No. 32 July 26, 2009

Chennai applauds Pakistan

It was heartbreak for India, but the crowd at the Chidambaram Stadium saw it differently

Chennai, 31 January 1999

Every once in a while, there are moments in sport that transcend the action on the field and yet help establish the very essence of sport by carrying it beyond the confines of nationalism, and indeed victory and defeat. By all standards the first Test of the 1998-99 series between India and Pakistan was going to be remembered as a classic even without the final touch.

It see-sawed for four days: bowled out for 238 on the first day, Pakistan struck back, restricting India to 254. Then Shahid Afridi threatened to take the match beyond India's pale with a violent 141 before Venkatesh Prasad engineered the most sensational of collapses, which sunk Pakistan from 275 for 4 to 286 all out. But at 82 for 5 before lunch on the fourth day, it all seemed over for India - barring Sachin Tendulkar, of course. With stubborn support from Nayan Mongia, Tendulkar chipped away at the target, initially nudging and pushing, and then with a flurry of dazzling strokes.

Mongia lost his head, and his wicket, when India were 53 short, but it was the dismissal of a visibly tired Tendulkar, struggling with a back injury, that swung the match for Pakistan. They claimed the last four wickets for four runs and won by 12 runs.

The series had begun under a cloud of uncertainty, with Indian fundamentalists threatening to disrupt Pakistan's first tour to India in 12 years. Diplomatic relations between the two countries had been prickly at best, and all it needed was a small incident for the tour to be called off. But just as the security forces were getting in to position to tackle any unpleasantness that may have arisen, the crowd in Chennai, stunned at first by the turn of events, rose to their feet and began to clap.

It wasn't delirious or frenzied, but measured and sustained. The Pakistan team immediately took their cue and ran a victory lap around the ground. For anyone with any experience of India-Pakistan cricket, this was a deeply moving, even seminal, moment. Five years later the echoes were still being heard - in the National Stadium in Karachi.

Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo. This article was first published in the print version of Cricinfo Magazine