The journey of Indian Cricket Post ‘03 heartbreak

The most sentimental and emotional, yet the most die-hard cricket fans of the world, Indians, had a tough time digesting the loss. As sacrificial fire (Homa and Yagnas) were carried out in various places of the country, praying for the victory of the team, the loss left billions, heart-broken. The posters and statues of Cricketers, mainly of Sourav Ganguly, the Indian captain who was condemned for his decision at the toss, by many cricket pundits and ex-cricketers, were burnt expressing anger and frustration of the crowd. 

It took a little while for everyone to accept that the loss was almost inevitable, being only a matter of, will it be by runs or wicket. The mighty Australian team, most probably the best Team of 14/15 Men, in the history of white-ball cricket, were near-invincible, at that time. 

The Cricket returned to the field, from Media rooms, when the team of New Zealand toured India, in 2003. The test series was drawn both the tests were drawn. The Invincible Aussie team then joined the two for a Triangular ODI series, TVS Cup, where again, Australia beat India in the final, by 37 runs. 

The away cycle began and the Indian team toured to Australia for the Border Gavaskar Trophy, Dec 2003 – Jan 2004. 

The series of Guts, Glory & Bad-Luck

The test series of India vs Australia in Australia got hyped and caught the attention of the whole world, as that was the last test series of one of the Greatest Captains of the Game, Steve Waugh.

The 1st Test was played at Brisbane from Dec 4-8 of 2003. The Australians batted first and scored 323 runs. In reply the Indians scored 409, gaining a lead of 86 runs. In the 2nd innings, the Australians scored 284/3 and declared and India scored 73/2 by the end of Day 5, and the Match was drawn. Sourav Ganguly, in the 1st innings, scored a Phenomenal 144 for which was later adjudged Man of the match.

The 2nd Test of Australia v India was played at Adelaide from Dec 12-16, 2003. Australia in their first innings scored a mammoth 556 runs. While chasing, India fumbled as at one stage they were 85 for 4, then the ‘Wall’ Rahul Dravid fashioned a partnership with his old ally, VVS Laxman. They first frustrated Australia and then drove them to desperation. Australia dropped their chance when Adam Gilchrist dropped him early after as he had got over his early tentativeness, he didn’t offer them a sniff. VVS Laxman batted with nerveless elegance until he got carried away, but by then the job was done and India could manage to score 523 runs.

Aussies in their 2nd innings were bamboozled in mere 196, thereby setting a target of 233. Aussies then sought frantically for a breach in the second innings, but Dravid stood before them like a ‘Wall’ again, offering a straight bat to anything remotely threatening and latching on to every scoring opportunity. Dravid went, batted and conquered Adelaide like a King. India won the match by 4 wickets. 

This was a sensational win, Dravid, VVS Laxman and Ajit Agarkar scripted a come-from-behind victory after the team had conceded 556 runs in the first inning. Inevitably, comparisons were sought with Eden Gardens. Ganguly quotes, ‘Rahul Dravid played like a God.’

The 3rd Test was played in Melbourne from Dec 26-30. India scored 366 in their first innings; in reply, Australia put 558 runs on the board. Punter, Ricky Ponting scored a humongous 257, blunting the Indian attack. In the 2nd innings, India scored 286, to which Australia chased down easily and won the match by 9 wickets. Thereby equalling the series 1-1.

The 4th Test, with a Total Attendance of 189,989 the Decider was played at Sydney from Jan 2-6, 2004. Heroically on their first innings, India scored a mountainous 705/7 and declared their innings. The Master was back, back to form. The classy Sachin remained not out as he scored 241 runs and was accompanied by the Special one, VVS who scored 178. In reply, Australia managed only 474. For India Anil Kumble took 8 wickets in the 1st innings as for Aussies, a century each from langer and Katich was seen.

In the 2nd innings, India added another 211/2 and then declared their innings. In the 2nd Sachin again scored a 60 and Dravid 91. While chasing, Australia found themselves in a thorny position when Damien Martyn was dismissed. Australia went into tea four wickets down, 238 runs behind, and with 35 overs left. Anil Kumble was in his element, and an Indian victory seemed the most likely result. But out came Steve Waugh, in his last test innings ever, to save his team from a humiliating loss. He played gracefully and with two fighting partnerships, put victory beyond India’s reach. Aussies scored 357/6, as Anil Kumble got 4 wickets, but the match was drawn.

