NEW DELHI: Recalling the historic Test match between India and Australia that was played from March 11-15 in 2001, former Indian batsman VVS Laxman reminisced the life lessons he learned from one of India’s greatest victories in Test cricket.
In his column for the Times of India, Laxman wrote, “It’s been 20 years since the greatest Test match I was a part of, but the memories are as fresh and glorious as in March 2001. The odds were stacked against us going into the third day of the second Test at the Eden Gardens. Steve Waugh‘s Australians had defeated us inside three days in Mumbai to equal the record for 16 successive Test wins, and we were staring at a follow-on in Kolkata too despite Bhajji’s (Harbhajan Singh) brilliant bowling on Day One which brought him India’s first Test hat-trick.”
Harbhajan Singh dismissed Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist and Shane Warne off successive deliveries to become the first Indian to take a hat-trick in Test cricket. But despite his seven-wicket haul, Australia racked up 445 runs in their first innings.
“While the victory was beyond sweet, what has stayed with me are the life-lessons the extraordinary game threw up. Such as, never give up, no matter what. However tough things might seem, you need to keep looking for solutions instead of being bogged down by problems. You must trust your ability, and of your mates doing battle with you. You must stay in the present, not think about what has happened or what might happen. Set small targets, and when you reach them, refocus instead of getting carried away. These truisms are a part of everyday life, not just on the cricket field,” Laxman added.
India were bundled out for 171 runs in their first innings, with Laxman top-scoring with a 59-run knock and he was the last Indian batsman to be dismissed. With a deficit of 274 runs, India were made to follow-on by Steve Waugh.
“While Bhajji, Dravid and I got a lion’s share of the credit for the turnaround, this was a victory for team effort and team spirit. The belief in the dressing-room, and the support that Rahul and I got from our colleagues during our long partnership, is indescribable. It was as if it wasn’t just Rahul and me in the middle; our teammates were with us, the wonderful Eden crowd was with us,” Laxman recalled.
Laxman was promoted up the order in the second innings with Dravid demoted down to the No. 6 spot. What followed was nothing short of incredible and is part of cricket folklore.
“Dravid came into the Test drained by viral fever, and cramped up at various stages during his brilliant 180. He was the vice-captain, yet he had to cede his No. 3 position to me in the second innings, but not once did he show his displeasure, if at all he did feel it. How to bail the team out of the pickle was his only focus, and the determination he showed in shutting everything else out, was a wonderful lesson,” Laxman added.
In a partnership for the ages, Laxman and Dravid added 376 runs for the fifth wicket. Laxman hit a career-best 281 and Dravid was run out after scoring a magnificent 180. Together they turned the Test and the series on its head.
“When I look back, it’s no surprise that this drama unfolded at the Eden. It’s been a special venue not just for me but the Indian team for decades, a good pitch, that has something for everyone, invariably produces excellent contests. The crowd is pretty special too. They always turn up in huge numbers, full of zeal and energy, and are desperate for their favourite players and teams to do well. Many of them left the ground on the third evening when Tendulkar and later Ganguly were dismissed, but they came rushing back once Dravid and I got involved in that magical partnership. It just goes to show how passionate they are about not just the game, but also the result,” Laxman wrote.
India declared their second innings at 657/7 giving Australia a 384-run victory target.
“I have been asked more than once whether I regret not getting a triple-hundred. My answer remains the same – not at all. I believe individual performances have little value if they don’t help the team win. On the final day, the aim was to get quick runs as we pressed for a declaration. If I fell in that endeavour, so be it. I would have been gutted if I had got to 300, and somehow Australia had managed to save the game. What made 281 special was the outcome, the manner in which we won on the last day with Tendulkar also turning in a magical spell,” Laxman opined.
Australia were bundled out for 212 runs with Harbhajan taking six wickets and Sachin Tendulkar taking 3/31. India became the second team (after England in 1894 and 1981) to win a Test match after being made to follow-on. On all three instances, it was Australia which ended up as the losing side.
“In keeping with the tradition of India-Australia Test cricket, we witnessed a wonderful series Down Under recently. In my book, the wins at the MCG and at the Gabba, especially, are of greater significance than the one at Eden,” Laxman concluded.