At Adelaide, December 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 2003. India won by four wickets. Toss: Australia. Test debut: I. K. Pathan.
After five breathless days it was difficult to decide what was more confounding. Just how had Australia managed to lose after scoring 556 by the second afternoon? Or how had India managed to win after being 85 for four in reply? Only once had a team scored more runs in the first innings of a Test and yet lost, and that 109-year-old record too belonged to Australia: they made 586 at Sydney in the Ashes opener of 1894-95, enforced the follow-on, and fell 11 short of the 177 needed to win.
So, did India win the match or did Australia lose it? The truth was somewhere in between. It was inevitable that a game yielding more than 1,500 runs would be decided by batting mistakes. Australia's inability to stick to their guns on the fourth day cost them the match. But it was as much a triumph of the Indian spirit, exemplified by none better than Dravid, who was on the field for most of the five days, batting 835 minutes and scoring 305 runs. He was last out in the first innings and there at the end to secure victory. It was a monumental effort, the finest performance by an Indian batsman in an overseas Test, because he made the difference.
The victory was all the more incredible because India had not won a Test in Australia in 23 years, and Australia had not lost a home Test of consequence in five - and because Australia had scored 400 runs on the first day, a record for any day on this ground. Ponting contributed 176 of those, and all the Australians exploited the short square boundaries on a flat pitch against an uninspired attack. It was a strange day, because wickets fell steadily, making the Indians believe they were in the match, but the runs came so fast that the wickets hardly mattered. Two before lunch on a batting pitch would have counted as a fair return if they had not cost 135 runs. Langer was a case in point. In one over from Kumble, he smashed two sixes and two fours, but he perished in the next trying another big one.
Ponting was an exception on a day of breezy cameos, though he was hardly sedate. For the most part, the Indians set a 7-2 or even 8-1 off-side field for him, yet he pierced it unfailingly: amazingly, his first 16 fours were all on the off. He reached 101 in just 117 balls, then scored his next 141 off 235, sluggish only by comparison with his team-mates. He hit 31 fours in all, and batted for eight hours 28 minutes, pausing to blow a kiss to his wife when he reached 200. No one had ever made as much as his 242 in a Test and gone on to lose.
Australia seemed set for at least 600 until Kumble finally had him caught at slip, and followed up with the last two wickets in the same over to restrict the innings to 556. Within a couple of hours it hardly seemed to matter.
Bichel, a controversial selection after a poor game in Brisbane, struck three vital blows. He bowled straight to a canny, defensive field set by Waugh (to Sehwag, there were no slips, only a gully) and India slumped from 66 without loss to 85 for four when Ganguly was run out. Laxman joined Dravid. It took Australia 94 overs to separate them. It was not quite Kolkata; there, they had added 376 for the fifth wicket, here it was a mere 303. That made them only the third pair to share two triple-century stands in Tests, after Bradman and Ponsford and, more recently, the South Africans Gibbs and Smith.
This time, it was Dravid's turn to score the double-hundred. He simply played everything on its merits, leaving every ball that carried the threat of an edge alone, while taking advantage of every scoring opportunity. After he played himself in, his coverdriving was sublime, and the only time he was in danger of getting out was when he top-edged a hook off Gillespie. But it sailed over backward square leg and brought up his hundred.
The law of a ball's merits does not apply to Laxman, who batted as he pleased, clipping balls square on the off side and sometimes fetching them from outside off to flick them past mid-wicket. The Australians had no idea where to bowl to him. He finally departed on the stroke of tea on the third day with India at 388, but Dravid was unshakeable and added 135 more with the tail before he was last out. He had batted all but six minutes of ten hours and hit 23 fours and a six in 446 balls; it was at the time his highest first-class score, and a Test record for India abroad. Australia's advantage had been whittled down to 33.
The Test took a decisive turn on the fourth day when a combination of weariness, tight bowling and a fatal urge to dominate the bowlers caused a dramatic Australian collapse. Agarkar bowled his best spell of the series, swinging the ball both ways, to account for Langer and Ponting, and thereafter every top-order batsman fell trying an aggressive stroke on a pitch that had slowed down. India were left to make 230 in 100 overs; Dravid redeemed a pledge to himself by being there to score the winning runs. There was a minor scare when India lost their fourth wicket on 170, but Dravid sealed a historic victory by cutting MacGill to the cover boundary. Waugh chased the ball all the way, retrieved it from the gutter, handed it over to Dravid and said "Well played." Indeed.
Man of the Match: R. Dravid. Attendance: 75,021.
Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo and Cricinfo Magazine