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At this time, every year, my mind turns unfailingly to one of the greatest Tests in history, a match I was lucky to witness and write about
September 18, 2001
At this time, every year, my mind turns unfailingly to one of the greatest Tests in history, a match I was lucky to witness and write about. In my long journalistic career of over three decades, Tied Test II will also be the crowning glory. Yes, I refer to the first Test match between India and Australia played at the MA Chidambaram stadium in Madras from September 18 to 22, 1986.
It is fifteen years since umpire Vikram Raju gave Maninder Singh out leg before to Greg Matthews to signal only the second tie in 1052 Tests since the first game was played in 1877. That alone indicates the uniqueness (well, almost) of the match. Cynics say that the events during the Madras game cannot be compared to those that unfolded during the first tied Test between Australia and West Indies at Brisbane in December, 1960. Well, any first has a truly unique ring about it. But in many ways, the Madras Test compares favourably with the Brisbane game.
I remember clearly the scene on September 17. India, having just come back from a triumphant tour of England were favourities to win the contest against an Australian side, still in the process of rebuilding after the simultaneous retirement of Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee and Rodney Marsh a little over two years ago. The Australians, since then had lost twice each to the West Indies and New Zealand, once to England and had drawn a series against India `Down Under' with great difficulty.
It did not take long for the visitors to rip off the underdogs tag. On the first day, David Boon got 122 and on the second day, Dean Jones came up with his courageous 210 and Allan Border scored 106. I shall never forget the sight of Jones, completely dehydrated, vomiting on the field of play. But never once did he abandon his post and only after he was out did he go to hospital for treatment. Indeed, the weather throughout the five days was stifling. I have been in Madras all my life and even though September is often called `second summer', I have never experienced such oppressive heat.
Perhaps the heat got to the players for the behaviour of some of them was positively embarrassing to the genuine cricket lover. This was especially so on the final day when the atmosphere on the field was `hot' enough. But in the meantime India, suddenly finding themselves in the unlikely role as the team under pressure, had to avoid the follow on. In reply to Australia's 574 for seven declared, India finally got 397 thanks in the main to Kapil Dev's great innings of 119, arguably his finest Test innings. Coming in at 206 for five on the third evening with his team facing the prospect of a follow on squarely in the face, the Indian captain with only the tail for company, produced a series of enthralling shots so typical of him.
By the time the Indians were dismissed, it was just after lunch on the fourth day and with the Australians not showing any urgency in their second innings, the Test was written off as a draw. By stumps, the visitors were 170 for five, a lead of 347 and predictably enough there were just a few thousands present at the stadium on the final morning. They received a pleasant surprise when they saw the Australians take the field followed by Gavaskar and Srikkanth. After discussions with the coach Bob Simpson who incidentally was a member of the Australian team in the first tied Test - Border declared the innings setting the Indians a victory target of 348 in 87 overs. It was a bold decision and paved the way now for three possibilities. No one in his right mind could have predicted the fourth result!
For long, India had the match under control thanks chiefly to Gavaskar's 90 and supporting knocks from Srikkanth (39), Mohinder Amarnath (51), Azharuddin (42) and Chandrakant Pandit (39). They were 193 for two at the start of the 20 mandatory overs but then Australia, through off spinner Matthews, who bowled all day and left arm spinner Ray Bright came back slowly into the game. Ravi Shastri held the middle order with a judicious mix of aggression and defence and then came the unbelievable climax. Almost magically, the spectators now numbered over 30,000 and they were shouting themselves hoarse. Not one of them, I wager, was in the seat when Matthews started the last over, bowling to Shastri who had in the meantime been joined by last man Maninder Singh. India required four runs, Australia one wicket. Now any one of four results were indeed possible. And then came the last act of the unforgettable drama.
Both camps were disappointed, understandably so. For, teams first and foremost, play to win, and not be part of a historic event in which neither team is rewarded. However, in a way, both teams had won the prize. And for the rest of us, it was an occasion to savour for a lifetime.
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