India could only Draw the series. It could all have been so different had a few umpiring decisions in the morning had not gone against them, most of them from Steve Bucknor. Justin Langer was caught plumb in front, twice, to balls from Ajit Agarkar that pitched on leg stump, straightened, and would have hit middle; each time Bucknor gave him not out. Kartik trapped Damien Martyn plumb in front after lunch, but Bucknor again negated the appeal. Kumble also had Martyn in a similar predicament, and this time, Billy Bowden shook his head. To their credit, though, India kept at it instead of letting these decisions upset them. The gentlemen in question were eventually out but the extra time Australia gained was critical.

Waugh’s innings, so characteristic of the man, was a fine end for a series that saw so much top-quality cricket, and which was contested so hard. Ganguly, Dravid, Ponting, Kumble, Laxman, Tendulkar; many achieved remarkable things in these four Tests. But none of them would grudge Waugh his moment.

Criticism or Drama

Steve Bucknor’s shocking decisions against India was received with outrage by the entire media houses of both parties. Naturally, India media went all guns blazing against Bucknor, but the Aussie media despite criticism always kept revering the human side of an Umpire as a mercy plea.

The Martyn run-out/sacrifice, the incident involved Damien Martyn and his Skipper Steve Waugh, as they went for a run and miscommunicated. Martyn got run out, as it looked like he didn’t want to run his Skipper out, it drew a lot of Media eyeballs and ga-ga, so much that Wagh himself had to clarify stating, ‘there is a lot of finger-pointing, a lot of nuances, and that’s not right.’

2004- a Bitter-Sweet year

As the most competitive and gruesome (tiring) series got over. India returned home with their heads held high. In early 2004, the time had come to tour Pakistan for a series vs the arch-rivals. Considering the history between two, all were looking up closely for the best of the moments. 

Pre-series bout-

The media of either side had crazy outings, with comments and insults humorously pouring out from both sides’ spokesperson. 

On asking, how his team planned to counter the Rawalpindi Express, aka Shoaib Akhtar? Sourav Ganguly states, “We will pull the chain and stop the train midway.”

On India’s chances in the series, Dada, “Because Australia is the world’s number one team, even if we play 60% of our game, we will win the Pakistan series.”

On selection criteria, Javed Miandad, “Any player not giving 200% will not be considered.”

Continuing his statement, “Your Irfan Pathans are in every (corner) gully and mohalla of Pakistan. We don’t even bother to look at them.” 

Shoaib Akhtar- ‘There is no reason why we can’t beat India’ 

The summary- India tour of Pakistan 2004

The tour began with a 5 match ODI series, which was won by Indians 3-2. As the ODIs were tough and competitive, all eyes were set on the test challenge on Paki soil. Trusting the history, that no Indian team had ever won a series in Pak, the pundits went ga-ga. The series got billed up as the Indian flat track bullies vs the Speed-stars of Paki.

The 1st Test of India tour of Pakistan was played at Multan from Mar 28 – Apr 1. Batting first India scored a mammoth 675/5 and declared their first innings. Virendra Sehwag scored 309 in 375 balls and smashed the Speed-Stars all over the park, proving the fact that “Speed Kills you.” He hit 39 fours and 6 sixes and scored at a staggering Strike Rate of 82.40. Virendra Sehwag became the first-ever Indian to score a triple ton, this is a serious feat. Pakistan, on the other hand, were bundled out at 407 in the first innings & were enforced the follow-on, but again were dismantled at 216 in their 2nd. India swiftly won by an innings and 52 runs.

The 2nd Test was played at Lahore from Apr 5-8 2004. India batted first and succumbed at a score of 287 in reply Pakistan amassed 489 runs in the 1st innings.

In the 2nd innings, India struggled again as they were bundled out for 241. Pakistan chased it like a walk in the park and won the match by 9 wickets. The Man of the match was adjudged to Umar Gul, who took 6 wickets.

The 3rd Test was played at Rawalpindi, from Apr 13-16. India, elected to field first and restricted Pakistan to 224, in reply India amassed 600 runs on the board.

