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banner Friday, 16 March, 2001, 08:52 GMT
The passion of the masses
Indian supporters celebrate at Eden Gardens
Firecrackers were lit as India closed in on victory
Australian batsman Justin Langer reflects on a rare defeat for his team amid astonishing scenes in Calcutta.

It is uncanny that on the morning of day two of this historic Eden Gardens Test, coach John Buchanan addressed the team by saying this could be one of the greatest Tests we will ever play.

How he came to the prediction is questionable, but whatever prompted his foresight after 90 overs of day one, he was right on the money.

Losing is never easy, especially when you are used to winning, but on this occasion we were beaten by a very determined Indian team who were quite obviously out to prove their critics wrong.

After the first Test match in Mumbai, the fickle press corps tore the Indian team to shreds, blaming the captain, the inept batsmen and the poor bowling depth.

From our viewpoint, this was positive on the surface because the criticism could have destroyed any confidence or unity within our opposition ranks.

Harbhajan Singh celebrates one of his 13 wickets in the Calcutta Test
Harbhajan Singh was India's match-winner

Unfortunately, the barrage seemed to act as a motivating factor for the likes of Ganguly, Laxman, Dravid, Tendulkar and Singh, who had a look in their eyes of conviction in what they were trying to achieve.

After the Steve Waugh led fight-back in our first innings and the awesome display by our bowlers on day two, every person following this match throughout the world would have expected another easy Australian victory.

India was following on, we had everything to play for, and the momentum of the game was flowing our way.

Enter VVS Laxman, who played the innings of a lifetime and Rahul Dravid - always a fighter of high quality.

Suddenly, a 17th straight Aussie victory was looking less likely, with the odds tilting towards a draw by the end of day five.

By lunch, those odds were leaning even heavier towards that draw, with 10 wickets in hand and 60 overs to face on a pitch starting to turn more by the minute.

When Slats was out, the Indians, both on and off the ground, started sensing a sniff of victory.

Justin Langer batting for Australia against India
Langer batting at Eden Gardens

That sense heightened when I was out sweeping and Mark Waugh was out without troubling the scorers.

What we were hoping would singe out to a tame draw after tea, was a little more tense when the second break came in the afternoon.

With Matty Hayden looking in total control and our master-batting captain at the crease the atmosphere within the changing room was a little tense but controlled and confident.

Regardless of the score at tea, the climate outside the changing room was electric.

The crowd had swelled with every wicket, as the patriotic Indian supporters, all 100,000 of them, started shouting and screaming with the intensity of a raging inferno.

Never have I heard a roar like this. For five days the crowd has boomed to over eighty thousand a day.

Now with the climax of the test reaching it's pinnacle, the final session was sure to be entertaining no matter what the result.

If the noise was loud when the players re-entered the arena, imagine the passion and force of the masses when 'Tugga' was caught at leg slip off the confident Harbhajan Singh.

It was like being on a surfboard at the base of a tidal wave!

The tension in the air was suffocating as Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist left the ground without scoring.

Batting star Sachin Tendulkar made an impact with the ball
Tendulkar took the vital wicket of Matthew Hayden

Still the in-form Matt Hayden stood firm. That was until the enigmatic Sachin Tendulkar trapped him in front of the wickets. Out lbw for another superb 60 odd runs.

It was almost as if Sachin hadn't played a part with the bat so he owed it to the crowd and his teammates to have an influence with the ball. Such is the nature of the player.

As the wickets continued to fall, our aspirations of staying one nil up in this series were faltering.

India was that tidal wave that we have become so used to over the last 16 Test matches.

This time though, we were on the surfboard about to be smashed into the hard sand of reality. The reality that says cricket is never to be taken for granted.

When Glenn McGrath was given out padding up to Singh, India rejoiced a monumental and well-deserved victory.

Standing on the outfield was overwhelming as the thousands of Indian supporters lit newspapers and waved them victoriously in the air.

This series, which looked to be ours in a canter only two days ago, is now building up to be the greatest fight of our cricket lives.

The challenge is immense and although we went down today, 16 out of 17 Test matches is something we are intensely proud.

This has been as hard and draining a five days as I have experienced.

From Calcutta,
JL

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