The 1,535th test match took place on March the 11th, 2001 between India and Australia at the ground known as Eden Gardens in Kolkata, India.
Australia had won the first match of the three test series in Mumbai by ten wickets.
On the cricket pitch, India were stumbling. On the world stage, however, they were transcending. The previous May had seen the birth of their billionth citizen and a visit from the President of the United States. In January of 2001 they joined the exclusive club of nations able to launch satellites deep into space.
January of 2001 also the city of Calcutta unleash the bonds of colonialism and officially revert to its pre-colonial name of Kolkata.
And speaking of British Colonialism, their opponents at Eden Gardens, Australia, had just kicked off a year celebration in January to commerate their one hundredth anniversary as a Federation. The previous summer Sydney had hosted the Summer Olympics.
It was not all roses, of course. At the time of the 1,535th test match, Indians were still mourning the 30,000 souls killed in a massive earthquake in the western state of Gujarat. And Australians were just a little over a year away from the tragic bombings in Bali.
Personally, I was living in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis, on the second floor of a two story duplex, with my wife (then girlfriend) and a roommate. Two months prior, I had started working at the Manhattan Toy company, a job I would hold, and love, for the next six years. It was a tremendously happy time in my life.
And with that backdrop, on the morning of March the 11th, with fog and a chill in the air (the day saw a record setting low temperature, though the cool air was short lived), Australia won the coin flip and chose to bat. A little while later, as temperatures spiked into the 90s, where they would stay all day, out walked opening batsmen Michael Slater and Matthew Hayden to begin what is widely considered one of the greatest test matches in the history of the world.
At lunch on the first day, Australia were 88 without loss. Slater and Hayden were both 41*. At tea they were 193/1 – Slater had fallen for 42.
In the third session, Harbhajan Singh took a hattrick of Australian wickets, and the vistors ended the session, and the day, at 291/8. A decent enough score, despite the collapse, but Australia would have hoped for more, considering the decent batting track.
In Southern Serbia, a cease fire between ethnic Albanian guerillas and Serbian forces was breached, as sporadic fighting broke out up and down the Presevo Valley. An 11 year old Serbian boy was killed when Albanian mortar shell struck his house….
Bloody and violent protests broke out in Ukraine, the Dalai Lama called for a referendum on Tibet, and the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Boston Celtics 97-91.
Day two in Kolkata dawned in the same manner it had the day before, with fog and cool temperatures, but by the time Steve Waugh and Jason Gillespie walked back out to the crease, it was 90 degrees.
Waugh, Australia’s captain, and Gillespie, went on to produce a magnificent 9th wicket stand of 133. Waugh scored a century, Gillespie 46, his highest score to date in a test match.
At lunch Australia were 383/8, and 50 minutes before tea, they were finally bowled out for 445.
From 291 for eight to 445 all out. The worm had turned, Australia were comfortably in the ascendancy.
And India’s troubles continued with the bat, despite the fact that the pitch appeared to be more than just a little batter friendly. Ramesh fell for a duck. And the rest of his side did not fair much better.
The day ended with India in all sorts of trouble at 128/8, needing a miracle to avoid the follow-on.
Also, on March the 12th, 2001: Pope John Paul II beatified 233 Spanish martyrs of the Spanish Civil War, the last step before sainthood, in an effort to avoid further attacks from the Basque separatists.
In an eery bit of foreshadowing, speaking in Spanish from Vatican City, the pontiff said:
“Terrorism is born of hatred and, in turn, feeds it. It is radically unjust and increases the situations of injustice, gravely offends God and the dignity and rights of people. With terror, man always comes out the loser,” John Paul said.
“No motive, no cause or ideology can justify it,” he said. “Only peace can build peoples. Terror is the enemy of humanity.”
Six months later, we all know what happened.
Also on the 12th, Astronauts aboard the International Space Station, completed the longest space walk in Nasa’s history: four minutes shy of nine hours.
Oh, and Rod Stewart released his 19th studio album: “Human”.
On day three in Kolkata, the worm turned again.
VVS Laxman played a brilliant half century in a vain attempt to avoid having to follow on, but Warne got him to edge to Hayden, and India ended at 171 all out before the lunch break.
In the follow on, India were 274 runs adrift. Das and Ramesh fell for 30 and 39 respectively, and then VVS Laxman was back at the crease, promoted to third in the lineup after his half century earlier in the day.
Laxman would go on to score a century that afternoon, and India would end the day at 254/4, with Laxman partnered with Rahul Dravid. Laxman was on 109, Dravid on 7.
There were seeds of hope among the Indian faithful, but it was still Australia’s match to lose.
And while hope was growing in Kolkata, six American soldiers were killed in Kuwait during a training exercise, a Palenstian was killed by Israeli soldiers during a bloody protest on the West Bank, the cease fire in southern Serbia finally took hold, as all was quiet in the Presevo Valley, and the Dow plunged 436 points, over 4%, to 10,208 and change, as part of a global sell off.
Day four: March the 14th: another hot, hot day in Kolkata, and a day that Indian cricket fans will never forget.
Dravid and Laxman walked out at ten o’clock in the morning, and they would bat all day.
The day began with India at 254/4.
At lunch they were 376/4 (Laxman 171, Dravid 50).
At tea they were 491/4 (Laxman 227, Dravid 106).
They just kept batting on and on and on.
And Eden Gardens turned into a sea of Indian flags, cheering on what was surely the greatest performance they would ever hope to see on a cricket field.
At stumps they were 589/4 (Laxman 275, Dravid 155).
As VVS walked off, to quote the Old Batsman: “His face was a picture, the look of a total chancer in love with the absurdity of it all.”
I cannot look at the picture without getting chills.
Elsewhere, on March the 14th, as Dravid and Laxman walked off at Eden Gardens: more clashes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, a US ban on meat imports from Europe as fears of Hoof and Mouth disease swept through the UK, and the Yugoslavian army moved into the Presevo Valley: Peace was coming to the Balkans after a decade of war.
Day five in Kolkata, and Laxman and Dravid walked back out.
Dravid fell in a run out, Laxman was caught by Ponting at slip, and India declared at 657 before lunch.
And the pitch was starting to spin.
Harbhajan Singh took six Autralian wickets, and to the delight of the Indian fans, the visitors could just not hang on for a draw.
Just after tea, Singh got McGrath out lbw and the match was over.
India had been forced to follow-on, but still won the match by 171 runs, thanks to a truly magnificent bit of batting from Dravid and Laxman.
Over those five days, 1.7 million babies were born.
Over those five days, 1.25 million people lost their lives.
It was a Test match. The world didn’t stop to watch. Time and history marched on alongside it. But for five days, it marked time for cricket fans the world over.
Only so much can happen during a 90 minute football match, but in five days, the whole world can change. And for many, during those five days in March, it did.