But that 20-year old boy named Harbhajan Singh was there to turn the dice as well as the course of the match. Once again phenomenal piece of bowling from Bhajji put Australia under real trouble as he took the wickets of Slater, Langer, Steve Waugh and Ponting. And the man who helped Bhajji from the other end was not a bowler. He was none other than Sachin Tendulkar

Sachin could not do well with the bat. But by taking important wickets of Hayden, who was in a sound form, Gilchrist (He got out for duck on the first balls he faced in both the innings) and Warne. Raju took the wicket of Mark Waugh.  Bhajji then took the remaining two wickets. The Australian players looked helpless before the Indian bowlers in that turning track. All the Australian wickets were taken by spinners in the 2nd innings.

Three Persons mostly destroyed Australia: 

All the dramas and thrills ended with a clinching victory of India by 171 runs. Only the third time in the entire history of cricket a team won the test match after following on. This was not a mere win for India. India could essentially stop the 16 consecutive victories of Australia. It was a victory that spoke keeping eye to eye with the arrogance of Australian cricket. This victory will always be remembered for the stellar partnership of VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravidspellbinding bowling performance of Harbhajan Singh and for setting a notion that determination and will power can fetch incredible success before the whole world. This was the story of the greatest test match of all time. Now whenever we revisit the test match, it not only entertains us but also inspires us always and teaches us morals.

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