It’s been 17 years since the greatest batting day in Indian cricket history, and it still evokes goosebumps and incredulity. © Getty Images

It’s been 17 years since the greatest batting day in Indian cricket history, and it still evokes goosebumps and incredulity. © Getty Images

There’s a lot you can do in seven hours.

You could, if you were so inclined, pick up a copy of Stephen Hawkings’s brilliant A Brief History of Time, and pay homage to the departed scientist by not just reading the book but getting a basic grasp of the concepts he’s talked of, because every effort has been made to bring phenomena like black holes, event horizons, quantum fluctuations and Einstein’s relativity into the layman’s understanding.

You could undertake a journey of a different kind, travel across states in India by road, including a stop for a meal-break. On some of the better roads, you can comfortably cover a distance upwards of 300 kilometres, even if you make multiple stops. If you are in Bangalore, you can reach Chennai even if you leave, and arrive, in peak hour traffic.

You can binge-watch an entire season of your favourite television show. Work, family and life might get in the way of catching up with what the Lannisters and Starks and Targaryens are up to, but even back in the years when a Game of Thrones season had 10 episodes, you could just about finish all 10 if given a seven-hour stretch.

You can, of course, get a full night’s sleep. While eight hours is the figure normally given, and I wouldn’t really object to it being raised, you can face the next day reasonably confident that you won’t be nodding off during meetings. Unless they are discussing how to make your organisation better by adopting ‘best practices’ across ‘different verticals and horizontals’ to bring every employee ‘on board with effective resource management’. Even ten hours of sleep might not be enough to get through the mumbo-jumbo of corporate-speak jargon.

Seven hours is an incredibly long period of time when given at a stretch. If you ran at the speed of Usain Bolt, you would be more than 250 kilometres from where you started. If you answer to the name of Kagiso Rabada, you can get two separate sanctions for two separate offences in the same match.

In modern warfare, the entire action sequence by the United States forces to locate and kill Osama Bin Laden took 38 minutes. Given a seven-hour stretch, they could have done it on loop 11 times.

History will record that only three teams have won while following on, and India’s 2001 victory over Australia 17 years ago was the third instance. © Getty Images

History will record that only three teams have won while following on, and India’s 2001 victory over Australia 17 years ago was the third instance. © Getty Images

If you were VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid in 2001, you would have spent seven hours just putting bat to ball, or watching it go through. Without giving up your wicket. It’s been 17 years since the greatest batting day in Indian cricket history, and it still evokes goosebumps and incredulity. Goosebumps because of the quality of batting, the occasion, the manner of India’s fightback and the unfolding of one of the greatest Tests in history. Incredulity because you still can’t fathom the entirety of just how two men batted, and batted, and batted, and batted until there was no scope to bat anymore during the day.

They had come together some half an hour before stumps on March 13. India ended the day on 254 for 4 in their second innings, still trailing Australia, who were on course to register a 17th consecutive Test win. But the Eden Gardens became the land of miracles on March 14. You can watch the highlights and still be awed. It was one of those moments that you knew, even while it was unfolding, was not just special because it was happening right then, but would remain special when viewed many years forward too. History will record that only three teams have won while following on, and India’s 2001 victory over Australia 17 years ago was the third instance. India not only stopped the Aussie juggernaut but won the series in a thriller in Chennai in the next Test, in what is surely the greatest-ever three-match Test series. The win, the turnaround, the belief that Australia could be beaten, all took concrete shape while Laxman and Dravid were batting while heeding the maxim that all coaches tell youngsters, “Bat for the full day and come back.”

John Wright, who had recently taken charge as India’s coach, wrote of Laxman’s 281 that “Quite simply, he played the greatest innings I’ve ever seen.” In a fairly detailed account of the day, and the match, Wright spoke of how Laxman almost didn’t play that Test match. “On the eve of it he was ‘listing’, meaning his shoulders and hips weren’t in line. Listing is the body’s protective mechanism to relieve the load on a damaged part of the back,” wrote Wright in his book Indian Summers, adding that Andrew Leipus, the team’s physiotherapist then, worked non-stop on Laxman during his epic knock. “At every break he’d work on the Leaning Tower of India until Laxman was more or less in alignment and send him back out again.”

It’s a good thing there was no social media then perhaps, because the internet might have spontaneously combusted. And given the drama that was unfolding on the field in any case, the added intrigue of Laxman battling physical discomfort would have sent blood pressures and heart-rates into dangerous territory for fans.

For seven hours, both Laxman and Dravid resisted the bowlers and reworked cricketing legacies. If we want to be brutally accurate it was for 418 minutes. No finer 418 minutes have been seen in Indian batting history.