India v Pakistan, First Test at Chennai|
CricInfo's special correspondent - 28 January - 1 February 1999
On reaching Gate No.13 of the 'G' stand by 0730 hrs, I found to my horror that the Tamil Nadu police, for some esoteric reason were not allowing black bags inside. I had to make a frantic search to Jettison my CricInfo bag somewhere and finally found an obliging house owner who was willing to hold it till the evening. I saw a man wearing a black shirt being turned back as well, but did not wait to see if he went in, in his vest. For good measure, newspapers, caps and note pads were off limits as well and I had to scribble on a scrap of paper. The gates were thrown open at eight and the security drill was well oiled with waves of police fingering all parts of your anatomy (well, almost) every few yards into the stadium. At one spot, the man opened my water bottle and smelt it presumably to check if it was acid. People had come from afar with two chaps trying to converse with me in Telugu without much success.
Once I was safely ensconced inside, the players could be seen limbering up which they continued until nine thirty. There was a roar as the Pak team jogged around the ground followed by a bigger roar for the Indians. M/s. Kiesel and Kokinos put their respective wards through their paces. Finally the players retreated to the safety of the pavilion and the captains came out to toss, with the ESPN crew in full strength at the middle. I could make out that Akram won the toss since Shastri interviewed him first. I could also guess that he would inevitably choose to bat. Remember Richie Benaud's dictum 'On a good wicket, the captain winning the toss should bat every time. If he is in doubt, he should still bat.' Any captain who chose to field first in such searing heat and tire his team out ought to have his head examined (May be I'm putting my foot in my mouth here - What is the percentage of previous Chepauk tests in which the captain winning the toss elected to bat? Knowledgeable viewers can confirm). The players entered the field at nine fifty five and the match started at ten sharp, according to my watch.
The sides chosen, as indicated by the score-board, did not have too many surprises, although Nadeem Khan came in for Mushtaq Ahmed who had a stiff neck according to the Morning's papers. Unfortunately, to maintain team balance, Pakistan couldn't infiltrate Azhar Mehmood, a class player if there was one, into the side. India left out Shukla and Harbhajan, with Kanitkar as the Twelfth Man.
Srinath opened from the Pavilion end to Anwar with three slips, gully, point, forward shortleg, mid-on, mid-off from the fine leg. I found quickly that since I was sitting almost at right angles to the pitch, I could not see the line of the delivery, only its length. It was almost impossible to judge how close the ball went in beating the bat or how close a shout for LBW was.
Afridi had an early let off when he was dropped by Azhar at third slip off Srinath in the third oer. He responded by hitting a streaky four over gullys head in the same over. Anwars first boundary was a delectable off drive off Prasad. In Prasads next over, he helped himself to three more boundaries one of which went through the slip cordon falling just short of Azhar. Srinath drew first blood when he had Afridi caught by Ganguly at first slip, a low tumbling catch. And in his next over, he had Anwar lbw withiout playing a shot, the ball seemed to hit him just outside the line of the off stump but it also seemed to be straightening as it hit him. It was a close thing, but umpire Ramaswamy had no hesitation though. Inzamam didnt stay long either, patting a full toss back to Kumble with the bat turning in his hand as he tried to hit it towards mid wicket. Ijaz followed five runs later adjudged lbw by Dunne without offerring a shot as he played a long way forward to Kumble. But he cant complain since he was rapped right in line with the stumps, off and middle perhaps.
After lunch Saleem Malik capped the run of failures amongst the top order when a Srinath inswinger clipped the off bail en route to the keeper. There were two useful partnerships for the sixth and seventh wickets with Moin Khan being the common thread that linked them. First he and Youhana, one of the rare christians to play for Pakistan, put on 63 with both helping themselves to sixes off Kumble. Youhana escaped a close shout for lbw off Kumble and another close shout for bat pad catch off Joshi, Dunne and Ramaswamy being the umpires respectively.
