Crucial to India’s historical win in the 2003 Adelaide Test was the partnership between VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid. But, what if in a parallel universe, the staggering partnership was cut short by the brilliant low-down grab from the Australian Ricky Ponting sent Laxman back to the hut?
In the early 2000s, the team blossomed into a formidable batting unit, with the inspired leadership of Sourav Ganguly. At that point, Laxman was still batting on 65, with India still in a precarious position at 207/4. Let’s travel back in time and catch a glimpse of it.
Bichel runs into bowl against VVS Laxman, with the Indian batsman putting on a brilliant show thus far at the crease. This time around too is expected to put the delivery away with ease. The hosts, on the other hand, are aware of what this partnership could do to them, given that they faced a similar fate in 2001 at Kolkata. Ah, that is a sharp bouncer and it catches Laxman by surprise, the Australians go up in unison. Will it be given? There he goes out!
Can the Australian bowling unit pack the last five wickets or will the last five range a long battle against Waugh and co? Parthiv Patel walks out to bat, with the southpaw relatively new in the Test arena. Just as Patel walks in to bat, Waugh brings on the leg-spinner Stuart MacGill, with the presence of patches around the left-hander. Immediately, he strikes, as India are reduced to 210/6. Despite the efforts from Dravid towards the end, the visitors only scored 300 runs in response to the hosts’ 556. With a 256 run lead, Waugh enforces a follow-on
After the struggle in the first innings, Ganguly and co are once again reduced to a drastically lower score, with 30 more runs to avoid an innings loss. A brilliant partnership from Ajit Agarkar and Dravid towards the end of the innings propelled India to a lead of 150 runs, meaning that Australia will have to bat again. With ease, the hosts roll past the Indian attack and win the game by 8 wickets, winning the series.
Disappointed India then moved on to their next series, against rivals, Pakistan - a three-match Test series. Prior to the series, BCCI comes out and announces that Rahul Dravid will take over the captaincy duties. On the day of the first Test, the newly-selected skipper announced that Aakash Chopra, Ashish Nehra, Ajit Agarkar and Sourav Ganguly sit down as Amol Muzumdar, Yuvraj Singh, Laxmipathy Balaji and Zaheer Khan get a place in the playing XI. The Mumbai opener was rewarded with a Test cap, after his staggering run in the Ranji Trophy, where he scored 643 runs. His partnership alongside Virender Sehwag began to develop, as India were content with their newly-formed opening pair.
After winning the opening Test, the visitors went with loads of confidence in the second one, where the Mumbai opener scored a century. Alongside Sehwag, the duo put on an unstoppable partnership at the top, leading India to a draw. And, in the third, India wrapped up the series, on the back of Dravid’s masterclass innings at Multan. But, the big Test series was yet to be played - India hosting Australia in a three-match Test series. For the visiting side, they gave the off-spinner, Nathan Hauritz a chance to prove his mettle in the absence of Stuart McGill. All eyes were on the Australian team after they won the first and the third Test comfortably, with the focus on the final Test.
It was a chance for the visiting side to complete a dominating victory against India away from home, one they have never done in the past. Even a returning Sourav Ganguly could not help them in the Mumbai Test, where Australia fielded both Nathan Hauritz and Shane Warne together. Coming into the Mumbai Test, reports from the Indian camp suggested that the management, unhappy with Mohammed Kaif, are planning to replace him with Yuvraj Singh.
The unknown threat, Yuvraj made his debut against Australia in Mumbai, a pitch that favoured spinners on that day. The all-rounder made an immediate impact in the first innings, with 30 runs before picking up two wickets in the second innings. However, as it came to the end of the Test, his form saw a rise as India wrapped up a win finally in the series. In the post-match interview, Dravid admitted that this time needs more time together to pick more wins.
Immediately after the series loss against Australia, Dravid and co had the task of defending their fortress against the visiting South African side. Just five years ago, South Africa walked away with a 2-0 whitewash against India away from home. Despite the loss against Australia, the management were more than willing to give Dravid a long rope.
After South Africa posted 510 on the board, it was the turn of the home side to put on runs. By now, the partnership between Amol and Sehwag had already gained traction and it was budding towards becoming a good one. Growing from the confidence of the knock against Pakistan, the Mumbaikar put on a show, thwarting all the bowlers. Alongside Sehwag, he put on an excellent show - scoring a crucial century in the Blues’ chase of the first innings posted by Smith and co. India ended up with a first-innings score of 480, in a match that ended in a draw. However, in the second five-dayer, things took a different turn, given that the series was on the line.
Once again, India were chasing the Proteas’ first innings total but this time they were more confident, given that they had unearthed one of India’s best opening pairs in recent times. The duo, once again, got India off the line, with a fantastic start - one weathering the storm and the other - storm itself, which allowed the home side to a series victory.
Meanwhile, this story has always been about two sides right - India and Australia! While India have made amends following their loss against Australia, what has Australia been up to? Just before reaching the English shores, the Kangaroos’ pacer Glenn McGrath walks out to the comments ‘Australia will win the series 5-0.’ In the first Test, the visiting Kangaroos got themselves to a victory, on the back of a brilliant spell from McGrath, throughout the Test, picking up nine wickets in the Test.
Mind games were right around the corner and made their way into the Second Test when the English media reported that the side winning the toss must elect to bowl. Falling in the trap, Australia put England to bat first in the second Test, a decision that they would later go on to regret. However, during the test, they received the worst news possible, in regards to an injury to their star pacer McGrath, who was key to their chances as they narrowly lost. Ricky Ponting prior to the third game came out and ruled McGrath out of running for the Old Trafford Test. English Media returned the favour, trashing the Australian team and their ugly tactics during the series. They also alleged that Ponting kept McGrath as a tactical decision before the end of the series. Agitated by it, the pacer came out and trashed the media, with things taking an ugly turn. The game ended in a draw, with rain playing the spoilsport.
Before the fourth game, everything breaks loose - at the toss, when the visiting skipper announced that the lanky pacer was back. In a never seen before incident, the English fans started booing the pacer for his antics. The pressure was on the visitors after being 2-1 down in the series. Surprisingly, the English team forgot the inclusion of the X-factor, Hauritz. Alongside Warne, the spin duo put on a show, picking up five wickets between them, with the pacer picking the other five. In the second innings, it came out down to the wire, Australia needed 15 runs to win with two wickets in hand. Two ugly swipes later, it came down to one figure, with McGrath walking out to bat. Four runs were needed off the last over and there it was, the pacer got the Kangaroos home with a cover-drive.