Author : Sougat Chakravartty
Comebacks in cricket are not uncommon, but they do make matches the stuff of legends.
They re-affirm the faith of the cricket-loving public in their stars, and for some veterans, these are a reminder that they have still got plenty of fuel left in the tank.
India, too, has seen its share of come-from-behind victories, engineered, at times, by the most unlikely set of players. If it took two enterprising bowlers to steer the side home in a must-win encounter against the Aussies during the Titan Cup, the exuberance of youth took them to the summit in the famous NatWest final of 2002.
Here is a list of five greatest comebacks in Indian cricket:
5. India v/s South Africa (Champions Trophy semi-final, Colombo, 2002)
Powered by blazing half-centuries from newcomers Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh, India managed to secure a fighting total on the board against the ruthlessly professional Proteas in the first semi final of the 2002 Champions Trophy.
Initially, the players got their fans’ hopes up with a brilliant display in the field; Graeme Smith was snapped up by an acrobatic Yuvraj at point, giving rise to a belief that perhaps the Men in Blue could pull off an upset.
But no one reckoned with Herschelle Gibbs and Jacques Kallis, long considered by their opponents to be painful thorns in the flesh. The two went about dismantling the target brick by brick as they slowly took control of the game.
India desperately needed a divine intervention, and it came in a most unlikely fashion – Gibbs, on 116, retired hurt due to cramps and severe dehydration. Two runs later, Jonty Rhodes was dismissed, and that opened the floodgates.
The spinners operated beautifully in tandem, weaving their webs of deception as South Africa struggled to force the pace. Eventually, they ran out of steam, falling short by 10 runs and sending the Blue Brigade into the final.
4. India v/s Sri Lanka (Only T20 International, Colombo, 2009)
On a day that belonged to the two Pathan brothers, Irfan and Yusuf scripted a fairy-tale victory for their side in the one-off Twenty20 game against hosts Sri Lanka, and won the hearts of many with their free-flowing, uninhibited, incandescent power hitting.
Leg spinner Malinga Bandara set out to defend his side’s total with every trick he possessed, trying to wrong-foot the Indian batsmen with a magnificent display of wrong ‘uns and leg-breaks. With the old fox Sanath Jayasuriya blocking up one end, Bandara managed to prise out the likes of Raina, Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja as the T20 world champions struggled towards the target of 172.
With just 4.5 overs left in the game after Jadeja departed, one could rightly be forgiven for saying that the Men in Blue were totally out of it. But the Pathans decided to end things their way, with Yusuf demolishing Bandara with three monstrous hits, and Irfan joined the party when the quicker bowlers came on.
The latter sealed the deal for his side by sending a Malinga delivery soaring over mid-wicket, and then raced down to hug his smiling brother as India ended their Lankan sojourn on a high.
3. India v/s Pakistan (Fourth ODI, Asia Cup 2010)
In any Indo-Pak encounter, you get the feeling that what happens out in the middle is nothing short of a war, a huge struggle for supremacy. The Men in Blue fought tooth and nail to assert their dominance over their arch-rivals in a riveting contest that went right down to the wire.
Salman Butt and Shoaib Malik had already laid the platform for a 300-plus score, but some disciplined bowling by Indians towards the end of the innings hampered their progress somewhat, and cameos from skipper Shahid Afridi and Kamran Akmal lifted them to a competitive total of 267.
Tempers were frayed and nerves got the better of both sides, with Gambhir and Kamran exchanging words in each other’s faces before being pulled away by their respective teammates. The Indian opener combined well with captain MS Dhoni to put his team on track, but their dismissals served to pump up the Pakistan squad and the hits suddenly dried up.
Raina and Jadeja pushed and plodded, but the latter was soon removed by Saeed Ajmal, bringing the feisty Harbhajan in the middle. While the Sardar took on Shoaib, the left-handed Raina went after Mohammed Aamer, bringing their side closer to the target.
The mercurial Akhtar let loose a verbal volley at Harbhajan after the batsman could manage to score just a couple off the pacer’s final over. A riled Singh shot back before the umpire intervened.
Needing seven off the final over, Raina was run out on the second ball, but Praveen Kumar managed to score three runs off the two deliveries he faced, leaving the Turbanator on strike for the penultimate delivery to be bowled by Aamer. Three more to get.
Harbhajan wound up, swung hard, connected well and sent the ball into orbit over the mid-wicket region. He then pumped his fists and roared, looking for Akhtar, who waved him off. India took the game and eliminated the Men in Green from the tournament.
2. India v/s Australia (First Test, 2010-11 Border Gavaskar Trophy, Mohali)
This game had all the makings of a classic Test match, one that shall stand the ravages of time and be forever immortalized in the memories of many.
Bolstered by a century from all-rounder Shane Watson and crucial knocks by skipper Ricky Ponting, wicket-keeper Tim Paine and pace bowler Mitchell Johnson, Australia gained a slender lead despite gritty contributions from Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Suresh Raina.
Ishant Sharma led the charge in the second innings, troubling Ponting with his swing, and Australia eventually ended up setting a target of 216 to win. Late in the fourth day, Ben Hilfenhaus left the hosts reeling at 55/4, with Tendulkar and night-watchman Zaheer Khan at the crease.
The wickets kept falling on the final day, and India soon found themselves gasping at 124/8, with the injured VVS Laxman valiantly holding the fort as he was joined by Ishant for the ninth wicket.
After lunch came the turnaround. Laxman was happy to give his younger partner the strike, and Ishant responded with a solid defence, managing to score a few boundaries in almost every over. The pair fended off every Aussie bowler, rotating the strike and steadily chipping away at the target.
A twist in the tale occurred when Hilfenhaus won an LBW decision over Sharma, leaving the Indians nine down with 11 more to get. Pragyan Ojha was fortunate enough to survive a similar fate off Mitchell Johnson, and Steve Smith’s attempted direct hit to run him out resulted in four overthrows, getting the Indians closer to the target.
Eventually, Johnson blinked, sending a delivery down the leg side. Ojha nudged it past the diving Paine and ran the two runs needed to complete a magnificent win. Once again, Laxman had proved to be the bane of the Aussies, as India secured a 1-0 lead and won the next game at Bangalore to take the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
1. India v/s Australia (Eden Gardens, 2001)
Reams have been written on the game that turned the Indians from easy prey to roaring predators. It will be tagged as Laxman’s Test forever – apt, but not quite complete.
To cut a long story short, India came into the second Test of the 2001 Border-Gavaskar Trophy on the back of a humiliating defeat at Mumbai. After the Australians amassed a huge first innings total, India slumped to 171 all out and suffered the ignominy of a follow-on, still 274 behind.
Laxman, sent in at No. 3, ended Day Three on another three-figure score, unbeaten on 109, and with him was the woefully out of form Rahul Dravid, batting on a dogged seven run score. Little did anyone know the magic that would be unleashed the next day.
Both batsmen remained unconquered, unaffected by anything Steve Waugh threw their way. Laxman progressed to a double century, while Dravid reached the three-figure knock and took an uncharacteristic swipe at the press box, gesturing fiercely at the ones who had written him off. India declared their second innings and gave the Aussies a target of 384.
Harbhajan Singh then ran through the rival line-up, and boosted by Tendulkar’s triple strike, India achieved a thrilling victory, equalling the series.