Going into the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne, most sides are beaten to the ground if not finished. In 2003’04, India found themselves in an unlikely position: they were leading the four-match Border-Gavaskar Trophy 1-0 after pulling off a stunning win in Adelaide.
The pressure was on the Australians and Virender Sehwag smelled blood. The India opener had got off to decent starts in the series so far but couldn’t capitalise. He wasn’t going to miss out this time.
There was no change in technique or approach. Sehwag played in the manner he knew best. Australia’s pace battery of Brett Lee, Nathan Bracken or Brad Williams soon saw their deliveries speed away to the fence. Lee in particular, struggled with his delivery stride.
Leg-spinner Stuart McGill was also dispatched with disdain and with the opening stand crossing the 100-run mark, skipper Steve Waugh wore a look of disbelief and frustration. Giving company to Sehwag was his Delhi teammate Aakash Chopra, who made a steely 48 off 138 balls. Both batsmen were hit on the helmet multiple times but their resolve paid off as India were in command half-way through the day.
Sehwag’s adventure continued after he crossed his century as well. He told CricketNext in an interview recalling that knock: “My whole focus was to score a hundred and after I reached my century, I thought about 144 scored by (Sourav) Ganguly, (Rahul) Dravid’s double hundred in the last Test and VVS Laxman’s 160-odd in Sydney, so I wanted a big hundred.”
Alas, with less than 12 overs to go before the close of play, Sehwag’s temptation to smash part-timer Simon Katich out of the park to get to a first career double hundred backfired. Bracken at long-on took a safe catch and Australians knew they were back in the contest.
After Sehwag’s wicket, India collapsed and could only get 366 on the board. A mammoth Ricky Ponting double century gave Australia a handsome first innings lead, and despite half-centuries from Rahul Dravid and Ganguly in the second essay, India failed to test the hosts with a target. The imperious Ponting and Matthew Hayden chased down 97 with little fuss to level the series.
Sehwag later said that skipper Ganguly, who was at the non-striker’s end, had warned him against taking on Katich. The Nawab of Najafgarh had to wait for three more months before going past the 200-run mark as he went on to become India’s first triple centurion in Multan against Pakistan.
Sehwag’s effort in Melbourne that day might have gone in vain but went down in Indian folklore as one of the best knocks outside the subcontinent.