Indian cricket was going through a turbulent time at the start of the 21st century. The match-fixing scandal had shaken the faith of the fans while India were struggling to win both at home and away. Amidst all these problems, in 2001, Australia under the captaincy of Steve Waugh arrived in India on the back of 15 consecutive Test victories.
The squad boasted of match-winners such as Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist and their bowling included the likes of Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Shane Warne, all in top form. In the first Test in Mumbai, Australia secured a thumping 10-wicket win to make it 16 consecutive wins. Heading into the second Test at the Eden Gardens, India were staring at a crisis. Waugh’s first hundred in India helped the team to 445 all out. The highlight for India was Harbhajan Singh, who became the first Indian bowler to take a hat-trick as he took 7/123.
India were bowled out for 171, with VVS Laxman, who was not supposed to play the match due to a back injury, making 59 as India trailed by 274 runs. In the second innings, they had reached 232/4 before Laxman, along with Rahul Dravid, stitched together a partnership that would change the course of not only the match, but also Indian cricket.
The important factor to note was that Laxman was promoted to No.3 in the second innings while Dravid was pushed down to No.6 in the batting order. By stumps on Day 3, India had reached 254/4 with Laxman on 109 and Dravid on 7. However, things were about to change dramatically on Day 4.
Both Laxman and Dravid, with their backs to the wall, notched up one of the best partnerships as India turned the tables on Australia. Both counter-attacked and held firm as Australia wilted. By the end of the day, the duo had smashed 335 runs without being separated. Laxman went past Sunil Gavaskar’s record of being the highest individual scorer for India in Tests, while Dravid notched up his first ton against Australia. With both batsmen suffering from cramps, India had ended Day 4 on 589/4 and the pressure was on Australia.
On Day 5, Laxman’s quest to become India’s first triple centurion was jolted as he fell for 281. This was then the highest individual score by an Indian batsman in Tests and it was also the third-highest by any batsman against Australia. The 376-run partnership for the fifth wicket was the third-best in Test history for that wicket. Dravid departed for 180 and India declared at 657/7, the third-highest third innings score by a team in Tests at that time.
Set a target of 384, Harbhajan picked 6/73 as Australia collapsed to 212 all out to give India victory by 171 runs and level the series. The Kolkata victory ended Australia’s 16-match winning streak while this Test was only the third instance in history when a team had won a match after following on.
Laxman’s 281, Dravid’s 180 and the 376-run partnership are numbers that will never be forgotten by any cricket fan. The knocks by these two batsmen and the partnership which they stitched on March 14, 2001, will always be remembered.