Beating back the shadows
This is the final installment of readers' submissions to our series on great series fightbacks. The first two installments are here and here. Thanks for writing in, and watch out for more such features, where your contributions get featured on the site.
A West Indian revivalRachit Agarwal on India v West Indies 1994-95
When West Indies arrived in India in 1995 without Richie Richardson and Curtly Ambrose, no-one gave them a chance to stand up against the spin of Anil Kumble and Venkatapathy Raju on Indian dustbowls. After a humiliating 4-1 defeat in the the one-day series and a loss in the first Test at Bombay, confidence was at an all-time low and a 16-year-old record was about to be broken. But two men had different ideas.
In the second Test at Nagpur, after India, riding on a brilliant 179 by Sachin Tendulkar, scored in excess of 500, the record was slipping fast. But Jimmy Adams gritted his teeth and stood up to the spin of Kumble and Raju, scoring 125 off 312 balls. West Indies just managed to draw the Test after being 22 for 3 in the second innings on a fifth-day pitch. India were now smelling a series victory, and the honour of becoming the first team to win a series against West Indies in 16 years. No team had managed to come back in a series in India in the past 10 years.
The base shifted to Mohali for the final Test, a venue where the pitch was to the liking of West Indies' fast bowlers. And when Adams played the best and perhaps the most important innings of his life and helped his side to 443 with an innings of 174 not out, they sensed a chance to slip through the Indian defence. After a defiant century by Manoj Prabhakar, India were 56 behind. What followed was breathtaking. Brian Lara played a majestic innings of 91, his best to date against India, and West Indies compiled 301 in no time. Then Courtney Walsh broke Prabhakar's nose in the first over. India's confidence plummeted and they took the crease with drooping shoulders. West Indies duly completed a big victory to level the series.
Beating back the shadowsSriram Vaidhyanathan on Sri Lanka v South Africa 2000
The spectre of Hansie Cronje's involvement in the match-fixing scandal had cast a deathly shadow over South African cricket. While the full extent of his skullduggery was still being uncovered, a young Shaun Pollock would now bear the onerous responsibility of leading his side to Sri Lanka. Bereft of their talismanic leader, and with a cloud of mistrust hanging over their team, South Africa were widely expected to capitulate.
Two hours into the series at Galle, it certainly appeared like that. Sniffing blood in the enemy ranks, Sanath Jayasuriya launched into an audacious initiative-seizing assault on the South African attack, hurtling himself to an unbeaten 96 at lunch on the opening day. He continued to 148, providing the perfect platform to build a large first-innings total. Predictably, South Africa crumbled twice to Muttiah Muralitharan's craft to leave the Sri Lankans sitting pretty with a 1-0 series lead. The South Africans were at their lowest, while the Sri Lankans were probably busy envisioning a glorious cricketing send-off for their most revered cricketing son, Arjuna Ranatunga.
Somehow, the South Africans proceeded to pick themselves up, mustering considerable mental strength to become competitive in the face of alien conditions and a master offspinner. Lance Klusener, Jacques Kallis and Shaun Pollock all contributed to set a tricky run chase of 177 in the fourth innings at Kandy. Sri Lanka stuttered to 21 for 4, but Ranatunga, batting with wondrous skill and supreme legerdemain, began to carve the attack to all parts of the ground. His 50 came off just 36 balls, but wickets continued to fall rapidly around him, and when he finally fell for 88, the tail was shot out in time for a thrilling seven-run win.
Despite the third Test at Colombo fizzling out to a draw, Pollock and his teammates had reason to be ecstatic at the overall result. Their fightback from the depths they plumbed at Galle instilled hope in the community that all was not lost to the cudgel of corruption, and it must surely count as one of the most captivating series rearguards of all time.
Zimbabwe's moment of truimphVivek Ratnam on Zimbabwe v India 2001
This series is a telling reminder of India's uncanny ability to do the tightrope trick one day and follow it up by choking at easier times. But this series should be remembered not for that but for Zimbabwe's producing an outstanding performance on the fourth day of the second Test to level the contest at 1-1.
India had a fairly easy first Test at Bulawayo with an eight-wicket victory. But in the second Test Zimbabwe, with a host of superb performances from the Flower brothers, Heath Streak and Andy Blignaut, ran the Indians ragged. India, having just beaten Australia in a thrilling home series, had perhaps the best batting line-up in the world at that time. The hosts had to do with a set of ultra-honest workers. Yet it was flair from the likes of Blignaut in the Indian second innings that turned the tide.
Needing to overhaul a first-innings deficit of 78, India started well, reaching 150 for 2 with Tendulkar still in. From then on, Streak, with swing, and Blignaut, with pace, shared eight wickets between them to set their batsmen a target of 157, with more than a day to go.
Hardworking Zimbabwe won the day thanks to 62 not out from Stuart Carlisle, around whom wickets kept falling. India had been brought back to earth from the heights of the previous series, but the designers of Zimbabwean cricket's future do not seem to remember this monumental triumph.
Gower's hurrahApurv Sardeshmukh on India v England 1984-85
England's tour to India in 1985 could not have started off worse. Within hours of arrival of the English team in India the then Indian Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi was shot dead. A few days later the English High Commisioner was also shot dead. Things were going wrong on the field too. An India under-25 team led by Ravi Shastri and inspired by a century from a slim young Hyderabadi by the name of Mohammad Azharuddin thrashed David Gower's team in a four-day game. A week later England lost the first Test at Mumbai and it looked like it was going to be one way traffic for the Indians.
However, Gower's men fought back. They were helped by typical Indian Harakiri at Delhi during the second Test , which enabled them to level the series. The next Test at Eden Gardens was drawn but Chennai brought another victory for England. A draw at Kanpur meant that England had won their first series in India for twenty years.
New stars were born for the English team in that series. Mike Gatting did not have a Test hundred before that series. He scored a hundred in Mumbai and, more importantly, a matchwinning double-century at Chennai. Neil Foster bowled with a lot of spirit. Phil Edmonds had run-up problems before the series started but the Indians had no answer to him during the series.
But the star of the show was Gower. From previous experiences he would have known that coming back from being down in a Test series in India is next to impossible. It was his inspirational leadership which helped the English team to achieve this.