14 March 2022 marks the 20-year anniversary of Day Four of the India-Australia cricket test at Eden Gardens, Kolkata, where VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid put on an epic partnership that changed the face of Indian cricket.
Long before Team India made it a habit of scripting comeback stories in cricket, a ‘very very special wall’ of belief was built on this day in 2001 at the garden of Eden. This incident laid the foundation stone for several inspiring test performances by Team India since then.
Why is this incident considered historical not just for Indian cricket but also for the world of cricket? Was it because Laxman and Dravid’s partnership was against the mighty Australians, or was it because Australia were on a roll having won 15 successive tests or more? More importantly, was it because India was asked to follow on, a seemingly shameful treatment handed out to opponents in a Test?
The Australians, touring India for a three-match test series, while addressing the press at the start, said that after winning 15 successive tests they had rewritten the record for the longest winning streak in test cricket. They had come off fresh with a whitewash against the West Indies. And ironically, Australia had actually broken the previous record of the Windies, who had won 11 successive tests in 1984.
Australia won the first of the three test matches in Mumbai by 10 wickets to extend their winning streak to 16 matches. They were looking to replicate their heroics in Kolkata, but the mighty Australians were halted.
Despite Harbhajan Singh’s seven-wicket haul Australia went on to post 445 runs in their first innings at Eden Gardens. In reply India were bowled out for 171 and were asked to follow-on and a defeat looked inevitable. However what happened in the second innings was something that changed the way captains started looking at follow ons. Dravid and Laxman joined hands in the middle with India at 232 for the loss of 4 wickets. Both the batsmen batted throughout Day Four and helped India reach 589 in what was an incredible comeback. The 376-run partnership propelled India to 657 on Day Five with Australia trailing by 384 runs now. It was a target too difficult to chase on the final day as Harbhajan Singh ran riot once again by taking six wickets. Australia were bowled out for 212 runs in the second innings and India went on to win the match despite being asked to follow on. The historic win not only brought an end to Australia's winning streak but also helped India draw the series at 1-1 and eventually to win the series 2-1.
Both the batsmen had incredible technique like so many others in the cricketing arena but what truly stood out was their mental ability to focus for an entire day, but one ball at a time. Laxman recalled in a recent interview, ‘Personal milestones kept falling but we knew it was important not to lose concentration. We were just not going to throw our wickets away. At the end of the day we were both physically and mentally drained but we were happy to return unbeaten’.
Gurudev Swami Chinmayanada says, ‘Let your mind be where your hands work… you are the greatest yogi’. What the world witnessed that day in Kolkata was two players who were completely in the present and completely focussed. Two karma yogis in cricketing gear, bringing back laurels to the team and the country.