Asian Test Championship

India v Pakistan 1998-99

Qamar Ahmed

Toss: Pakistan. Test debut: Wajahatullah Wasti.

The Calcutta Test was originally planned as the final match of the India-Pakistan series. But once the idea of the Asian Championship was accepted, it became the new tournament's inaugural game. It drew immense crowds, but ended in near silence, watched by a few officials, VIPs, journalists and police, after the crowd was forcibly expelled because of a riot.

In fact, there were two riots. The first, the previous afternoon, began when Tendulkar was run out. Then, on the last morning, with India on the brink of defeat at 231 for nine, spectators started burning newspapers in the stands and hurled stones, fruit and plastic bottles on to the field. The match was held up for over three hours as about 65,000 people were removed by police and security men. The trouble was unpleasantly reminiscent of the riot which ended India's World Cup semi-final at Calcutta in March 1996. Then Sri Lanka were awarded the game by default. This time, play eventually resumed; Pakistan swiftly claimed the last wicket to complete victory. But the incident deeply embarrassed the Calcutta authorities.

Miraculously, no one was reported killed, and the only person injured appeared to be a member of the ground staff, hit on the ankle by a stone. The crowd's anger was still concentrated on Tendulkar's run-out, but there was little viciousness in the riot; it was born of disappointment rather than anti-Pakistan feeling. There was no sign of violence outside the ground.

This had been the best-attended Test in history. For the first four days, the ground was full. Though there are no official attendance figures at Calcutta, that is now believed to mean about 100,000 people. On the last day, the ground was about two-thirds full even though only four wickets were left to fall, suggesting a total attendance of around 465,000.

Yet when the game resumed after the trouble - only ten balls were needed for Pakistan to wrap up victory - the paying spectators had gone, leaving perhaps just 200 people and creating an atmosphere even deader than the average county game. One well-dressed couple resisted the original attempts to expel them from the ground. They stayed in their seats, asserting their right to remain, and were still there just as play was about to restart. Then around 50 police descended on them and manhandled them out of the stadium.

Pakistan's win was an extraordinary achievement. On the opening day, they elected to bat on a seaming pitch, and collapsed to 26 for six in nine overs from Srinath and Prasad. Moin Khan resisted stubbornly for three and a half hours to repair the damage, partnered by Salim Malik and Wasim Akram. They pushed the score up to 185 - enough for one batting point, under the bonus point system being employed; India must have expected far more at 147 for two in reply. But they wilted so swiftly that they managed only 223, just 38 runs ahead, and two short of a second batting point. Their downfall began when the fiery Shoaib Akhtar bowled Dravid and Tendulkar with successive balls. Ramesh, fast becoming a pillar of the Indian batting, finally succumbed to Wasim for 79; his subsequent dissent earning him a suspended one-match ban.

The third day belonged to two men who recorded career-best Test performances - Saeed Anwar and Srinath. Later, referee Cammie Smith gave them the match award jointly. Anwar became the third Pakistani to carry his bat through a Test innnings, following father and son Nazar Mohammed and Mudassar Nazar. He batted for seven and a half hours, hit 23 fours and a six, and scored 188 - single-handedly beating his team's previous innings, when he mad a duck, and contributing 60 per cent of a total of 316. It was also the highest Test score by a Pakistani on Indian soil. His only significant ally was Yousuf Youhana, who helped him add 115 in 139 minutes. But after Srinath dismissed Youhana and Shahid Afridi with successive deliveries, Pakistan declined. Srinath took six in nine overs with the new ball, finishing with eight for 86, and 13 for 132 in the match.

That left India to chase 279. They had a good start when Ramesh and Laxman opened with 108. But after these two had departed, there occurred the incident which wrecked India's chances - and Eden Gardens' reputation. Tendulkar had just taken two runs - incidentally completing 5,000 in Tests - and was returning for a third when substitute Nadeem Khan hit the stumps from deep mid-wicket. Tendulkar had collided with Akhtar, who was waiting for the throw, and failed to ground his bat; third umpire K. T. Francis ruled him out. Angry spectators decided Akhtar was culpable, and threw bottles and rubbish at the Pakistanis. Play was halted for more than an hour, while Tendulkar and ICC president Jagmohan Dalmiya appealed for calm. On resuming, Dravid, his concentration broken, gloved a catch, and Azharrudin also fell soon after passing 6,000 Test runs. By the close, India required 65 for victory, with four wickets in hand. Wasim and Akhtar ended any hopes with three quick strikes, before the riot forced them to wait more than three hours for the last ten balls.

© John Wisden & Co