Chennai: India was down for the count at the Eden Gardens. Steve Waugh’s rampaging Australians were poised for another sweeping victory in a wave of triumphs. Then came the astonishing turnaround.
Rahul Dravid joined V.V.S. Laxman — there was a crucial switch in the batting order — at 232 for four on day three after India followed on, 274 adrift. When the pair was separated on the final day, the host had surged to 608.
Laxman’s 281 was a timeless edifice where focus blended with glorious wristwork, timing and placement.
And Dravid oozed commitment and concentration during his epic 180. The incisive Glenn McGrath probed in the corridor but Dravid was resilient.
Pounded mentally by the partnership, the formidable Aussies wilted on the final day. The hunter had become the hunted.
Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, getting the ball to grip, spin and bounce from an ideal off-stump line, scalped six on a dramatic final day. India romped home by 171 runs in a tension-filled final session. The year was 2001.
Marking a turnaround
The Miracle at Eden Gardens provided Indian cricket a vital attribute — Belief. In India’s steady rise to the No. 1 spot in the ICC Test ranking towards the end of the decade, the believe-it-or-not Test win in Kolkata played a huge role.
Skipper Sourav Ganguly, aggressive and undaunted by reputations, instilled confidence in his men. He teamed up admirably with India’s first foreign coach John Wright.
As the decade progressed, India became a strong side with depth and options. The feisty Ganguly had an eye for ability and backed the right men.
The decision to send Virender Sehwag at the top of the order was a significant move. It changed the profile of the Indian batting line-up. Sehwag, with his marauding ways, not just dented a bowler’s figures but left psychological scars on the opposition. He raised the bar for attacking batsmanship against the new ball, altered the dynamics of a contest.
Dravid, maestro Sachin Tendulkar, Laxman and the left-handed Ganguly, formed a high-quality line-up. India could put runs on the board in most conditions.
Leg-spinning giant Anil Kumble and Harbhajan paired up as a spin combination that could run through sides at home and don a crucial role on foreign soil. There was pressure on the batsmen from both the ends as the two bowled in tandem.
Rightly, Ganguly and Wright realised the value of a potent pace attack. Gradually, India developed a pace force of greater thrust.
In a huge series, India drew 1-1 against Australia in Australia in 2003-04. While Sehwag, Dravid, Laxman, Tendulkar and Ganguly pulled their weight, the impressive Kumble harried the Aussies with his control and subtle variations. Crucially, the Indian pace attack also stung.
In a historic series, India defeated Pakistan 2-1 in Pakistan. With his remarkable hand-eye coordination and the ability to play besides the line of the ball, the intrepid Sehwag set the tone for the triumph, conjuring a triple hundred in the first Test at Multan.
And Dravid’s series-clinching double century in the third Test at Rawalpindi highlighted his value to the side. The technically pure Dravid was a batsman for all conditions. His match-winning efforts at Headingley, Adelaide, Rawalpindi, and Kingston, later in the decade, showcased Dravid’s ability to soak up pressure and construct monuments.
The Chappell era
Wright left the scene for Aussie legend Greg Chappell to step in. Chappell’s contribution to the side vis a vis grooming youngsters was immense but he remained a largely misunderstood man.
Dravid was at the helm by now and India notched up series victories in the West Indies (2006) and England (2007). During this period, India also won its first Test on South African soil. S. Sreesanth’s compelling out-swing bowling set up the win for India at the Wanderers in 2006.
India’s pace attack was humming by now. Sreesanth complemented crafty left-armer Zaheer Khan.
During the rather acrimonious tour of Australia in 2007-08, the lanky Ishant Sharma added value to the pace pack with his off-stump line, bounce and sharp off-cutters. India’s victory over Australia on a lively Perth track told two things — its batsmen handled differing conditions better while its pacemen could could consume and strike.
Now, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, an emerging leader of men, and coach Gary Kirtsen appear to have the right chemistry.
Crucially, left-handed opener, Gautam Gambhir, has tightened up his game without losing flair to make big runs when it matters.
Tendulkar continues to dazzle. The maestro’s match-winning second innings century on a difficult fifth -day wicket against England at Chepauk last year dripped with character.
All said, India’s rise to the top actually started on a magical day at the Eden Gardens.