Asked to rate his first-innings knock a couple of days ago, Rahul Dravid had responded with the realism that is a feature of his persona. "It is satisfying to score a hundred in Australia," he had said, "but the true value of the innings will only be judged by what result it achieves for the team." After ensuring the unbelievable for his team, he was willing to term his performance, a staggering 305 runs from 835 minutes of occupying the crease, as the greatest of his life. His captain was more effusive. "Rahul batted like god," said Sourav Ganguly.
God indeed. Because he offered India deliverance. From 85 for 4, he forged a partnership with his old ally, VVS Laxman, that first frustrated Australia and then drove them to desperation. And then, as they sought frantically for a breach in the second innings, Dravid stood before then like an immovable object, offering a straight bat to anything remotely threatening and latching on to every scoring opportunity. Australia blew their chance when Adam Gilchrist dropped him early because after he had got over his early tentativeness, he didn't offer them a sniff. "It was a remarkable achievement," said Steve Waugh, paying Dravid repeated compliments after the match, "to come back after a double-hundred and to be able to concentrate so hard, it is an outstanding performance."
Dravid said there were times today when his concentration flagged. "But it has always been a strong side of my game, so it wasn't difficult to get it back. The motivation wasn't hard to find. There was history for the making, there were many team-mates, our coaching staff, who have worked so hard over the last two or three years, I knew I had to do it for them."
He said the gameplan had been simple. "I knew that if we batted out the overs, we were going to win. It was my job to stay there and let the others bat around me. I had a few partnerships, a brief one with Sehwag, a good one with Sachin and another good one with Laxman. To be able to stay there till the job was done is a quite a special feeling."
Inevitably, comparisons were sought with Eden Gardens. "I have not had a chance to sit back and think about this. May be things will sink in better a few days later. But Eden Gardens was a very emotional affair, very special. But in terms of what it could mean to us as a team, and what this could lead to, this win is significant."
Ganguly offered the same sentiments. "We have been winning Tests abroad in the last couple of years. But to win in Australia, to go one ahead is special. I have been here as vice-captain in 1999. I remember the atmosphere in the dressing room then, and I can feel the difference now."
When asked if his team was not intimidated by Australia, Ganguly said while many members of his team may look soft from outside, there was a lot of steel within. "Don't go by how they look," he said, "we have plenty of tough guys. Rahul, Laxman, Kumble, Zaheer, Ajit, they are all very strong in their head. I am proud of them.
"We know Australia will come hard at us in the next two Tests. But we will be ready for them. We know, and they know, that we can beat them. I have always said that we are the second-best team in the world. And now if we beat them, and with some of their top players going out, well ..."
The job isn't done yet. "Perhaps we will party tonight," Dravid said. "We have a few days of break coming up. Then it's back to work."
Sambit Bal, the editor of Wisden Asia Cricket magazine and Wisden Cricinfo in India, will be following the Indian team throughout this Test series.