Tied Test II was the undisputed highlight

Partab Ramchand

February 22, 2001

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The Australian team that visited India early in the 1986-87 season was in the process of rebuilding. The retirement of several stalwarts in quick succession had left the side urgently in need of fresh blood transfusion even as they went down to successive defeats to West Indies (both home and away), England and New Zealand (both home and away). India on the other hand were cock-a-hoop after having the better of a drawn series `Down Under' and then defeating England in England.

India then entered the field on the first day of the three Test series armed with the favourites tag. But displaying the resilient qualities that have always been an Aussie trademark, the visitors took no time in shrugging off the underdogs label. And at the end of the rubber, they had held their own. The second Test was a rain affected draw and the final Test was a high scoring draw. And of course, the opening game of the series, Tied Test II gave the series a slice in history.

The Australian batting was strong. David Boon and Geoff Marsh had already proved to be an outstanding opening pair and with Dean Jones, Allan Border, Steve Waugh and Greg Ritchie to follow, it was always a tough task for the Indian bowlers to bowl the Australians out once, let alone twice.

It was the bowling that was the weak link in the visitors' armour. They did not have a single penetrative bowler and the line up of Craig McDermott, Dave Gilbert and Bruce Reid (fast) and Ray Bright, Greg Matthews, Waugh and Border (spin) was never going to worry the Indians on shirt front wickets. The manner in which India wriggled out from a tight corner at Madras and the fact that Dilip Vengsarkar and Ravi Shastri figured in a record unbroken 298-run partnership for the sixth wicket at Bombay illustrates the frightfully modest qualities of the bowling.

The Indians, cocky at the start of the series were brought down to earth midway through the first Test. But they recovered and to their credit played a major role in the pulsating proceedings on the final day by boldly going for the target of 348 runs in 87 overs. The rain affected second Test was a damp squib but Vengsarkar, then in the midst of a Bradmanesque run, used the truncated period by completing 5000 runs in his 86th Test, the third Indian after Gavaskar and Viswanath to reach that landmark. And in the final Test, Indian batsmanship was at its best in ideal conditions with Gavaskar, Vengsarkar and Shastri all getting hundreds.

Like the Australians, the Indian bowlers too could not make much headway. One simple statistical evidence would best illustrate this - Kapil Dev bowled 45 overs in the three Tests and finished wicketless after conceding 124 runs. The spin trio of Ravi Shastri, Maninder Singh and Shivlal Yadav were frightfully expensive, symbolised by the fact that in the three Tests the Australians scored 1512 runs and lost only 27 wickets.

In an otherwise unmemorable tour in which India won the one day series by three matches to one with one ending in a no result, the major highlight was Tied Test II. Only the second such result in 1052 Tests till that time, the game had much drama, tension and excitement. Australia led off with a daunting score of 574 for seven wickets declared. Boon got 122 and Border 106. But the hero was Jones who fought off the intense heat and humidity, besides a bout of dehydration in scoring 210 in 503 minutes. Indeed, he was hospitalised after his marathon innings. India's start was shaky and they were in danger of following on, but they recovered mainly through a capital innings of 119 by Kapil Dev. Australia finished 177 ahead on the first innings but when they took their own time to get 170 for five by stumps on the fourth day, the match was written off as a draw.

Border, reportedly on the advice of coach Bobby Simpson, however made a surprise declaration first thing in the morning. Eschewing defensive methods, India decided to go for the target. Gavaskar, playing in his 100th consecutive Test scored 90 and India with a score of 193 for two at tea, were favoured to win. The target was now 155 in 30 overs. But the Australians fought back in the last session and wickets fell at regular intervals until Shastri took control and with the help of the tailenders brought India to striking distance of victory. Matthews and Bright toiled on as the heat and the tension got to the players, leading to frayed tempers. Towards the end, that rare fourth possible result in cricket, a tie, came well and truly into the picture. And that was how the match finally ended, before a capacity stadium crowd, which was shouting themselves hoarse.

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