It’s a well-known fact that Sachin Tendulkar, one of the greatest cricketers ever, made his international debut as a 16-year-old during India’s tour of Pakistan in 1989. Tendulkar played in all four drawn Tests then and notched up a couple of half-centuries.
The next time Tendulkar would play a Test in Pakistan, he had played over a hundred such matches. He had 9265 Test runs to his name and was the fourth-highest run-getter in the history of the format. While it shows how good the Master Blaster was, it also indicates that India did not play Test cricket in Pakistan for a very long time.
It was in March 2004 that India toured Pakistan for the first time in almost 15 years. Heading into this tour, the visitors had never won a Test in Pakistan. Before the turn of the millennium, the Indian team had played 20 Tests in the home of their rivals, losing five and drawing as many as 15.
Ahead of the Test series, the two teams faced each other in five ODIs. The one-day matches were thrilling, with the Men In Blue coming back from being 1-2 down to winning the series 3-2. That, along with their 1-1 series draw in away conditions against an all-conquering Australia a couple of months earlier, would have given the Indian team a great deal of confidence heading into this three-match Test series.
The first Test of the series was held in Multan and it was a record-breaking match for India in more ways than one. Captain Sourav Ganguly missed the game due to injury and stepping in was Rahul Dravid who won the toss and elected to bat. And what followed was a dominant performance from India.
The first wicket partnership between Virender Sehwag and Aakash Chopra gave India the ideal start. While the duo put on a stand of 160, it was Sehwag who did the majority of the scoring. Chopra, just like he did in Australia a few months earlier, spent valuable time at the crease to see off the new ball (and in this case, the first session too) and scored 42.
There was no stopping Sehwag though. The Nawab of Najafgarh created history by becoming the first Indian batsman to score a Test triple hundred. Sehwag and Tendulkar put on a partnership of 336 for the third wicket which put India firmly in the driver’s seat.
While the former reached an unforgettable landmark, Tendulkar – playing a Test in Pakistan for the first time since his debut series – was unbeaten on 194 when the Indian innings was declared which caused a bit of controversy. Notwithstanding that, India romped to victory, bowling Pakistan out for 407 and 216 (follow-on) to win by an innings and 52 runs. Anil Kumble took six wickets in Pakistan’s second essay and India finally had a Test win in Pakistan, nearly half a century after first playing there.
The hosts came back strongly in the second Test in Lahore. Just like in the previous match, India won the toss and elected to bat. But despite a century from Yuvraj Singh, the visitors managed just 287. In reply, Pakistan put up 489 with centuries from Imran Farhat and Inzamam-ul-Haq. India were always playing catch up from there and eventually lost the game by nine wickets.
With one game to go, the series was level. 1-1. Next stop (and the final one of this tour): Rawalpindi.
India skipper Ganguly was back for this match and with Yuvraj having batted well in the Lahore Test, the Indian think-tank decided to drop Chopra. The Delhi opener, after playing a handy innings in the first match, was dismissed for two single-digit scores in the second. This resulted in a reshuffle in the batting order as wicketkeeper Parthiv Patel was entrusted with opening the innings.
Once again, India won the toss. This time, though, they decided to bowl. And it proved to be a very good decision as Pakistan lost four wickets in the first session. The Indian pacers were a handful for the Pakistan batsmen and the hosts were bowled out for 224 on day one. Lakshmipathy Balaji, Irfan Pathan and Ashish Nehra took eight wickets between them.
After the bowlers had done a marvellous job, India’s innings got off to the worst possible start with Sehwag dismissed off the first delivery. In walked Dravid, who after a superb series Down Under, had managed just 39 runs in three innings in the first two Tests against Pakistan. In fact, in the second innings of the Lahore Test, he had been dismissed for a duck.
Dravid and Patel put on a century stand for the second wicket which put India in a great position. It was one of three 100+ partnerships that Dravid would be a part of in the match – the other two being with VVS Laxman and Ganguly, both of whom scored fifties. India’s decision to keep Yuvraj in the side worked as well, with Dravid and him putting on a 98-run stand which put the game beyond Pakistan’s reach.
Dravid would go on to score 270, his highest first-class score and the third-highest by an Indian in a Test innings at the time. On the back of Dravid’s magnificent knock, India managed to put up a total of 600 which resulted in a lead of 376. Just like the Multan Test, India were not required to bat again – winning the match by an innings and 131 runs.
With that, history was created. On the back of superb performances from a number of players, not only had India won a Test match in Pakistan, they had won a Test series. A series win that’s definitely up there among the greatest moments in the history of Indian cricket.