Turning the tables and how!

Published : Dec 27, 2003 00:00 IST

WHEN you choose to be a winner, avenues unfold, and you chart your own course with the desired confidence and authority.


WHEN you choose to be a winner, avenues unfold, and you chart your own course with the desired confidence and authority. Walking past the Torrence River that runs close to the Adelaide Oval was a pleasant experience as groups of Indian supporters, the tri-colour fluttering proudly, added a different hue to the atmosphere. The Aussies greeted them and accepted the rise of a new Indian cricket force, a team that believed it could win at home, and win away from home too.

It was a victory that shook the Australian resilience and pride, and sent out a refreshing message to the cricket-playing fraternity. The Aussies could be beaten in their own backyard and these Indians proved that in a team game, you had to play like a team to win. Of course, individual brilliance contributes towards reaching such goals, but at the Adelaide Oval the effort came from every quarter.

The support staff for India was in place for this grand feat. When one saw Sunil Gavaskar take out Akash Chopra and Virender Sehwag for a quiet dinner on the eve of the match, the sense of involvement was evident. Then there was the skipper seeking the guidance of Greg Chappell, one of the tactical greats. Not to forget Bruce Reid, who brought about a change in attitude as far as the bowlers were concerned. The inputs from Reid, vital at various stages of the match, should not be overlooked in this hour of glory for Indian cricket.

It helped the team that Rahul Dravid was in fantastic form. "He batted like God," Ganguly was to say later. And then V. V. S. Laxman justified the tremendous following that he commands in Australia. The fans just love watching Laxman compose poetry in the middle with his bat and classy footwork. The 281 that he had carved at the Eden Gardens had been the foundation of a remarkable win two years ago and this innings of 148, in the company of the impeccable Dravid, flattened Australia.

How would it feel when you score a double century for your team and yet end up a loser? That was the grief Ricky Ponting experienced. The next Australia captain may not like to remember his career-best show. It was overshadowed by Dravid's sensational knock. It was sensational for many reasons, but the sweetest was that it guided the team to victory.

Australia could not believe it could lose from a position of immense strength. The opening day of the Test produced a deluge of runs — 400 to be precise — and India appeared down in the dumps. The first Test at Brisbane had raised confidence among the Indian bowlers, but then this onslaught by the Aussies was demoralising. But the team returned the next morning to set up a fight. Anil Kumble bravely bore the brunt and finished with his first five-wicket haul in Australia. "It was very satisfying," he remarked, underplaying his performance.

There was criticism regarding the Australian approach of scoring runs at too rapid a pace. In hindsight, it was Australia's fast scoring that gave the Indians the time to go for the `kill' on the final day. It was only on the fourth day when Ajit Agarkar struck two early blows that the Indian team looked at the possibility of a victory.

Australia coach John Buchanan had no answers to his batsmen indulging in some adventurous play in the second innings. It is one thing to bat positively, but quite another to bat according to the situation. The Australian approach, bordering on arrogance as observed by some former players, showed the other side of a team that had come to be regarded as near-invincible. Now, this was a situation Steve Waugh had rarely encountered since that brilliant run when his team conquered all frontiers excepting India. Australia failed this time, too.

Waugh, too was guilty of indisciplined batting. It was easy for him to say later, "we're entitled to lose a Test," but he would repent playing that stroke against a ball spinning away. The same mistake had caused Damien Martyn his downfall and Ponting had made the cardinal error of playing the square-cut too early on that pitch.

It was an eventful Test. From the time the Australians tore into the Indian attack, to the time Dravid drove the ball for the winning hit, it was a match that had all the suspense that Test cricket is associated with.

Here was a match that saw Agarkar claim six wickets in an innings, a remarkable feat by a bowler who had struggled to realise his potential. His best in a four-year career had been three wickets for 43 runs at the same venue. For Agarkar to have made such a big impact with the ball was a good omen and India grabbed the chance to pull off a rare win in the history of the game. For more than a century, no team had lost a Test after scoring more than 500 runs in its first innings.

What motivated the Indians to raise their game against an opposition that was not at its best, but yet was as competitive as ever? Probably, the remark by the Aussie captain on the second day that his team would not enforce the follow-on. The Aussie camp had spoken too early, for India's best pair was in the middle. Waugh and his men came to grief the next day.

It has been recorded in quite glowing terms how India scripted such a grand fightback to win a Test in Australia after 22 years. There was one man in the Indian camp who was part of both the victories — as a player in 1980-81 and now as a manager. For Shivlal Yadav, the emotional scenes in the dressing room, as he confessed, will be a lifelong treasure to cherish.

Yadav gave greater credit to this team and rated the win at the Adelaide Oval as a bigger achievement than the one at Melbourne under Sunil Gavaskar's captaincy. "That win was great no doubt, but the situation was far more challenging this time. In 1981, I remember well that we gained from the rapidly deteriorating pitch. I remember how Kapil Dev set aside his thigh injury and came out to bowl after Karsan (Ghavri) got Greg (Chappell) first ball. That was the turning point against a very good batting line-up where Kim Hughes, Greg Chappell, Allan Border and Doug Walters formed the middle order. But this team had a big task. After conceding 400 runs on the first day, it was really sensational the manner in which the boys fought. I would say the turning point was those classical dismissals of Martyn and Waugh by Sachin. It was the work of a genius really and brought us back into a winning position," said Yadav.

Yadav was right. Tendulkar, after his failure with the bat, had to make his contribution and he did it with those two strikes. He had performed a similar feat at Kolkata when he snared Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden and Shane Warne to hasten the end. To Ganguly's credit, he used Tendulkar superbly on both the occasions.

But this match will be remembered for Dravid's work. A double century by this perfectionist with the bat was just the tonic for the bowlers to lift their game. India's best batsman overseas, Dravid was only reconfirming his reputation as a cricketer for all seasons. The value he puts on his wicket and the cricketing acumen that embellishes his presence in the middle are assets the Indian team has often benefited from. Dravid's batsmanship left a big impression on this great Test match as the Australians were buried under the sheer weight of his runs, not to forget those catches that he plucked as if from nowhere to give Tendulkar two wickets.

For Laxman too, this was a match that gave him the opportunity to score a point against his detractors. Laxman achieved his goal in a manner he knows best — by letting his bat do the talking. An attractive century from Laxman made the day for the Aussie fans even though the disappointment of watching their team's decline may have stung them. Losing on the cricket field was a rare happening for them.

The Indians were thrilled, but did not go overboard. The loss was a big blow to Australian pride, but to put things in perspective, it was not the best team they could have raised. The absence of Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee weakened the bowling and then Jason Gillespie too was not at his best. But credit to Waugh who offered no excuses for the defeat.

India had promised much at Brisbane and the victory at Adelaide only underlined the progress the team had made in the last few years. The desire to win was strong and was translated into a reality by a team that played like never before. India's domination of Australia was complete.

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