After the high of Brisbane during the unforgettable 2003-’04 tour of Australia, where a Sourav Ganguly century allowed India to draw the first Test, the Indian team arrived in Adelaide for the second Test. Morale was high, there was hope in the air for Indian fans.
But the Australian batsmen quickly found their touch. On the back of a classy 242 by Ricky Ponting, the hosts scored 556 (in just 127 overs) in the first innings
In reply, India collapsed to 85/4 before Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman orchestrated a 233-run stand to help India finally finish on 523 all out. The hosts had a small 33-run lead and given how both teams had batted in the match, no one expected it to matter much.
That was when Ajit Agarkar upped his game to script what is arguably his finest moment in international cricket.
“The thing I remember the most was the Kookaburra usually swung,” Agarkar told News 18 in 2018.
“That particular afternoon we just wanted to bowl well, get some early wickets and put Australia under pressure. I don’t think at that point anyone was thinking about winning the Test match because when there are 500+ runs scored by both teams and there are just one and a half days left on a good pitch, you don’t think that you’ll bowl a team like Australia out in their conditions and be in with a chance.”
But because the ball was swinging, Agarkar found some rhythm. At his best, the Mumbai pacer was skiddy customer – the ball hurrying the batsmen – and he could swing the ball too. His lack of consistency cost him, especially in Test cricket. But, on that day, he found his zone.
Justin Langer was trapped leg before the wicket by one that came into him (a mode of dismissal we saw more of as the series went on) and Ponting was caught at gully. Australia were reduced to 18/2. Then, Ashish Nehra sent Matthew Hayden back. 44/3. Suddenly, it looked liked India might have a chance.
Agarkar added: “Fortunately the ball swung. Swung into Langer. Ponting was in some form... he has been in good form all his life and had made a double-hundred in the first innings. It was probably a ball too close to him and maybe with the new ball, it bounced a bit more. Instead of cutting square of the wicket, it went behind the wicket and Aakash (Chopra) took a sharp catch at gully. That kind of helped. Two premier batsmen, and the ball was still new. Suddenly the middle order was exposed, although it was a strong middle order.”
But then Damien Martyn and Steve Waugh got stuck in. The score advanced steadily until Ganguly threw the ball to Sachin Tendulkar. The trick worked. Both batsmen were caught by Dravid off Tendulkar. The two quick wickets reduced the hosts to 112/5.
Before India could celebrate too much, Simon Katich and Adam Gilchrist stitched together another partnership to take the score to 183/5. Gilchrist, in particular, was in an aggressive mood. His 43 runs had come off just 44 balls. The Australians, they simply did not know how to go without a fight.
But Kumble got India the breakthrough by sending Gilchrist back and Agarkar returned to the attack and take the last four wickets.
Against all odds, Australia were bowled out for just 196.
Agarkar’s spell was one of India’s finest moments in Australia but we wouldn’t have remembered it as fondly if the Indian team hadn’t returned to knock off the runs in the fourth innings. Dravid, with 72, once again played a vital role but everyone chipped in.
When the winning runs were scored Agarkar was fittingly at the non-striker’s end. He didn’t need to face a ball but most would argue, he had done his part.
Best bowling in an innings by Indians in Oz
|N Kapil Dev||38.0||6||106||8||1||Adelaide||13 Dec 1985|
|A Kumble||46.5||7||141||8||2||Sydney||2 Jan 2004|
|JJ Bumrah||15.5||4||33||6||2||Melbourne||26 Dec 2018|
|AB Agarkar||16.2||2||41||6||3||Adelaide||12 Dec 2003|
|BS Chandrasekhar||14.1||2||52||6||2||Melbourne||30 Dec 1977|
|BS Chandrasekhar||20.0||3||52||6||4||Melbourne||30 Dec 1977|
|S Abid Ali||17.0||2||55||6||1||Adelaide||23 Dec 1967|
|Mohammed Shami||24.0||8||56||6||3||Perth||14 Dec 2018|
|EAS Prasanna||33.4||9||104||6||3||Brisbane||19 Jan 1968|
|EAS Prasanna||34.0||6||141||6||2||Melbourne||30 Dec 1967|
|A Kumble||51.0||8||176||6||2||Melbourne||26 Dec 2003|
Watch the spell here:
Watch Agarkar relive moments from the match here:
Statistics courtesy ESPNCricinfo