India Vs Australia,2001 : The 'Final Frontier' saga
Sunday, 17 June 2007 15:41
Contributed by Sreeram Ramachandran
Sometimes things get so unpredictable, they become predictable. The most unpredictable thing that could happen with South Africa needing 2 to win chasing 434 with 2 wickets in hand is for them to lose a wicket. So, with some imagination and a slightly warped perspective, you can perceive that as the most likely thing to happen. The fun part is when it does actually happen. It then becomes extraordinarily amazing just watching things unfold precisely the way you hoped they would to but never expected them to.
Pretty much the way the India – Australia series unfolded in 2001.
The History behind the 3 Test series set the platform. India were ravaged with match-fixing problems, captain Tendulkar stepping down – or to be more accurate, giving up and virtually throwing his hands up. A new order was being set with Ganguly and Wright new to the helm. Australia came in having won 15 tests in a row, starting the cycle, curiously enough, against India. But they hadn’t beaten India in India in more than three decades. It was the face off between the strongest team in the world against the most difficult team to dislodge at home. It was the sort of circumstances that prompted Steve Waugh – never short of a phrase or two – to put forth the by-now overused sobriquet of ‘ The Final Frontier’. And it was, of course, Sachin vs. Warne.
With such a build up you expect things to flop. How often has great potential been realized? Certainly on far fewer occasions than it has been wasted. You expect the key contests and the most celebrated sub-plots to fizzle out. But in some corner of your mind and heart you hope for, even if not expect, all the promise to be realized.
That is what made this series the most special ever – it was one of the rare occasions when almost everything promised was delivered, almost everything you could wish for from a cricketing contest (including an Indian win, which was the topping for all of us here) came true. And Murphy’s Law faced its own sorry truth – everything went wrong with the law itself.
Indian cricket fans live with a very thin line dividing their pendulum’s swing from brave optimism leading to extraordinary expectations and utter cynicism. So while Steve Waugh’s pre series charges were met by the locals with “ Ha. Our team cannot be defeated at home”, it very rapidly petered down to “ What a hopeless team” and “ Venkatesh Prasad should open the batting” jokes once India lost the opening Test in Mumbai in under three days, and faced a follow on with a massive 274 run deficit after both teams played out the first innings of the second test in Kolkata.
Cynicism comes with a generous dose of inertia. So as Laxman and Dravid started turning the point around and batted for almost two days, it was met with a mix of ‘nice, some resistance, but it’s bound to end soon’ and reawakening of that lost, impossible hidden hope.
To put things into perspective, the partnership lasted two days, which was only a couple of sessions less than the duration of the entire first Test match). 376 runs were scored in that partnership, and Laxman wiped out the first innings deficit of 274 all by himself, scoring 281. There really is a severe shortage of words to sum all this and the accompanying euphoria up, but when you have extraordinary statistics like that, maybe you can make do with some ordinary words.
So, the inertia began clearing only when the deficit was wiped out, a 350 plus target was posted and all the fat, thin, tall, short ladies and men around the country had cleared their vocal chords. Even then the general mood one that celebrated a magnificent draw salvaged out of utter ruin, and an end to the imperious 16 match Aussie winning streak.
There was a theory going around back then – possibly, one that is applicable even now – that the Aussies were so used to and intent on winning that they didn’t know how to play for a draw when that was the only smart thing to be done. They went into the fourth innings trying to bludgeon their way to an impossible 384 run target in a little over two sessions. The actual mad euphoria set in amongst the Indian fans only once Sachin got two quick wickets post lunch, and the Aussies realized a little too late – with half the team back in the dressing room – that blocking rather than blasting everything out was the way to go. It was only a matter of time then before the second big, hitherto heralded hero of the series, Harbhajan Singh, sent the rest of the team packing and sealed an unbelievable 171 run after being forced to follow on with 274 runs to make up.
As the third test began, there was a general air of satisfaction laced with eager anticipation. What cheered Indians the most was the beginning of the eventful reign of Saurav Ganguly. Here, finally, was a man who, to use a term much abused for the next four years, “gave it back as good as he got.” Ganguly was brash, arrogant, confident, brusque – none of which would give him a red carpet welcome into the M.C.C, but all of which was sorely missing in the Indian team since ages. Finally, it looked like here was an Indian team which would do both, bloody its own nose and punch the front teeth out of the opposition, with an equal amount of willingness. Cricket ceased, thankfully, to be a gentleman’s game when Larwood smattered Aussie skulls and ribs under Jardine’s command, and it was about time Indian teams woke up to that.
And just when we thought there was a fair amount of cause to celebrate came the final Test in Chennai. The last match proved to be exactly what was needed to qualify it one of the most incredible Test series’ ever A Sachin Hundred, Hayden’s brilliance, fantastic Aussie bowling, absolutely magic cricket from Bhajji and Laxman and an absolute thriller of a game that kept you on the edge of the seat, or several feet away from it, jumping up in the air.
Given the sequence of events in the first test, almost miraculously, India set themselves up with only 155 to win. And almost miraculously, given the sequence of events in the second test, the Indians found themselves eight wickets down , with one more run to go, Mc’Grath at the top of his run up bearing an uncanny resemblance to a starving Vulture and Harbhajan Singh on strike looking like he would prefer to be anywhere but here, but stuck with nowhere to go. And a fitting end it was when Bhajji somehow managed to connect and send the ball thorough the gully corri - well, somewhere on the ground where there were no fielders.
Two images that followed immediately after that signified the trend of things to come for the next four years. Even as Harbhajan was looking to complete the winning run, Ganguly sprang out of the dressing room, looking happier than any other captain had in the history of Indian cricket. He and the rest of the team then celebrated harder than any other Indian team had – a sign that this team valued winning, and knew what it meant. The next four years were the only time Indian cricket ever looked like dominating the green fields, and not the boardrooms, of world cricket.
It was a series which saw no losers – except this writer who could think of nothing better to finish this tribute with.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 12 October 2011 17:50
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