There was drama at the end of each day

The Press Box was faced with the challenge of encapsulating so much in so little time.

Harbhajan Singh, Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman, the heroes of India’s epic win against Australia at the Eden Gardens in March 2001.   -  V. V. Krishnan

Magical five days of magical cricket really. Never seen anything like the wonderful theatre of cricket that the Eden Gardens was. Was it for real? I wondered, my mind satiated with such rich fare. There was everything that the game could have offered in terms of cricketing nuances. Two teams gave their best. Two teams entertained their fans their best. Some individual stood out. At the end of it, one was left with unforgettable memories of one of the greatest spectacle on the cricket field.

There was drama at the end of each day and it reached its pinnacle when the final act was presented in a most stunning manner. The Press Box was faced with the challenge of encapsulating so much in so little time. There was V. V. S. Laxman. Rahul Dravid. Harbhajan Singh. Sachin Tendulkar. A catch here, and a catch there, a great partnership and a hat-trick, the first by an Indian in a Test. India had pulled off a coup on a pitch that was crumbling. India certainly missed one of its greatest matchwinners — Anil Kumble, who was out due to an injury.

First day, Australia 291 for eight. India could pat itself. Second day, India 128 for eight. This was not good at all. Third day, India, following on, 254 for four. Little hopes of saving the game. No one had hopes. Not even the team! Why? Well, here is a story not too well known.

When the players returned to the hotel on March 13, the third day of the match, they were informed of their departure for Chennai being advanced by a day. They were booked for Chennai on March 14. So, all the players, as is the practice, left their luggage outside their respective rooms, before leaving for the Eden Gardens. The players got busy at the ground.

The bags were duly collected and transported to the airport since the team was scheduled to leave the same evening. The match wore on. Laxman and Dravid returned unseparated. This was a rare phenomenon. Not a single wicket fell on the fourth day as Laxman and Dravid added 335 runs, the highest scored in a day in the Test. Laxman contributed 166 of those runs and Dravid 148.

Adam Gilchrist is trapped in front by Sachin Tendulkar off the very first ball he faced in the second innings. Gilchrist had a king pair, as he was dismissed off the first ball in the first innings too.   -  Getty Images


Watching the batting from the dressing room, substitute Hemang Badani was flabbergasted. “It was an incredible fight-back. We were looking at defeat and now we could back ourselves to save the match and keep the series alive,” he said. “I was happy to be part of history. What a wonderful day it was as Laxman and Dravid batted the entire day and left the Australians frustrated.”

The day’s job done, India was 315 runs ahead. This day was to be the turning point for Indian cricket in the modern era. Some of us had gotten tired of writing sob stories of defeats overseas and losing this series at home would have left many an Indian fan crestfallen. There was a sense of relief and it would be a lie if I said we were thinking of an Indian win. Not even the players were thinking on those lines.

But the players faced an unprecedented issue on returning to their rooms. They had no clothes to change. “All our bags were still at the airport when the day’s play ended,” remembered Badani. The bags were delivered late evening and it was normal once again for the team. It was to change the next day at the Eden Gardens.

Even as some of us debated the delay in declaration, there were voices that felt the decision by skipper Sourav Ganguly was justified. The Australians could not have been dealt with casually. When the target was set — 384 to win — India had ensured it was not losing. But was it thinking of winning?

There were no indications of an impending cricket storm at lunch when Australia was 24 for no loss. Australia showed its intentions in the second session when it added 137 runs. It was a charged up situation. “My job was to sledge. That’s what Sourav had instructed me. I had to sledge. I could see Harbhajan getting into his rhythm. He got Slater and Langer. When Raju trapped Mark Waugh, we became more chirpy in the middle but honestly victory was not on our minds,” recalled Badani.

When Ganguly dropped Steve Waugh at backward short-leg, his place was taken up by Badani, who made no mistake when the Australian captain offered a sharp catch again. It was Ricky Ponting’s dismissal that created the slender hope of an upset result. The Press Box was agog with discussions. One more wicket — of Adam Gilchrist out first ball — suddenly opened up the possibility of an Indian victory.

The celebrations were carried from Kolkata to Chennai — in the hotels, on the bus and the flight. “It was maddening. I think some of us slept only around morning,” remembered Hemang Badani, who substituted for Sourav Ganguly on the field and took a spectacular catch to dismiss Australian skipper Steve Waugh off Harbhajan Singh.   -  The Hindu Photo Library


At 167 for six, Australia was not really happy. Sachin Tendulkar snared the well-set Mathew Hayden and most of us pinched ourselves. I opened two windows in my laptop, one in anticipation of India winning. Resistance from Jason Gillespie, Michael Kasprowicz and Glenn McGrath delayed the win but nothing was going to prevent an Indian victory.

Harbhajan drove the final nail and the Eden exploded into one mighty roar as India won by 171 runs. It certainly must have reached the Howrah Railway Station where one of us, not willing to cancel his ticket, had left the stadium at tea to take a train back to Delhi. He was convinced the match won’t last the distance. He surely missed the match of his life even as the fortunate ones at the Eden became part of history. “I saw a new India,” exclaimed Badani.

I went down to the dressing room and tight hugs from Laxman, Harbhajan, Dravid, Tendulkar and Nayan Mongia confirmed the intensity of the victory. Ganguly was the loudest voice in the dressing room as India made history. Australia had suffered a spectacular collapse. The celebrations were carried from Kolkata to Chennai — in the hotels, on the bus and the flight. “It was maddening. I think some of us slept only around morning,” remembered Badani.

The team had ushered a new dawn in Indian cricket and I thanked my stars for being a part of it at the majestic Eden Gardens.