Then Pakistan was again bundled out in 245 and India won by an innings and 131 runs. India for the first time won a series in Paki soil, the men in Blue were over the top and the celebrations showed it all. The jinx of winning a test abroad or drawing a series abroad was broken and finally, India could gain a major test overseas series win. 

The Man of the match was awarded to Rahul Dravid for his sensational knock, and the Man of the series was awarded to Sehwag.

Post-series banter-

Pakistani Skipper Inzamam Ul Haq stated ‘Our bowlers let us down’ 

Sachin Tendulkar on Virendra Sehwag, “Well, we talked about not playing rash strokes. Of course, he hears me but I’m not sure if he ever listens.”

Ganguly after the win of both the one-dayers and Tests explained that the win was the culmination of a process that began more than two years ago and terming it was a team effort, he dedicated the victory to the team.

Shaharyar Khan, the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, pointed out after the game that the main difference between the two teams was India’s mental strength and its evolution from being a two-man army to a complete outfit.

However, the series win in Pakistan will forever be marked as the series of Virender Sehwag, since he became the first Indian to score a triple century in Test cricket. For which, He was also awarded the title of ‘Multan-Ka-Sultan’ which means the King of Multan.

Breach in the Fortress

2004 began with a bang, in the latter half of the year the Aussies toured India again after the 2001 and 2003 setback, as India regained the Border Gavaskar Trophy, but with a lot of experience and a new leader. 

The 1st Test was played at Bengaluru from Oct 6-10. Australia batted first and scored 474 runs to which India could only manage 246. With a massive lead in the bank, they again added another 228, in reply India could only manage 239. Australia won the match by 217 runs.

The fourth day’s play at the Chinnaswamy Stadium saw something of a return to the past, as Aussies scored with the run-rate of just over two. It had seemed negative and pointless then, but it was also clear that the lessons had been learnt from the debacles in Kolkata, 2001 and Adelaide, 2003.

The 2nd Test was played at Chennai from Oct 14-18. Australia scored 235, in reply India scored 376. In the 2nd innings Aussies scored 369; to which India could score 19/0 at the end of day 5 play. The Match was drawn. 

It was clear that they had a plan, opposite to what they had before. After winning comfortably in Bangalore, again on the back of a dazzling stroke-filled riposte from Gilchrist and Michael Clarke, Australia saved the game in Chennai only because Damien Martyn and Jason Gillespie batted time the old-fashioned way, adding 139 in 56 overs to keep India at bay.

The 3rd Test was played at Nagpur from Oct 26-29. Australia scored 398 in their 1st innings and then bundled out India cheaply at 185, gaining an upper-hand in the match. In the 2nd, the added another 329/5 and declared; to which Indi managed only 200 runs. Australia won by 342 runs

The 4th Test was played at Mumbai from Nov 3-5. In the first innings, India was dismantled at mere 104, however, the Indian bowlers too restricted the Aussies at 203. In the 2nd India again could only manage 205 runs, in reply, Australia fumbled as Harbhajan, Kartik and Kumble webbed the spin magic and bundled out Aussies at 93. India won by 13 runs.

Australia won the series 2-1. This series win marked Australia winning a Test series in India for the first time since 1969.

Later, the same year India won the test series vs South Africa, which toured India.

India then drew the home test series vs Pakistan in 2005. As the 1st Test was played at Punjab Cricket Association Stadium, Mohali and the match was drawn.

The 2nd Test was played at Eden Gardens, Kolkata and India won by 195 runs.

The 3rd Test was played at M Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bangalore and Pakistan won it by 168 runs.

However, Pakistan won the 6-match ODI series 4-2. With Dravid being the Stand-in captain of India for the last 2 matches of the series when the series was tied at 2-2. Dada was handed over a 6 match ban for slow over-rate during the series. While Paki won the ODI series, India didn’t lose much as they found a gem of a player in MSD.

At that time, Greg Chappell assumed charge as head coach in July 2005. As Sourav Ganguly was serving a ban imposed on him, Dravid was interim captain and it was for the Zimbabwe tour in September 2005 that Ganguly was once again given back the reins of Indian cricket. But Destiny had some grave plans ahead not only for the skipper but also for the entire team and the country with a billion worshiping the Game.

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