On December 14, 2003, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman performed an encore of their famed rescue act of Kolkata, this time in the hostile foreign ground of Adelaide. Arunabha Sengupta relives the day they performed their magic for the second time to turn the tables on Australia.
Lightning is not supposed to strike twice. Miracles are supposed to be the rarest of rare events. Once in a lifetime events are supposed to be just that – occurring once in a lifetime.
In March 2001, the two of them had added 376 runs as India faced innings defeat after following on – and twisted fate to conjure up a preposterous victory. Laxman had played one of the greatest innings ever, calmly waving his willow like a wand, moulding the atmosphere of impending doom into a magical monument of victory. Dravid’s 180 had been a supporting role, more rooted to the orthodox principles of batsmanship, but by no means any less crucial.
Now, two and a half years later, they were expected to repeat the feat – in the inhospitable land Down Under. In the second Test at Adelaide, India had collapsed to 85 for four in reply to the mammoth 556 amassed by Australia. Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly had departed in quick succession. The two gentlemen were yet again the last recognised pair of batsmen, asked to perform an encore of their once in a life time act.
The second movement of the eternal symphony
And they obliged. The roles had been reversed. Dravid was now batting at No 3 and Laxman at six.
In this innings, Dravid was more aggressive, eager to pounce upon anything loose on offer, building his innings with bricks of patience punctuated by adventurous cresting.
Laxman was indeed his own self – defending with élan, and letting those wrists perform mesmeric acts, driving, cutting and pulling, holding the spectators and often the fielders spellbound.
By the end of the third day they had added 95. The ghost of Kolkata had come back to haunt the Australians.
The following day they batted on as if unaware that 33 months had elapsed since that spring day on the northern tropics.
It may be argued that in this innings they were more fortunate. Unlike the chanceless fourth day at the Eden Gardens, Laxman survived two chances. However, on both occasions it had required the brilliance of Ricky Ponting to get anywhere near those offerings.
As for Dravid, the entire third day contained just once false stroke – a mistimed hook that flew off the top-edge for six and brought up his first and only century in Australia.
At Kolkata the pair had batted 104.1 overs to add 376. Here they put on 303 in 93.5. It was only a hint of impetuousness that cost Laxman his wicket on the stroke of Tea, attempting an extravagant slash off Andy Bichel.
India had been on the ropes, absorbing helpless punches when the two had come together. Now, at 388 for five, they had clawed their way back to the middle.
Dravid, though, was not done yet. He was unbeaten at the end of the day one short of a superlative double hundred. It was well into the fourth day when he was the last man out for 233, having taken the Indians to 523.
The Australian bowling was certainly inferior to the relentless attack faced in Kolkata. Glenn McGrath was conspicuously absent and that blunted the sharpness by half. Jason Gillespie was a poor shadow of the force that he was known to be when combining with his esteemed partner. Brad Williams and Andy Bichel hardly made a potent Australian pace attack. Finally, Shane Warne was serving his year of drug-induced banishment from cricket. Added to that, Brett Lee was on the injury list.
However, nothing can be taken away from the impeccable duo who came together with India scratching for runs and etched together their second immortal collaborative masterpiece.
By the time the Australians batted again, the spectre of the Kolkata turnaround perhaps weighed on them too heavily. It was the day that the Bombay Duck soared to stratospheric heights. Ajit Agarkar tore through the line-up. And Tendulkar ripped his leg spinners to get Damien Martyn and Steve Waugh.
And with Dravid leading the way yet again with an unbeaten 72, India cruised home by four wickets.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)