By Qaiser Mohammad Ali
New Delhi, Nov 25 (IANS) The historic India-Australia Kolkata Test of the 2000-01 series was Shyam Kumar Bansal’s last of his six-Test career as an umpire, and it turned out to be a see-saw battle that has gone down as one of the best Tests ever played. Bansal fondly remembers the backfoot drives of VVS Laxman, who scored a momentous 281, Rahul Dravid’s 180, and off-spinner Harbhajan Singh’s hat-trick vividly, even at the age of 80.
Almost 20 years after officiating in the match in front of a packed Eden Gardens, Bansal also recalled the jeers he received when he turned down an appeal from the Indians against Aussie tailender Jason Gillespie towards the end of the first day’s play. Gillespie and captain Steve Waugh ended up sharing a 133-run record stand for the ninth wicket that helped the visiting team pile up 445 in their first innings.
“On the second day, spectators jeered me from morning till evening. It was because towards the end of the first day’s play, Gillespie had supposedly edged a ball from pacer Venkatesh Prasad and there was a big appeal from the Indians. I could not judge that,” Bansal told IANS.
At the end of the first day, Waugh was batting on 29 and Gillespie on 6. The pair went on to add record number of runs the next day — 133, an Australian ninth-wicket record against India.
“As the Aussies scored the runs on the second day, the whole day the spectators jeered me with ‘hai hai’ slogans. Whenever I got out to the middle of the field, they would jeer me, and a similar thing would happen when I would return to the match officials’ room during lunch and tea breaks. I couldn’t do a thing. Whatever had to happen had happened,” said Bansal, who was well over 60 when he officiated in that match.
“I actually didn’t realise that I had made the supposed error. At the time, I felt that they [Indians] are probably trying to put pressure on me to declare Gillespie out,” he said, and in the loud noise emanating from the stands, it was almost impossible to hear the snicks.
Bansal also explained why he missed the edge, if there was one.
“It was a ball that swung and supposedly took the edge off Gillespie’s bat. An edge off a straight ball is easily visible to an umpire. But when the edge comes off a swinging ball and if the ball takes the edge in the direction of swing, it is very difficult to judge. Remember, I had no option, like asking the batsman if he has edged it or not. Now, of course, there is a review system in place; at the time, 20 years ago, it wasn’t there,” reasoned the soft-spoken Bansal.
Bansal said officiating at a packed Eden Gardens makes it difficult for an umpire to concentrate.
“The pressure from the public was there. There’s no doubt about it. Just imagine, around one lakh people watching a match [and you are officiating in the middle]. Of course, now the capacity of Eden Gardens has been reduced after they installed chairs in the entire stadium. The biggest problem for an umpire is the noise that the crowd makes at Eden Gardens. The noise impacts your concentration. So, instead of 100 per cent, you have to concentrate 200 per cent there,” he said.
After Australia scored 445 – despite Harbhajan’s seven-wicket haul that included a hat-trick — India led by Sourav Ganguly were all out for 171, thus conceding a 274-run lead and being asked to follow-on.
“And the fourth day’s play was just the opposite: Not a single Indian wicket fell as Laxman and Dravid batted the whole day for their record partnership. And then big drama unfolded on the fifth and final day,” said Bansal.
“The boundaries that Laxman slammed off the backfoot were simply priceless. And he repeatedly did that. I cannot describe the innings that Dravid and Laxman played. Both would watch the ball till the last second and then play their shots. They were probably made for that Test match — no other words could describe their knocks,” he said.
In the second innings, India were a transformed lot as Laxman and Dravid put together a record 376-run partnership for the fifth wicket, which helped the home team to declare at 657 for seven wickets.
“Harbhajan became a completely different bowler after he completed his hat-trick [victims: Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, and Shane Warne],” recalled Bansal.
In Australia’s second innings, Harbhajan was again the best bowler with six wickets while Sachin Tendulkar bagged three as the tourists folded up for 212 in 68.3 overs on the fifth day, with India winning by 171 runs. It was only the third time in the history of Test cricket that a team had won after following on.
Australia had come to India after winning 15 consecutive Tests and extended it to 16th with a win inside three days in the first Test in Mumbai. But India fought back in Kolkata and then beat Australia in the third and final Test in Chennai as well to clinch the series 2-1.
“Glenn McGrath bowled really well in that match. Several times his deliveries missed the bats of the Indians by centimetres. It was a most memorable match for India, probably more than for any player in particular,” Bansal pointed out.