The Eden Gardens was a cauldron. The humidity added to the challenge that V. V. S. Laxman and Rahul Dravid faced as they walked out to the middle. Laxman’s mind was cluttered as he looked at the day with hopes and apprehensions. Resuming the innings at 109, with Dravid just seven runs on the board, he knew it was going to be a long day once again. He was prepared.
“I never realised at the end of the day I would have gained lessons in life,” Laxman told Sportstar. “Life lessons from a game that I so loved. Even as I reflect on that epic day, I sometimes feel it was so unreal.” But then it was so real in that wonderful theatre of cricket where many a rousing battle had been fought. Laxman was to emerge a modern day warrior, his batting reaching unthinkable heights.
“The day is fresh. The match is fresh,” Laxman told Sportstar. “In fact, the success of that match set a new benchmark for me. Of course, it was a team effort but personally I formed memories that have stayed with me. It was as if everyone in that dressing room and everyone watching the drama unfold at the Eden was in a trance.”
Australia threatened to wrap up the match as India started the fourth day at 254 for four. Having conceded a first-innings lead of 274 runs, India was on the back foot with the sole aim of saving the match. “We concentrated on surviving hour by hour. We were starting afresh which helped in a big way. I and Rahul had decided to make them earn our wickets.”
As the match wore on, the Australians came to understand that Laxman and Dravid were not going to be dislodged easily. Each ball was played on merit and there was emphasis on scoring runs. “We rotated the strike and that kept us focused,” recalled Laxman. “Honestly, the confidence rose at every break and session.”
Not losing a wicket in the first session of the fourth day was a boost. When Laxman had returned at the end of India’s first innings, last man out, coach John Wright had asked him to “keep the pads on” after Australia enforced the follow-on. The idea was that Laxman had been in the middle for long and Wright had made up his mind to push him at No. 3.
‘Determined not to lose a wicket’
“I loved the challenge and the idea,” said Laxman. “We tackled the first two sessions but post tea it became extremely tough. Rahul was getting cramps and dehydration was pulling us down, not allowing us to play with freedom. I was having back spasms and not able to play certain shots. But we were determined not to lose a wicket and kept encouraging each other. We endured the physical pain because we knew the Australians were capable of bouncing back from any position.”
Laxman remembered, “Personal milestones kept falling but we knew it was important not to lose concentration. We were just not going to throw our wickets away. At the end of the day we were both physically and mentally drained but we were happy to return unbeaten.”
It was something none in the team had conjured. Not losing a wicket the entire day and essentially making the Australian “earn their win.” The turnaround left the Aussies stunned. Dravid and Laxman grew in stature that day. “Normally, Rahul does not react but he was constantly encouraging me. Our conversations were a constant source of strength.”
Laxman recalled, “We told each other not to become complacent. Such a day happens once in a lifetime and we wanted to make the most of it. We did not drop our guard and the ball was in the court of the Australians as we gave ourselves a decent chance to stifle them. At least, we were not going to lose the match and that meant the series would be alive since we had lost the first Test.”
The winning moment: The Indian team celebrates after Australia No. 11 Glenn McGrath is given out lbw to mark an end to a surreal contest. – V. V. KRISHNAN
There was nothing “individual” about the triumph. “Collective,” as Laxman emphasised. “Each member had a role. The substitute (Hemang Badani) came up with an outstanding catch of Steve (Waugh). Our physio (Andrew Leipus) played a huge role by keeping us in a condition to keep the fight on. It was incredible how everyone chipped in. I think destiny had marked that game as a special one for each member of the team.”
Laxman’s 281 (452b, 44×4) and Dravid’s 180 (353b, 20×4) saw India finish the second innings at 657 for seven declared. The target was 384 on a crumbling pitch. Harbhajan Singh claimed six wickets to add to the seven in the first innings. Sachin Tendulkar also contributed with three strikes as India won by 171 runs, a result that none in the Indian camp had thought of.
‘The turning point’
As Laxman reflected on that glorious day when India pulled off an incredible feat, he noted, “It is a landmark that we have all come to appreciate as the turning point of Indian cricket’s success in the modern era. We grew into a team that was strong on self belief. We discovered the winning ways against the then best team in the world. Sometimes it seems a dream to me but then you all make us relive those moments time and again.”
Often Laxman gets to watch some clips of the match but there was just this one occasion when he watched the entire innings at home. “Sarvajit and Achinthya wanted to watch and I joined them.” Memories of that match are priceless souvenirs but Laxman has also rich treasures from that conquest. “The shirt that I wore and the bat.”