Welcome to the series where we present you a moment, a game in history that has shaped the way the sport has been played, in our weekly segment ‘Throwback Thursday.' This week, we recap the 2003 Adelaide Test between India and Australia, which shaped the way the rivalry between the two giants.
It is December 16, 2003, and we're at the beautiful Adelaide Oval, a venue that was historic in every sense. Rahul Dravid, whose success in the England tour the previous year had written a glorious beginning for Indian cricket, walked out to bat less than half an hour into the final morning. His mighty double century in the first innings had already put India on the threshold of achieving something special. When four runs were needed, Waugh did the most useless thing of all - brought his fielder in, all to be futile as the man from Karnataka, who went on to play a lot of defining innings for the team, was in the zone.
The venue itself holds a special place in the history for it saw the Bodyline affair plummeting to its lowest of lows when Bill Woodfull and Bert Oldfield were struck on their head, and on the third-day police patrolled to keep the over 50,000 spectators in order. It was also the venue that hosted major rock concerts from artists such as Madonna, Michael Jackson, Elton John and Paul McCartney. But what was special about this date that eventually became the hinge point of a glorious history?
To understand the magnificence of the occasion and what it meant for a great rivalry of our times is important to go back in time. The success of the Leeds Test and Natwest Trophy was fine but the perspective was not lost on that. India had been beaten in their last home series and 18 previous series outside the subcontinent, with Sourav Ganguly, as tactful and passionate as he was, clearly under the scanner. So much so that many former players had used harsh words for the Indian skipper and the Australia series couldn’t have come at any unfortunate of times.
However, there was a silver lining too. In the seven series preceding that, except for those in New Zealand and South Africa, India had won at least one game in every away series. The most glorious aspect of those wins was the way it was done - not by the sheer force of any one man, like it was Tendulkar in the mid and late 90s, but on every occasion, there was a new hero. If Anil Kumble stepped up in Headingley, Javagal Srinath’s tireless spell under the scorching heat of Port-of-Spain, Zaheer's burst in Kandy or Harbhajan's efforts in Bulawayo showed signs of what was a complete team effort for the Indian team then looked like.
As the Australia Test series came along, the time was ripe to put the signature of finality to it. But the tour started in an anti-climatic fashion as Victoria and Queensland Academy of Sport dominated the touring party in the two tour matches. The hopes were going downhill as the ruthless Aussies were preparing for a cold-blooded feast but on a green top in Brisbane, the scene for the first Test, Sourav Ganguly and Zaheer Khan ensured India went neck to neck. The visitors eventually had a simple target of 199 runs to achieve, but in Test cricket, every simple task was filled with numerous failures and India needed “The Wall” to stand up for them. Dravid, alongside Laxman, defied the odds to guide India to what was a historic draw at the Gabbatoir.
Brisbane was, in fact, just the trailer and the full movie was yet to be unfolded in Adelaide. Dravid scripted a handsome 233 in the first innings, adding 303 runs with the crisis man of the side VVS Laxman, to help India to 523 in response to Australia’s 556 in the first innings. It was a heroic effort, majorly propelled by two men, but the task was far from done. If Kumble was the star in the first innings, Ajit Agarkar bowled with the heart of a lion in the second dig. With help from Sachin Tendulkar and Anil Kumble, the Mumbai pacer demolished the Waugh men with six wickets upfront. Australia were restricted to a mere 196, giving India a target of 230 runs. Easy? We’ll soon find out.
On the way was an undented Aussie spirit that we have come to associate Australian cricketers with. A spirit that is so integral to their vein that fabulous and intoxicating cricket became the standard of their own standing on the turf. The single-minded determination to win had been the marker line throughout the Waugh era and when the skipper was playing his last series, the team could just do everything. Brad Williams, who had injured his left shoulder during the course of the Test match, toiled heroically in the second innings. History might be harsh to him, but Williams should never forgive Adam Gilchrist for grassing the chance when Dravid was just on 9.
As the day progressed, the Indian No.3 launched assaults, carefully plotted, relentlessly executed. The 233 was scored just a few hours ago and this is totally 230 - can be done, can surely be done. As the thoughts of the Indian fans reached a crescendo, with history beckoning from close quarters, the nervousness of the 90s fans pushed them to the brink of pessimism. But defying all that was the calm man from the Bangalore Cantonment as he added 70 runs with Sachin Tendulkar.
As if it was planned, Laxman caressed a fine 32-run cameo to uplift the collective morale of the country. With India needing just 9 runs to win, Simon Katich's left-arm spin got the better of the Hyderabadi before Parthiv became the next man to be dismissed. India were on 229. One run was all that needed as Waugh brought in his fielders to close range. That was something with the Aussies, wasn’t it? Rahul Sharad Dravid was on strike, the Indian crowd was all pumped up, Stuart MacGill was ready on his mark to deliver the fourth ball of the over. Agarkar, the new man in, looked at him once before turning his head towards his teammate Dravid and the rivalry changed afterwards.
Welcome to a Moment in History!