Recalling (and ranking) some of India’s greatest Test knocks of the modern era, constructed against some of Australia’s best bowling attacks on their home grounds.
India’s impending tour to Australia is currently masked by the glitz of IPL cricket, but once the T20 hangover ends, the team will have just about half a month to tune into Test mode. It will mark another chapter in the storied rivalry between the two sides, one that ascended to higher levels at the turn of the millennium, with India’s visiting teams beginning to give the hosts a fair fight. The current batting lot doesn’t have to look any further their own predecessors to seek inspiration on how to do well against Australian attacks on zippy pitches.
No.5) Sourav Ganguly, 144
In an imperious, counter-attacking knock, perhaps the best of his career, Ganguly set the tone for the drawn 2003/04 series with a brazen captain’s knock. Replying to Australia’s first-innings score of 323 in the opening Test, Ganguly walked in with the team at 62-3, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag back in the hut. The bowling attack perhaps wasn’t the strongest, but even the backup resources during Australia’s golden era were replete with match winners.
Aware of his apparent struggles against the short ball, the three-pronged pace attack would have smelt blood, but Ganguly promptly diffused any danger. Out came the famed cuts, drives and punches as he smeared the attack all over the off-side, relentlessly puncturing the in-field. On reaching three figures, he punched the air in jubilation – a statement was made, and the stage was set for what turned out to be an enthralling series.
No.4) VVS Laxman, 167
Laxman has admitted that, before the knock, he feared that his Test career would come to a close, having failed to post a single three-figure score in 17 Tests. In his autobiography, Laxman revealed having visualised, through three years of scratchy form, that he’d score a century in front of a packed crowd. It finally happened at Sydney, the innings resuscitating his Test career, and signalling the start of a fabled rivalry against Australia over the next decade.
It didn’t come easy. Glenn McGrath welcomed the opener by whistling a bouncer over his head first ball, and followed it up with another one soon after that thundered right into his helmet. Visibly shaken by the blow, Laxman responded with a characteristically delectable cover drive, indicating that he was ready for a contest. He put 27 out of his 198 deliveries for boundaries, unleashing a mad mix of punches, pulls and cuts, all of which became an integral part of his game for seasons to come. When he reached his century, India were 167-5, and he continued to charge on for the rest of the day before falling as the eighth wicket with the score on 258.
No.3) Sachin Tendulkar, 241*
There’s a bit of mystique and reverence attached with this one – as is always the case with great masterpieces. It was a knock unlike Tendulkar, built less on domination and more on self-discipline, with a grand total of zero cover drives. Troubled consistently by the outswinger in the lead-up, Tendulkar decided to drop one his most favoured strokes as he went about constructing India’s innings with unnatural assurance.
The backfoot was preferred more, and the deft clips and flicks off the pads emerged, as he constructed the innings over ten hours, sticking by his maxim of not pushing one through covers across 436 unbeaten deliveries. Steve Waugh called it “a lesson in my last Test match”.
No.2) Virat Kohli, 141
If there’s one Test innings that can describe Kohli, the truculent cricketer, it is this. It was a career-defining knock in a valiant pursuit of 364 on the final day of the Test, soon after he was thrust into captaincy by MS Dhoni’s injury. Kohli started with a flurry of boundaries against Nathan Lyon, targeting the leg-side with wristy sweeps and carefully placed pull shots. Others would have advised against going for the target, but Kohli wasn’t ready to settle for a draw.
The quicks followed, but Kohli kept on fighting, bringing up three figures, his second of the game – only the second man after Greg Chappell to do so on captaincy debut. The rest of the line-up soon started to crumble around him as Lyon took charge, but Kohli was unrelenting, ready to fight till his last stroke. Unfortunately for him, the last one went straight into the hands of deep mid-wicket, leaving India just short of an incredible finish.
No.1) Rahul Dravid, 233
Craftsmanship of the highest order. Dravid must have weighed a ton walking into bat at Adelaide, carrying the burden of a horrid tour in 1999/2000. But this one wasn’t just about personal retribution – the double-century handed India their first win in Australia in 22 years, seemingly transforming the team overnight from meek tourists to combative visitors.
Before Adelaide, Dravid’s best score on Australian soil in eight innings was 43* – scored in the previous game itself. India seemed to be sliding in response to 556, stumbling to 85-4, when Dravid looked inside himself and yanked out his very best form. The drives and pulls were not dictated by the scorecard, but Dravid’s unflinching will to score big – over the next ten hours, Dravid dug India out in the classiest way known to a batsman. A hooked six off a bouncer brought up his century, and a crunching cut his double ton – two out of the 24 boundaries he hit in all, each one highlighting the form the man was in.