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October 7, 2004
Over the past 12 months, Adam Gilchrist's batting had subsided to such an extent that the only table he topped was the one for the most ducks - five. After scoring a cavalier century against a Zimbabwe team taken apart by the rampaging Matthew Hayden, nine subsequent Tests - starting with the draw against India at the Gabba last December - produced just 412 runs at 27.46, with only two thrilling innings in Sri Lanka, 144 and 80, revealing the true depth of his talent.
When he came to India in 2001, Gilchrist was about to embark on a hot streak that would result in his name being mentioned alongside the most destructive batsmen to have ever played the game. And though Harbhajan Singh worked him over in the final two Tests of that gripping series, Gilchrist's thrill-a-minute century at the Wankhede Stadium had helped Australia romp to victory inside three days.
That was a truly exceptional innings. After Sachin Tendulkar's one-man show had taken India to 176, Australia collapsed to 99 for 5 once Harbhajan had warmed his fingers. But Hayden, on the comeback trail and with everything to prove, and Gilchrist wrested the game from India's grasp with a scintillating 197-run partnership, with Gilchrist's effort a force-ten gale of sweeps, cuts and lofted drives that left opponents and fans open-mouthed.
His century today may have come at a cracking pace, but had nothing of the devil-may-care approach that characterised that 84-ball evisceration. This was cool, considered, and utterly effective. The sweep, a shot that touring batsmen can sometimes be unduly obsessed with, wasn't unveiled till he had made 87, and there were very few risky darts behind square.
Instead, he cut and drove with tremendous fluency, clearing mid-on and mid-off with nonchalant flicks whenever he felt the need to puncture the bowlers' confidence even further. And far from being weighed down by the cares of captaincy, Gilchrist appeared to thrive, shepherding a slightly jittery Michael Clarke past a memorable hundred on debut.
But while the new order may have lit up the Australian batting - Gilchrist being the exception - it was the old guard to the fore as India's best batsmen were blown away before stumps. Glenn McGrath has played only two Tests in the last 14 months, and after England's batsmen had treated him with some disdain in the ICC Champions Trophy semi-final, there had been a few ignorant voices pronouncing his demise.
McGrath answered the snipers with relish, deceiving Aakash Chopra with one that darted back, and then getting rid of Rahul Dravid with a peach that eased between pad and tentative bat. Yuvraj Singh's statuesque waft completed a perfect afternoon's work, and McGrath's amazing figures on Indian soil - 19 wickets at 18.26 before this Test - might look even better come the end of the series.
Shane Warne proved a point too. VVS Laxman had batted quite beautifully for his 31, flicking and driving Warne with the same panache that had precipitated the turnaround in Kolkata three years ago. But Warne toiled away manfully on a pitch that was only taking slow turn, and got the most prized wicket - Laxman has 965 in his last six Tests against Australia dating back to that Eden Gardens epic - with a ripping legbreak that was as good as anything Mike Gatting or Jacques Kallis were flummoxed by.
But the two stalwarts of the old firm were both outshone by another - Michael Kasprowicz, whose story epitomises the virtues of perseverance. Virender Sehwag's wicket might have been a bit of a gift, but the delivery that seamed away and lifted to take the edge of Sourav Ganguly's bat was one of many corkers that he bowled in mid-afternoon. Never the speed gun's favourite, Kasprowicz has been a sterling performer in subcontinental conditions because of his ability to swing and reverse-swing the ball while cutting it both ways off the seam.
Such bowlers with a penchant for hard yakka, as the Aussies like to call it, are rarely valued in this part of the world - where there is an increasing tendency to value hype and image over substance - but how India could have done with a Kasprowicz out there as Gilchrist and Clarke pushed them ever closer to the precipice.
Dileep Premachandran is an assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.
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