Form is not on India’s side, but history is, when it comes to the Eden Gardens in Kolkata where the third Test against England will be played from
December 5. It’s a ground where England have won only once in nine Tests while India have triumphed thrice.
Indian cricket needs a revival of sorts considering how poorly Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s team fared in Mumbai where they succumbed to a 10-wicket loss inside four days. Historically, Kolkata has provided that over the years.
India were in the throes of adversity with Clive Lloyd’s West Indians winning the first two Tests in Bangalore and Delhi. India were also reeling under off-field matters. Bishan Singh Bedi was at the receiving end of officialdom and didn’t figure in the opening Test in Bangalore. He claimed just one wicket in Delhi.
The first delivery of the Kolkata Test indicated that there was more trouble in store as Sudhir Naik snicked one off Andy Roberts to wicketkeeper Deryck Murray. A playing XI that included two debutants (Anshuman Gaekwad and Karsan Ghavri) managed 233 and West Indies earned a slender seven-run lead thanks to a century by opener Roy Fredericks. India’s second innings’ score of 316 was based on Gundappa Vishwanath’s 139.
The West Indies were set 310 to win by captain MAK Pataudi but were bowled out five minutes before lunch on Day Five. Bedi (4-52) and Bhagwat Chandrasekhar (3-66) did most of the damage. India’s 85-run triumph was their first home victory over the Caribbeans. But more importantly, it set the tone for India’s fightback in the series which was squared in the following Test at Chennai. India however couldn’t win the decider in Mumbai.
To say Mohammed Azharuddin’s Indians were finding the going tough on foreign soil from late 1990 would be an understatement. They flopped big-time in both forms of the game in Australia (1991-92) and South Africa (1992) before the Englishmen came touring in early 1993.
Questions were raised over Azharuddin’s captaincy and some former players called for the return of Kapil Dev as captain. Ultimately, the selectors persisted with Azharuddin, who relished the opportunity of kicking off a revival on his favourite Eden Gardens turf which provided him a memorable debut in 1984-85.
Graham Gooch’s 100th Test was laced with some extraordinary selection – four pace bowlers (Devon Malcolm, Paul Jarvis, Chris Lewis and debutant Paul Taylor. India had two debutants – Rajesh Chauhan and Vinod Kambli.
Azharuddin (182) seemed to relish the conditions and bowling. Here’s what Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack said about the skipper’s knock: “his was a masterpiece of uninhibited strokeplay matched with watchful defence. He bided his time before taking his pick of the varied assortment of bad balls served up at regular intervals and, until he capitulated to Hick's off-spin with a tired shot, he never looked remotely troubled.” England were forced to follow-on after being bowled out for 163. A better batting performance in the second innings notwithstanding, they crashed to an eight-wicket defeat. England’s best bowler was part-time off-spinner Graeme Hick, who claimed five in the match. India’s win at Eden was followed by success in Chennai and Mumbai.
Even the staunchest of India supporters couldn’t see the hosts getting back at Steve Waugh’s all-conquering Australians, who rolled over India for a 10-wicket win in the opening Test at Mumbai. More so when Australia tore into the Indian bowling for 445 runs in the first innings in the second innings at Kolkata. India’s meagre 171 in response added to the gloom, but on following on, there was a miracle – the biggest in the history of Indian Test cricket and probably more unbelievable that the 1983 World Cup final win over the mighty West Indies.
VVS Laxman, who scored a half century in the first dig, found a willing ally in Rahul Dravid and the pair mesmerised the Eden crowd through their 376-run stand for the fifth wicket. If there is one valid criticism of Waugh’s captaincy, it was illustrated here – shot of ideas when an attacking batsman held sway. But nothing can take away the brilliance of Laxman (281) and Dravid (180), who was the last Indian wicket to fall in that epic Test.
Harbhajan Singh, who bagged a hat-trick on Day One, ran through the Aussies with a six-wicket haul. It was an unbelievable Test, certainly India’s finest against-all-odds Test victory. Some revival it was as India claimed the third Test in Chennai and with that, the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.