Like a rare cuisine, flavour still lingers. And when a series involves history, Drama, and a nail-biting finish, the infectious spirit of March 2001 never refuses to die. Ponting, a veteran of many a battle, still calls it the ''greatest Test series of all time and was pretty closely fought". And why not? It had all the elements to make it a rare success.
David vs Goliath: Most battles in life are uneven match-ups. But what thrills the most is one in which David beats the hell out of Goliath. Even before the series started, Injury to Kumble along with 15-in-a-row performance by the Australians had most Indian experts searching for white flags. By the time the first test ended, and the second reached midway, David was looking smaller than ever! But then came a remarkable turnaround. An unbelievable fight back, the kind of which makes a series most lively, most memorable. Ponting may still be living it, despite being on the receiving end. He made just 17 runs in five innings and still calls it the best series!
Unlikely Heroes: Harbhajan was a poor cousin of Kumble, while Laxman's spot was under grave threat. But then followed a run of 32 wickets, and a magical number 281. A number which is even more significant than 309 because a man was fighting for his place, a team was fighting for a record, and a nation was fighting for its pride. Harbhajan had just 21 wickets from his first eight tests. By the end of the eleventh, he had reached 53. Laxman was averaging just 27 in his first 20 tests before Kolkatta. And after Chennai, he was sitting at a respectable 37, and went on to touch a career high of 47 on January 3, 2004, again against Australia at Sydney.
Drama: Few moments will forever remain etched in the memory. Ricky Ponting diving full length to catch Tendulkar inches off the ground in Mumbai, coolest of customers Steve Waugh letting the heat of the situation get to him as he handled the ball in Chennai, and Harbhajan Singh blasting McGrath for winning runs with Australia needing just two wickets to seal the series. The momentum shifted with disturbing regularity in Chennai Test, as the teams vied to grab any strand of advantage in the make-or-break battle. In the end, there was very little to separate the winners from the losers.
Heartbreaks: There were heartbreaks aplenty. For Steve Waugh, the all conquering Australian captain, Kolkatta was the battle for Stalingrad, where momentum could never translate into victory. His dream of conquering the final frontier could never be realized. Warne, McGrath, Gilchrist and Ponting 'lived to win another day', but only after three years of agonizing wait. Still, the best thing about that battle was that in the end, only goodwill remained and the spirit was carried into the ODIs.
It was a spirited battle, fondly called the mother of all battles, fought by gallant gladiators, and remembered till this day. The end result was sweet for India, but even the Australians never looked bitter. After all, they had played the best ever three-test series in the history of World Cricket. A fact Ponting once again emphasized this weekend, despite averaging just over three runs per innings in those three Tests!