Just after Youhana reached his 50, Tendulkar broke the partnership as hes often wont to do, with his third ball, a leg break which would have hit middle and leg as Youhana kept his bat tucked behind his pad. Tendulkar let off the pressure, though averaging as he exasperatingly does, one full toss an over. Moin and Akram put on another 60 before Moin finally went for 60 trying to steer Kumble wide of first slip, with Ganguly stretching to take a one hander. Akram hoisted Joshi over midwicket for six, but he too fell to Kumble caught at forward short leg with the ball hitting the side of the bat and then the pad on its way to Laxman. Nadeem Khan also went to a bat pad catch at silly point off Kumble, with the ball hitting the pad first and then turning across the face of the bat. Kumble wrapped up the innings with his sixth wicket, when Dunne gave Saqlain lbw. At the other end, Joshi went wicketless although he bowled a tight line frustating the batsmen.
Ramesh and Laxman started off at a furious pace, putting on 48 in 8 oves hitting 8 boundaries between them. Ramesh was particularly impressive, hitting only one streaky shot - a boundary to third man off Akram that went just wide of third slip. If they continue in the same vein tomorrow, they should lay a solid platform for Indias strong middle order and a score of 400+ is the minimum India would be looking at, at the moment.
The second day began with umpire Ramaswamy signalling one-short when Ramesh played Akram off his legs and ran three due to a Youhana misfield. Akram and Saqlain opened the bowling from the Indian Oil and Pavilion ends respectively. Ramesh did not add to his five boundaries of the opening day, but he did collect a 'five' courtesy four overthrows from Afridi (he would have been out if the ball had hit the stumps and so the attempt was well worth it).
Akram dislodged both openers in successive overs within four runs of each other. Laxman was first to go, leg before as he played forward to a ball that came back into him, Dunne reckoning that it would have hit off stump. Dunne also gave Ramesh LBW in Akram's next over to another ball which came back into the batsman and might just have hit leg stump. Ramesh and Laxman put on 67 which turned out to be the highest partnership of the game over the first two days.
Tendulkar came in at his customary four, although he'd dropped down to five in the two tests in New Zealand. But Saqlain needed just two deliveries to pack off Tendulkar for a duck as he played an inexplicable shot, trying to hit him out of the ground and getting a leading edge straight to Malik at backward point. Tendulkar has this penchant for trying to dominate the bowler from his arrival and this sometimes leads to disaster. Remember the way he was out in almost similar fashion to Warne in the first innings of the First Test against Australia last year.
Dravid was watchful at the beginning and his first boundary came courtesy Inzamam fielding at silly point who conceded four overthrows trying to run out Azhar who was backing up at the non-striker's end. At the other end Azhar was stroking the ball fluently, helping himself to two boundaries to the cover fence off Waqar Younis. Just when it seemed that he and Dravid were consolidating the innings after the fall of those three quick wickets, Saqlain had him caught at silly point as he shaped to play a forward-defensive stroke.
That brought in Ganguly, the third batsman in the India top order with a fifty plus average. He and Dravid put on fifty three for the fifth wicket. Dravid swept Saqlain for a six over the square leg boundary and brought up his fifty with a four off Nadeem Khan, who had replaced Saqlain at the Pavilion end, to the midwicket fence. Saqlain had a shout for LBW against Dravid negatived when the batsman played for the turn and the ball straightened up but not enough to hit leg stump. But, when Dravid tried to pad up once more, he paid the penalty as Saqlain's drifter was much straighter this time and umpire Ramaswami raised his finger.
Mongia arrived to a daunting reception with five fielders and the wicket keeper crowded around the bat. Like Tendulkar he tried to hit his way out and got away with it the first time with a lofted boundary over mid-on. But, the next time he gave Saqlain the charge, he missed the line completely and Moin completed the formalities behind the stumps. Moin had a good day behind the stumps and he's probably the chirpiest keeper in the business with his 'shabashes' and 'brilliant bowling' irrespective of whether the ball beats the bat or is hit for four.
Then came a bizarre incident, which contributed in no small measure to the first innings lead that India finally gained. Ganguly played Nadeem onto his boot and into the hands of Youhana at silly point. Although Moin appealed neither Youhana nor Nadeem did and Dunne perhaps understandably wasn't interested! Moin was heard chastising Youhana for his dereliction of duty.
