A modern epic
When MacGill pitched one short and wide of off stump, Rahul Dravid gave himself room and cut hard. As it sped across the outfield towards the fence in front of the George Giffen stand, he let out a yell of delight. As the team poured on to the field to celebrate coming back to win after conceding 400 for 5 on the opening day, Steve Waugh jogged across to pick up the ball. Once he did, he presented it to Dravid, whose 72 not out had glued together a run chase that was anything but straightforward.
Eight years earlier, Waugh had composed his magnum opus at Sabina Park, making 200 in the face of hostile and intimidatory bowling that left huge welts and bruises all over his body. At Adelaide, he was quick to recognise the magnitude of what Dravid had achieved. He had batted 835 minutes and faced 616 balls for 305 runs, with the monumental 233 in the first innings signalling the turning of the tide.
Less than three years after decimating Australian hopes with a 376-run stand at Eden Gardens, Dravid and VVS Laxman had added 303, albeit at a more sedate pace. The circumstances when they came together had been similarly dire, with India reeling at 85 for 4 after the openers had cruised to 66.
It didn't help that Australia had already posted 556. At one stage on the opening day, it had looked like it might be much more, with Ricky Ponting and Simon Katich flaying tiring bowlers in a final session that produced 159 runs. Irfan Pathan had made a dream debut, shaping one away from Matthew Hayden to have him caught behind, but India's day had got progressively worse as Ponting and his mates took control.
After Harbhajan Singh's eleventh-hour withdrawal with a finger injury that required surgery, Anil Kumble was once again India's frontline spinner. But with Ponting in prime form, this was a day to soak up the punishment and try to stay on your feet. By the end of day one, he had figures of 1 for 115, even worse than the 5 for 450 he had managed through the tour of 1999-2000.
Ponting completed his double-century on the second morning, blowing a kiss to his wife up in the stands, and with Jason Gillespie in stroke-playing mood, Australia were on course for over 600. But Kumble's perseverance hastened the end, and three wickets in five balls allowed the openers to head out with something resembling a spring in their step.
After 12 overs of making merry, the wheels came off, but with Laxman and Dravid adding 95 before stumps, there was a frisson of hope. And when India made 297 for the loss of only three wickets throughout the third day, Kolkata had almost been reprised. Final-day chases at Adelaide are traditionally tricky though, and Australia's eventual lead of 33 still had the potential to be decisive.
On the ill-fated tour four years earlier, Ajit Agarkar had taken out the Waugh twins and Greg Blewett in the second innings, but it had been to no avail as India lasted just 38.1 overs in pursuit of 396. This time, he got his rhythm right almost from his first delivery, swinging the ball at lively pace and with immaculate control.
|The final day was as engrossing as any you could wish to see. Each time India appeared to be cruising, Australia would fight back. Every batsman got a start, but only Dravid stayed on, combining limpet-like adhesion with unflappable temperament|
Australia were two down by lunch, and all out an hour before stumps. Agarkar had figures of 6 for 41 from 16.2 overs and India were left to make 230 to clinch a first win on Australian soil since a hamstrung Kapil Dev inspired victory at the MCG in 1981. Katich's miscued hook epitomised Australia's almost-reckless approach, and the Indians had knocked off 37 by the time stumps were drawn.
The final day was as engrossing as any you could wish to see. Each time India appeared to be cruising, Australia would fight back. Every batsman got a start, but only Dravid stayed on, combining limpet-like adhesion with unflappable temperament. With the pressure on, it was Australia that cracked.
Dravid had made just 9 when Brad Williams induced an edge. Adam Gilchrist dropped it, and the fate of the match was sealed. MacGill and Katich gave them fleeting hope, while Williams and Andy Bichel were tireless and unlucky, but the moment had come and gone. Laxman's breezy 32 sealed it, but it was fitting that the last act belonged to Dravid, who had done a Waugh in the great man's final series.
Four years on, there are 10 survivors from that epic game. Ashish Nehra has long since slipped off the radar, Aakash Chopra was dropped soon after but is now among the runs in the domestic circuit, while Parthiv Patel has to play third fiddle to MS Dhoni and Dinesh Karthik. Missing too is Agarkar, who could never replicate his heroics of that afternoon, and whose days in an India Test cap are probably done.
Australia's line-up has also been irrevocably altered by retirement and the passage of time. Justin Langer and Damien Martyn followed Waugh into retirement last year, while the likes of Gillespie, MacGill and Katich operate on the fringes. Williams, so nearly the hero, played only two more Tests before increasing disillusionment took him to the Gold Coast and life as a house painter.
Bichel, Australia's top wicket-taker in that game, never wore the baggy green again, but continued to star for a Queensland team in decline until shoulder surgery cut short his season last November. Ponting, Gilchrist and Hayden remain, and given the travails of the first two, Hayden's bulldozing style will be central to Australia's hopes of clinching the current series. If it's even half as good a contest as the one in 2003, the next five days will be worth losing sleep over.
Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at Cricinfo