500 stories to tell
3rd October 2016
(Boria Majumdar is a cricket historian and journalist)
The third and final phase in the history of Indian Test cricket started in Kolkata in
March 2001 when Saurav Gangulys India came back from an impossibly hopeless
situation and beat Steve Waughs world champion Australians in what can be ranked
as the best ever Test match of all time.
Facts before the start of the third day of the Kolkata Test:
Steve Waughs Australians had won 16 Test matches in a row.
India had been decimated in a little over than three days at the Wankhede Stadium in
Australia had put up a mammoth 445 in the first innings at Calcutta.
India was reeling at 128-8 at the end of the second day.
What followed still appears unbelievable. Andrew Stoddart in the 19th century; Mike
Brearley in the 20th and Sourav Ganguly in the 21st century. Only twice before had a team
risen to erase the ignominy of following-on with a spectacular victory.
This was certainly the most stunning comeback in Test cricket history. Man of the Match
V.V.S. Laxmans record-rewriting 281, Harbhajan Singhs hattrick embellished match haul
of 13 for 196 and Rahul Dravids determined 180 had made this possible. Not to forget
Sachin Tendulkars spell in the last afternoon when he picked three key wickets in a matter
of five overs.
With Gangulys Indians garnishing this victory with yet another close triumph at Chepauk in
Chennai, it is not without reason that this series has been labelled as the best Test series
This series was the start of a phase that witnessed India making history across the world. A
terrific comeback from behind win at Headingley in 2002 meant India had drawn the away
Test series in England 1-1. This was followed by a 1-1 drawn series in Australia in 2003-4
and the first ever away test series win in Pakistan. Saurav Ganguly, captain and architect of
this turnaround put it nicely, When we went to Pakistan each one of us believed Pakistan
couldnt beat us. We were playing at our best and it was the best cricket we had played as
a team. This was our real purple patch. In batting we had Sehwag, Rahul, Sachin, VVS and
myself and in bowling Anil, Harbhajan and Zaheer not to forget Ajits spell of 6-41 in
Even when the baton passed from Saurav to Rahul, the momentum carried on. Away series
wins in the Caribbean in 2006 and England in 2007 meant India was finally close to the pole
position in Test cricket.
The peak was finally scaled when India under MS Dhoni beat Sri Lanka at home in 2009
thanks to some incredibly good performances from Virender Sehwag and Zaheer Khan.
This phase climaxed when India for the first and only time in history drew a Test series in
South Africa against a very strong Protean side winning a famous away victory at Durban.
Tendulkar, by his own confession, was batting at his absolute best in this series, which
witnessed spectacular knocks from Laxman and Gambhir and magical spells from
While there was a dip in away performance between 2011-2014 with India losing 0-4 in
England and 0-4 in Australia, at home we continued to be competitive except a rare home
series loss to England in November 2012. Beating Michael Clarkes Australia 4-0 at home
was the highpoint under MS Dhoni before the baton passed on from Dhoni to Virat Kohli in
end 2014 in Australia.
The Virat era
Under Virat there has been a perceptible change in mindset, something prompted first by
Ravi Shastri and now Anil Kumble. India now plays to win each and every Test match and
has also started to play with five specialist bowlers. This is a serious statement of intent and
with Ravi Ashwin stepping up nicely to fulfil the role of all rounder, Indian Test cricket is in
good health on the eve of the 500 th Test match.
Virat, who has brought in a new mantra of fitness and passion to the game, is leading from
the front and will be desperate to do well in places India has failed in the last few years.
Indias test tour of England in July 2018 for example will be something Virat will have set his
eyes on. Personally, he hasnt done well in England that should spur the Indian skipper to
rewrite the history books. In Ajinkya Rahane, KL Rahul and Cheteshwar Pujara he has a
very able batting line up and for the first time in a while the fast bowling crop looks fit and
healthy. Shami, Bhuvi, Ishant and Umesh can deliver in any condition and Ashwin, Jadeja
and Mishra constitute the best spin bowling troika in the world on current form.
It is safe to say on the eve of the 500 th Test that what started its journey towards
maturity with mini steps in 1971 is today Indias only national religion. Our wealthy, much
idolised players, passionate followers and above all, the nations advancing commercial
power has transformed India into the hub of global cricket. In modern India, no hyperbole is
sufficient to capture the importance of cricket in the countrys national life
.Cricket is a
realm where Indians can flex their muscles on the world stage: it is the nations only
instrument with which to have a crack at world domination. It is, to put it simply, much
more than a game for us in India.