Rose-tinted memories flavour famed quartet stories

Rose-tinted memories flavour famed quartet stories

Legendary cricketers (from right) Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh and VVS Laxman in a mid-pitch conference on the opening day of the first-ever pink ball Test at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata on Friday. PTI

The presence of an array of legendary cricketers was a perfect prelude to India’s maiden pink ball Test which saw a near full stadium even before the first ball had been bowled.

The gesture to honour the members of the first ever Test between the two teams was quite apt as well. The likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Venkatesh Prasad, Sunil Joshi, among others, represented the Indian team from that Test, led by Sourav Ganguly - the current BCCI president. Besides these cricketers, there was G R Viswanath, Anil Kumble and Sunil Gavaskar that had the capacity crowd constantly testing their vocal chords.

The highlight of the day, apart from the Indian pacers running amok, was the mid-pitch conference between four of India’s finest cricketers -- Tendulkar, Kumble, VVS Laxman and Harbhajan Singh. The quartet came together to relive some of the memorable wins of their careers during the break after the first session. Seated at the centre of the ground, the foursome recalled some of the finest wins at Eden Gardens, their first meetings and the special bond they share well beyond their playing days.

No discussion between these cricketers can be complete without the 2001 Test against Australia. Though Kumble wasn’t part of the Test having undergone an operation to his bowling shoulder, his mind was at Eden Gardens where India were staring at certain defeat after following on.  

"I was travelling on the fourth day of that Test,” recalled Kumble. “I remember telling Evan Speechly (then team physio)… I told him 'we're winning this.' When I landed in Mumbai at 3.00 am, I asked (someone at the) immigration (as to) what happened… Tendulkar's leg-breaks were fabulous in that match. Had he taken it seriously, I may have been in trouble,” said the former leg-spinner, referring to Tendulkar’s two crucial wickets that paved the way for Harbhajan to wreak havoc.

Quick to seize the opportunity, Harbhajan revealed the reason why he got to play the series in the first place. "If Anil bhai was there, I wouldn't have played," joked Harbhajan, who was recalled as Kumble was injured. “I got hammered in the first innings. The biggest celebration for my hat-trick came from (Rahul) Dravid and S Ramesh. I can never forget their hug and embrace."

Further talking about the same match, Tendulkar spoke about the nervousness in the dressing room and how superstition had taken them over.  

"When we were following on, we had two and half days to bat out. In 10 minutes, (coach John) Wright and Sourav decided that Laxman will bat at three and Rahul at six. He was in good rhythm. Nobody moved in the dressing room when those two batted. (Energy) drinks and ice packs were all being prepared for them. It was a magical partnership and suddenly there was this hope that we could win if Bhajji and Zak bowl well."

Moving on to another famous win, Kumble and Tendulkar spoke about the 1996 Hero Cup semifinal when the Mumbaikar defended just six runs against South Africa.

"This was the first time we were playing under lights in India," Kumble pointed out. "I was there at long on and I was hoping the ball wouldn't come to me. There was a run out, and an lbw. It was a memorable moment."

After Tendulkar had done the deed in the semifinal, it was the turn of Kumble to do what he did best – run through opposition. He claimed 6/12 in the final against West Indies and killed the summit clash as a contest.

"West Indies probably didn't hear what advice I was given by someone about Anil and that was ‘never ever play him off the backfoot, you'll lose your stumps.' There was plenty of dew, and the wrist-spinners have a massive challenge when there is dew. When he was in rhythm, Anil used to finish off matches. That is what he did in that Hero Cup final."

Later during the dinner break, most of the former India Test captains took a lap of honour in open carts.