Why did the 2001 Chennai Test between India and Australia go down as one of the greatest of all time?
A heart-stopping finish it was amidst fading light. For the Indians, the triumph signalled a dawn. For Steve Waugh, the defeat marked the end of a great Indian dream.
The final frontier remained unconquered…at least, under his leadership.
The Chennai Test of 2001 between Australia and India would go down among the greatest Tests of all time. India, V.V.S. Laxman, Rahul Dravid and Harbhajan Singh being the chief protagonists, had orchestrated a remarkable turn-around at the Eden Gardens.
At 1-1, the series was on razor’s edge as the cricket caravan reached Chennai. The decider promised to be a thriller. It went down to the wire.
Before the decisive moment, the packed ground was a sea of silence.
Harbhajan Singh sliced a ball past point and leapt for joy. The off-spinner had sensational match-figures of 15 for 217 in the Test, but his final act with the willow was equally precious…perhaps more.
Given the Aussie fight and resolve, a target of 155 appeared at least a hundred runs more. Steve Waugh played all his cards, switching his bowlers and his fielders, creating situations.
The famous Aussie pace pair of Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie kept coming back, picking wickets and building the pressure. Crucially, Gillespie fired out Sachin Tendulkar with a terrific short-pitched delivery from round the wicket.
Laxman (66) conjured a gem, before being spectacularly held by Mark Waugh off offie Colin Miller. The Aussies were sniffing a come-from-behind win.
Tension was never at a premium on this dramatic final day. Much of the cricket was played in the mind.
The game twisted and turned. The Indians slumped to 151 for eight. Then Harbhajan put a full stop to the match, the stadium erupting in joy.
Sourav Ganguly’s men had bucked the odds against a formidable bunch of Australians, halting a world record run in Kolkata and then nailing the series at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium. Ganguly looked the Aussies in the eye and his men responded.
Steve Waugh was left to ponder his moves on day five. The Aussie skipper gambled, he had little option. There was no third man for little wicket-keeper batsman Sameer Dighe and runs leaked from that area.
No set pattern
It had been a great Test that did not follow a set pattern. All along, there were surprises and situations that tested character.
Australia, with the powerful left-handed opener Matthew Hayden using his feet to alter the spinners’ length and sweeping with aplomb to force them to switch line, progressed to an epic 203.
However, the Aussies faltered after Steve Waugh was dismissed. The side collapsed from 340 for three to 391 all out.
Getting his deliveries to turn and bounce from an impeccable off-stump line, Harbhajan sliced through the order. The Aussies had lost the initiative after batting first.
The Indians consolidated. Shiv Sundar Das and Sadagopan Ramesh provided the side a solid start and then Sachin Tendulkar stroked with finesse on an arena he comprehended well. Tendulkar’s 126 was a masterly effort. Rahul Dravid’s 81 was solid yet positive. The Indians, despite Shane Warne getting some of his deliveries to jump out of the rough outside the right-hander’s leg-stump, made 501. When the Aussies batted, Harbhajan, without injured spin spearhead Anil Kumble for support in the series, hounded the Aussies again. The off-spinner relied on flight and guile and the ball ‘gripped’ the surface. Batting was never going to be easy.
Mark Waugh (57) appeared headed for a bigger score when he was brilliantly held by a diving Dravid at leg-slip.
This was the defining moment of the innings. Australia, eventually, set the host a target of 155.
Harbhajan, then, had the last say. What a Test!S. DINAKAR