March 16, 2001

Fifteen years later, here comes the rematch

All the protagonists, with two major exceptions, are back in Chennai for the Tied Test rematch 15 years after the original contest. Kapil Dev is sticking to his decision to snap all ties with the game after the trauma he underwent last year. And Mohd. Azharuddin has not been invited. The man who scampered the final single to tie the game, Ravi Shastri will captain the Indian team in Kapil's absence. L Sivaramakrishnan and Raju Kulkarni will fill in for Azhar and Kapil. For Australia Simon Davis replaces Steve Waugh in the only change in the XI although Waugh will make an appearance at the ground after the Australian team complete their warm-up for the third and final Test match at the MA Chidambaram Stadium.

At a press conference at Chennai's Park Sheraton hotel on Friday, the two captains, Shastri and Allan Border recalled their memories of the historic encounter. Shastri's late arrival prompted Sunil Gavaskar to take the dais. Sunny quipped that in his first Test as captain in 1976, he was a last minute substitute for Bishen Bedi who pulled a thigh muscle in training but this was the first time he was 'subbing for a sub.'

Border prefaced his remarks by saying. "Unfortunately I get the feeling that the Tied Test here doesn't get the recognition it deserves. Last year in Australia there was a reunion of those who took part in the first Tied Test. That is a very revered game in Australia but I always feel a bit shortchanged that this game doesn't receive the same kind of accolades."

Gavaskar agreed with his sentiments saying that over the years the 1960 Test had got plenty of coverage since it was the first. "But this game was also exhilarating. It was a bit disappointing towards the end that we hadn't won. It all took a little while to soak in, to realise you were a part of history. In those days the match was played for five and a half hours a day, so in fact we had less than 90 overs to chase the runs. Perhaps those were the thoughts going through Saurav Ganguly's mind. If India can get to 347 in five and a half hours, maybe Australia could as well."

The 51-year-old, who contributed 90 to India's runchase on the final day, walked in with a pair of natty sunshades and asked to be excused for his peccadillo. "I was with Kapil Dev last evening and eventually there came a situation when we came to blows. My face won't make for a pretty picture" he joked. "Definitely we'll be missing him. Not only was he the captain of that team but to my mind he was the greatest cricketer India has produced. We're hoping of course that he'll be there in spirit with us" he added.

Gavaskar, fine raconteur that he is, proceeded to relate an incident from the Tied Test that vividly captured Kapil's capricious personality. "At the end of the third day we'd lost about 4-5 wickets, maybe even more. We were looking at the prospect of a follow on. Kapil came into the dressing room at the end of the day and gave us all a little shellacking. He railed about how all of us had got out to some ordinary shots and taken the aerial route, that we had to realise this was a Test match, not a one-dayer and so on. He was right of course and we had nothing to say. Next morning I think Steve Waugh opened the bowling and in his first over, Kapil hit three shots in the air for boundaries and went on to score a magnificent hundred!"

Asked whether he had any regrets about the declaration he made, Border's reply was an emphatic no. "Going into the last day, we believed history was on our side. Only two sides had scored more than that, although, mind you, one of those was India. The wicket was playing a little up and down and obviously we thought it would continue to be that case. The match ebbed and flowed so much, particularly in the last hour. In the end it was the best possible result. Neither side deserved to lose and a draw would have beeen inadequate as well."

'AB' also had a close brush to being red-carded from the field, soccer style. "The enduring memory I have is of the umpire threatening to send me off, can't remember his name unfortunately. In the last hour we had to bowl a minimum of 20 overs and as the game was getting very tight, our over rate dropped, not on purpose but just because of the tension of the battle, trying to get our fielders in the right place and so on. Ray Bright reckoned that it took us about 2 hours and 20 minutes to bowl our last 20 overs. At one stage the umpire had a go at me and I lost my temper a bit. He threatened to send me off. I said you can't but it was just bluff on my part and I took the next best step and just walked off. There were quite a few little personal battles going on, I remember Chetan Sharma and Tim Zoehrer exchanged a few words when Zoehrer thought he had him stumped. It was because of the heat and the pressure. We can laugh about it now but at the time it was pretty serious."

Shastri duly arrived and was immediately besieged by an inquiry on what he thought about the final lbw decision from his vantage point at the non-striker's end. 'Not out' shot back Shastri without batting an eyelid, adding under his breath that it was a dumb question to be asking an Indian! Recalling the thoughts flashing through his mind in those dying moments, he said "when Maninder came to the wicket, I think we were still about 4 short and in danger of losing the Test. The first thing that came to my mind was to get as close as possible. Steve Waugh misfielded on the boundary at backward square leg and that gave me a chance to be back on strike. I just thought the main thing was to block Australia out of the game. With three balls left, anything might happen."

The match is being used to raise funds for the Gujarat earthquake victims although as Sunny said it was conceived of initially as just a plain nostalgia event. "A lot of things have changed since 1986 apart from the playing conditions. Our physical conditions have changed. We were playing in Madras, now it's Chennai. Once you put on the whites, irrespective of your condition, the competitive juices start to flow. It may not look as graceful as the current players who are in superb physical condition but hopefully you can excuse that." If the fare on display can even remotely approach the excitement of 22 September 1986, the onlookers at the Guru Nanak Stadium will gratefully excuse such minor blemishes. The 40-overs-a-side match is being conducted by the Professional Management Group (PMG) and co-sponsored by Home Trade and India Cements.