You are captaining Australia in the 2001 Eden Gardens Test. VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid have just brought up their 200 stand on day four, and India are 158 ahead. It's clear something special is happening. Now, you are given a lifeline. You can bring in any two bowlers active at the time to replace two of your bowlers. Whom do you bring in to break this epic stand?
By a quirk of scheduling, not only would the ideal fast bowler have been available to step in, he was also a short plane ride away, having days earlier claimed eight match-winning wickets in a humdinger of a second Test in Kandy. The winter of 2000-01 was Darren Gough's apogee. In consecutive away series against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, he bowled with peerless skill and unquenchable optimism to propel Nasser Hussain's men to the greatest triumphs of their lives, and in the process produced bursts of reverse-swinging brilliance that neither Waqar Younis nor Wasim Akram, at this late stage of their own careers, were able to better. Where others would have grimaced at yet another Laxman cover drive, Gough would have grinned and gone again. And, assuming that kidnapping Harbhajan Singh, Billy Midwinter-style, and forcing him to switch teams mid-match is out of the question, I would instead co-opt Saqlain Mushtaq as my mystery spinner of choice, his doosra still a relatively new and unfathomable weapon.
There's no nice way to say this, but if you have to break the growing Curse of Kolkata, there's no point in calling in steady, disciplined metronomes, nor once-in-a-generation, ball-of-a-century spinners. This is the India who have spinners down pat. They know how to sort out auras. This is Dravid, the batting equivalent of Pigeon without the sulky snarlings, and Laxman, who munches his way through spinners for starters. Since we've given an out, take the only one that makes sense.
I'm going to assume anything is possible, since how else could I be captaining Australia. So off comes the arm-sling that kept Anil Kumble out of this series, his shoulder is magically healed, and he puts on the Baggy Green. I'll become the second Australian captain to drop Shane Warne (though just for half a Test, so maybe I'll be only the second most selfish player he's played with), but Kumble at Eden to Laxman and Dravid is mouth-watering. By 2001, all three knew each other's games inside out.
I want scary pace from one end, and who better to call on than Shoaib Akhtar. Two balls like the back-to-back yorkers he bowled to Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar at Eden Gardens in 1999 would do very nicely, thank you.
With McGrath, Kasprowicz and Gillespie not finding the breakthrough, it's time to bring in someone similar to McGrath, but with the ability to bounce the ball more. Enter Courtney Walsh. With the lead swelling, Walsh will be able to plug the runs by bowling to his field, and the odd short ball could surprise the batsmen. Due to his higher release position, he may also get some variable bounce with the old ball. Walsh is also a patient bowler, unlike McGrath, who can get flustered when things are not going his way.
The leading candidate to come in and turn Australia's fortunes with a prodigious role of his wrist is Muralitharan - by far the most prolific wicket-taker of the period, and with conditions that ought to suit him. However, Muralitharan had an even more underwhelming record in India than his potential team-mate Warne. Also, he might baulk at the idea of being asked to help win a match for Australia. Instead I'll call on another offspinner with a fiendish doosra in Mushtaq, who claimed four consecutive five-fors against India, in Chennai and Delhi, two years previously. To add further spice, let's also go with Younis, some way from his pomp but still capable in 2001 of making the old ball veer like an angry wasp - one good delivery might be all it takes to quell ideas of an India comeback for the ages.
He may have been 38 by the Eden Test, but from the turn of the century until the start of this match, no one bar Muralitharan had more wickets than Walsh. And among active players who had bowled in at least 10 matches, only McGrath could lay claim to a better average than his 20.25. But unlike McGrath, who Dravid and Laxman had made look like little more than a glorified Mark Ealham, Walsh actually had the pace and bounce that might have upset the duo on a pitch that packed as much menace as a snail on sedatives.
Few fast bowlers have ever been as good in India as Walsh, who took 43 wickets at 18.55 in the country. The last of his matches in India was in 1994, and although he didn't get to play there late in his career, he was as masterful as ever elsewhere. Durable, wily, skillful, and still capable of putting in long shifts, if anyone could wangle his way through Laxman or Dravid's defence, Walsh was the guy.