'I almost cried': Laxman's pain before Kolkata miracle
On March 14, 2001, India's VVS Laxman overcame a back injury as he and Rahul Dravid batted throughout the fourth day of the Kolkata Test match to turn the tables on one of cricket's greatest Test teams
14 March 2021, 02:27 PM AEST
VVS Laxman has recounted how a back injury three days before the start of the famous 2001 Kolkata Test left him on the verge of tears as he looked at his twisted torso in the mirror of his hotel room.
Two decades on from arguably India’s most famous ever Test win, when they beat Australia at Eden Gardens despite being asked to follow on, Laxman has recalled how he and Rahul Dravid battled serious ailments in the lead-up to and during their historic partnership.
"Three days before the match while batting (in the nets), I had a stiff back," Laxman said this week in a series of interviews with Indian media to mark the 20th anniversary of the match.
"Later in the hotel, our physio Andrew (Leipus) asked me to remove my shirt. I was shell-shocked, my entire upper body had tilted to the left-side. I almost cried.
"Andrew reassured me and thanks to him and to (head coach) John (Wright's) desire that I play even if I was 70 or 60 per cent fit, all that worked in my favour. Otherwise, probably I wouldn't have played."
The Australian team under Steve Waugh's captaincy that took to the field on March 10, 2001 had won 16 straight Tests since August 1999.
The most recent win had come in Mumbai when the Australians thrashed India by 10 wickets, and much the same was expected 10 days later in Kolkata.
And given Laxman's back problem and with Dravid suffering from a viral fever in the lead-up to the match, there were no signs this would be the pair that would turn back the Australian juggernaut.
Australia made 445 in their first innings on the back of the skipper's 110 and 97 from Matthew Hayden, an innings that saw teenage spinner Harbhajan Singh claim 7-123, including the first hat-trick in India's Test history.
Despite that, Australia ran through India's batting with Glenn McGrath taking 4-18 on the way to bundling the home side out for 171. With a first-innings lead of 274 and Waugh opting to enforce the follow on, a 17th straight Test win looked a formality.
Enter Laxman and Dravid.
The pair came together at 4-232 – still 42 runs behind Australia's first-innings total – with nine overs left in the third day's play. At stumps, Laxman already had a century, unbeaten on 109.
"When Rahul came in, I was nervous," Laxman recalled.
"He (had been) batting at No.3 and now he was coming at six. Usually Rahul doesn't talk much when he comes in but this time, he did the fist-bump and tells me 'good going, let's keep up the fight'.
"We had a decent partnership on the third evening and I got to my 100. And while walking back Rahul told me, 'I am so proud about the way you batted the whole day'."
More was to come on the fourth day, as the pair would bat throughout the 90 overs of unrelenting pressure, battling cramps and dehydration but unbowed as they added 335 runs.
"We concentrated on surviving hour by hour. We were starting afresh, which helped in a big way," Laxman said.
"I and Rahul had decided to make them earn our wickets. And like the way we batted together for South Zone (at domestic level), there was a certain amount of calmness with Rahul.
"The toughest phase was after tea. Rahul came into the Test with a viral fever and I was struggling with my back.
"The Australians were coming hard at us. We endured the pain and kept motivating each other."
The pair's incredible partnership lasted a total 104 overs and one ball, from late on the third day to early on the fifth, and added 376 to India's score.
Laxman was the man to fall to end the partnership, caught by Ricky Ponting off McGrath's bowling for 281 after 631 minutes at the crease.
By the time the innings was declared, Australia had taken the third new ball and Dravid had fallen for 180, run out by Waugh.
India had a lead of 383 runs, with little more than two sessions remaining in the Test.
Despite a bright 74-run stand from Matthew Hayden and Michael Slater, Australia soon folded as Harbhajan added six wickets to his seven from the first innings and India celebrated one of Test cricket's most famous wins.
"It was as if everyone in that dressing room and everyone watching the drama unfold at the Eden was in a trance," Laxman said.
"Sometimes it seems a dream to me but then you all make us relive those moments time and again.
"I never realised at the end of the day I would have gained lessons in life. Life lessons from a game that I so loved.
"Even as I reflect on that epic day, I sometimes feel it was so unreal.
"It is a landmark that we have all come to appreciate as the turning point of Indian cricket's success in the modern era.
"We grew into a team that was strong on self-belief. We discovered the winning ways against the then best team in the world.
"Just the magnitude of the situation and to play in that fashion against a tough Australian side, even today it gives me goosebumps and teaches us that nothing is impossible in life."