14 March 2001: When Laxman, Dravid, Kolkata spelled magic

It was 12 years ago today that VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid added 335 runs without offering a single catch, and taught Australia they wouldn’t have it all their own way anymore. And then there is the small matter of forever changing the course of Indian cricket too.

Tariq Engineer March 14, 2013 17:05:45 IST
14 March 2001: When Laxman, Dravid, Kolkata spelled magic

After all the drama leading up to the third Test in Chandigarh, the rain came along and played spoilsport. Not a ball was bowled. Even the toss didn't take place. But that gave us the chance to look back at recent history.

It was 12 years ago today that VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid added 335 runs without offering a single catch, and taught Australia they wouldn’t have it all their own way anymore. And then there is the small matter of forever changing the course of Indian cricket too.

14 March 2001 When Laxman Dravid Kolkata spelled magic

VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid return to the dressing room after a good day's work. AFP

In the aftermath of the victory glow that still infuses our memories, it is hard to recollect just how troubled India cricket was before Kolkata 2001. Match-fixing had sucked the air out of the game and Sachin Tendulkar didn’t turn out to be the captain, he, and everyone else, had expected.

A hiding in the first Test in Mumbai and the batting collapse in the first innings at the Eden Gardens left fans simply hoping to see a little fight; some sign that this Indian team wasn’t simply going to roll over and play dead.

What we got was beyond anything we could imagine, of course. I was studying for my CA inter-exam at the time, and took a break to watch the start of play. I thought I would watch until a wicket fell. That, serendipitously, became an excuse to watch the entire day’s play. Income Tax law and double-entry book-keeping were swiftly forgotten as it became clear that something magical was taking place.

Laxman operated in another dimension from everyone else that day. Nothing touched him; not the Australian bowlers, not their tactics, not the match situation. He merely flicked and cut and drove his way into our collective consciousnesses.

A decade later, in an interview with Mid-Day, Laxman explained the transformation that had taken place. “The mindset of giving up changed,” he said. “Till the last wicket was taken or the last run scored, we always fought hard.”

The same day, ESPNcricinfo, editor Sambit Bal spoke to John Wright and asked for one memory of that match. He was given six. Among them, Wright revealed how much was at stake when he described how he was driving back from the press conference with Sourav Ganguly and "we were quiet, but a great weight had lifted off our shoulders".

Somewhat lost in the shadows of Laxman’s epic tale, though just as crucial a performance, was Dravid’s own hundred. He played the quiet understudy to Laxman’s star turn with a resolve that would come to define his career.

In Cricinfo Magazine, Boria Muzumdar captured the significance of Dravid’s knock perfectly. “It announced the maturing of Dravid, the team man - one who can certainly aspire to the position of India's best and most dependable batsman of all time.

“It was a moment that encapsulated his cricketing philosophy - nothing comes easy, but when it does, it is deeply satisfying, for it is a product of much hard work. It is a moment little remembered for it was overshadowed by other feats. It was vintage Dravid - unassuming but forthright.”

A number of records vanished into history that day, and though some of them have gone the same way since, but they bear repeating. Laxman broke Sunil Gavaskar's mark of 236 set 17 years earlier. Anand Vasu, writing the match report for ESPNcricinfo, said "there was a hush in some sections of the press box, as many old timers were visibly saddened by the fact that Gavaskar's record had fallen”.

The partnership between Laxman and Dravid stood at 357 at the close of play, and they pushed it to 376 the next day, is still the highest partnership for India for the fifth wicket and the highest for any wicket against Australia. Laxman's score is also the highest score by any batsman at the Eden Gardens.

Only Harbhajan Singh and Sachin Tendulkar are left from those that played in Kolkata (Zaheer Khan too, but he isn’t in the squad). India are now a team in transition, but with the rain coming down in Mohali, it would be a good time to reflect on the lessons of that day and the legacy this team has to live up to.

You can watch highlights of Laxman and Dravid below:

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