Rahul Bhattacharya is the author of the cricket tour book Pundits from Pakistan and the novel The Sly Company of People Who Care
Perfect Test matches do exist, and some perfect Tests are more perfect than others. The very Test after Kolkata 2001 was a tighter, tenser, higher-stakes affair than the one in question. But Kolkata 2001 remains Kolkata 2001. Ask anyone.
For those who have forgotten the background, this was the time after match-fixing and hopeless results. Mohammad Azharuddin had gone, Sachin Tendulkar had resigned the captaincy, and Sourav Ganguly had just met John Wright to try and repair things. Steve Waugh's Australia, meanwhile, were on a record 15-Test winning streak, and in the first Test of this series, in Mumbai, they made it 16.
At Eden Gardens, just about the only consolation from India's first-innings flop was VVS Laxman's fluid 59, the last man out to a tricky decision. His utter comfort at the crease led to a promotion from No. 6 to No. 3 in the follow-on. Minute by minute, hour by hour, session by session, he along with Rahul Dravid, with whom he batted an entire day, stroked India back into contention. Laxman's back "listed" as it often did; Dravid sweated buckets as he always did. The dressing room was rigged with saline drips and ice-kerchiefs. It was a partnership of 376 runs in the wrenching humidity of Kolkata, physical like brutalist endurance sport, and yet full of the finest skill.
In the last innings Australia needed to bat 75 overs to draw, or make 384 to win, and at 161 for 3 at tea, the former at least looked sealed. Then came the most frenetic of all Test-match sessions: seven gone in 25 overs, three to Sachin Tendulkar's wristspin, four to the magnificent Harbhajan Singh, who had taken a hat-trick in the first innings and finished with 13 for the match. If you close your eyes and concentrate, you can still hear the noise.