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Then and now in the City of Joy

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India_Sri_Lanka_Cricket_Test_ODI_T20INovember 2017, Kolkata, Eden Gardens. And March 2001, Kolkata, Eden Gardens. Then it was Australia versus India; Steve Waugh versus Sourav Ganguly. Now it was Sri Lanka versus India; Dinesh Chandimal versus Virat Kohli. Then, the visitors batted first. Now, the hosts did. In both cases, the visitors chased in the fourth innings. How? Because the Aussies imposed a follow-on on the hosts in 2001. Then, it did not rain. Now, rain played quite a large spoilsport.

But what ties these two Tests together is the fact that India bounced back from being ‘most-certainly humbled’ to reigning supreme at the end. Just for the sake of celebrating this resilience – memories of which were surely evoked in every cricket lover’s mind when India almost defeated the Lankans at the Eden Gardens a few days ago when everyone thought that it would peter down to a dull draw – let us go back to the 2001 Test.

The Aussie squad in that Test match was as strong as strong could be. Hayden, Slater, Langer, Steve and Mark Waugh, Ponting in the lower middle order and Gilchrist. How’s that for a batting line-up? A potent mix of southpaws and righties, dourness and aggression, style and street-smartness. With Warne and McGrath in the bowling line-up, any team of that time would have found it tough to match up.

The Aussies got going on the back of a 90-odd from Hayden and a stubborn century from Steve Waugh, reaching 445 battling against some wily off-spin from Harbhajan Singh. The Aussie quartet of McGrath, Gillespie, Warne and Kasparowicz got into action and scuttled the Indians for 171; over 270 runs behind and follow on was enforced.

The ways in which Pujara recently combated the vagaries of the Eden Gardens pitch against the Lankans was reminiscent of what VVS Laxman did against the Aussies in 2001. Laxman scored 59 of 171 (over 33% of the Indian total), while Pujara got 52 out of the 1st innings 172 (a little over 30%). Interestingly, both these half centuries were studded with boundaries – 10 for Pujara and 12 for Laxman. Under pressure, but fluent.

Following on in 2001, the prospect of an innings defeat loomed large. Saving the Test seemed difficult indeed. A saving grace, many Indian cricket supporters would have thought, could just be that the Indians did not go down without a fight. Perhaps setting a modest target at least for the Aussies to chase down in their second innings.

Ramesh and Das started off, under pressure. Nothing less than a century stand for the first wicket would have infused some hope. But the first wicket fell with 52 runs on the board. In walked Laxman, at number three, as it was evident that he was in good nick against pace, swing, bounce and turn alike. After losing three partners, he was joined by Rahul Dravid, with the score on the board a little over 230 runs.

When VVS and Dravid got together, the deficit had not been wiped out. No one, in their wildest dreams, would have been able to predict what followed. Not even VVS and Dravid, perhaps. They simply knew they had a task on hand and got down to brass tacks. A chapter of defiance and courage was scripted in the Big Book of Test Cricket.

The target which the Aussies had to chase kept on increasing, as Laxman and Dravid added over 350 runs between themselves before VVS got out. Dravid continued for a while, before he too was dismissed.

Ganguly declared boldly, sagging shoulders suddenly transforming into confident gaits. What Kohli did in the second innings in the recently-concluded Test match was akin to what VVS or Dravid did in Kolkata in March 2001. And when the Aussies came in to bat, almost all of us would have predicted a draw. A safe one, for that matter.

However, whether the Aussies had set their minds on a victory or not, Harbhajan had different ideas. Why must all the effort made by The Wall and VVS go to waste, he would have thought. He bagged six wickets and sealed the match for India. This is what Bhuvi and Shami would have liked to do on the 20th of November, 2017. Time and light permitting.

But what can one say about the spell of 11 overs, 8 maidens, 8 runs & 4 wickets which Bhuvi bowled? Perhaps, as a mark of respect and admiration, one must rest one’s pens.

Dominique Lapierre called Kolkata the City of Joy. Joy is what one receives, not what one displays. The Eden Gardens has brought out the noblest of virtues one can find in humans – determination, perseverance, and courage…the qualities that lead to joy.

 

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G Venkatesh (born 1972) is a senior lecturer in Energy and Environment, at Karlstad University in S...

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