Saqlain got his fifth wicket in the last over before tea when Kumble, who 'd struggled to get the ball off the square, inner-edged the ball onto the pad and into Youhana at forward short leg. After tea, Ganguly made Pakistan pay for their earlier indiscretion when he clouted Saqlain for two straight sixes, bringing up his fifty with the latter, as India inched closer to the Pak total. Akram's bowling change did the trick as he brought on Afridi from the pavilion end to replace Saqlain who'd bowled unchanged since lunch. Afridi, remember, had taken five wickets in an innings in his only previous Test, against Australia last year.He had Ganguly caught at first slip opening the face of the bat and trying to play a defensive steer. Afridi went on to mop up the tail, having Srinath caught at first slip and Prasad stumped as Pakistan restricted India to a lead of just sixteen runs.
Pakistan still had fourteen overs to negotiate before the close of play and they started off with two boundaries behind the wicket on the off side from Anwar and Afridi, as Azhar set an attacking field without a third man. But Prasad got the breakthrough for India when he brought one back into Anwar that caught him in front. Afridi had a life when he tried to loft Srinath and got an inner edge just wide of Ramesh at mid-on, who got a hand to it but couldn't hold on. Ramesh's miss could prove costly in a low-scoring game.
Play was held up as Ijaz complained of the sun coming into his eyes as he took strike (it's not too often that sunshine has stopped play in a Test match). But, when it resumed he and Afridi helped themselves to more boundaries as runs flowed freely for Pakistan. India perhaps allowed things to drift a little after the early wicket and were sloppy in the field too. Play was finally called off after a second hold-up due to the sun although the Indians weren't too happy at the decision. So Pakistan finished at 34/1 after 8.5 overs and an overall lead of 18. Pakistan would be looking to bat out the whole day tomorrow and set India a target of about 250-275 that could prove daunting on a fourth-day pitch.
Azhar opened with Prasad and Kumble from the pavilion and Indian Oil ends respectively. Kumble struck with his second ball taking a regulation c&b to send back Ijaz who thought it was a bump ball and stayed put. Dunne referred it to the 3rd umpire and from the replay it was pretty clear that the ball went straight off the bat into Kumble's hands. Prasad was given just the one over before Srinath was brought back.
Both Afridi and Inzamam were in attack mode and hit a flurry of boundaries with the Indian fielding wilting under the onslaught. Ganguly dropped Inzamam at first slip and to add insult to Srinath's injury the ball went for four. Joshi was brought in to replace Srinath from the pavilion end and in his 2nd over Afridi brought up his first Test fifty by clouting him over his head for six. And in the next over he hit another straight six off Kumble to show his impartiality between them. Inzamam brought up his fifty by sweeping Joshi to the square-leg boundary.
Just when the partnership was looking ominous for India, Azhar belatedly brought on Tendulkar. He struck with his second ball, an off-break that seemed to come off Inzamam's pad, with his bat tucked close behind, into the hands of silly-point. Inzamam wasn't too impressed by Dunne's decision and his walk back was like a funeral march. But the partnership of 97 had swung the match Pakistan's way in a see-saw contest. Pakistan would have been happy with the first session which saw 121 runs come in 120 minutes.
After lunch Youhana hit two boundaries off Tendulkar but he came back well to knock Youhana's leg-stump out of the ground with a vicious leg-break. Afridi went up to 98 with a 6 off Kumble over square-leg. In the next over by Srinath he brought up his century off 134 balls, pretty slow going by his own standards, with a nudge off his legs to mid-wicket. Malik and Afridi batted through the session but it was after tea that events started happening. At 275/4 Malik got a thick edge shaping to cut Joshi and Dravid at first slip took a brilliant left-handed catch.
It was all Prasad from then on as he took five wickets in the space of 18 balls without conceding a run in a stunning spell. He had Moin caught by Mongia off an outswinger that climbed and left him. Afridi was next to go, trying to hit across the line and playing all over it, losing his off stump. He'd made 141, more than double anyone else had made in the match, and almost 50% of Pak's final total. Saqlain was given lbw without offering a shot for the second time in the match to a Prasad inswinger. Akram tried to hit Prasad out of the ground and holed out to Joshi at deep backward square. Prasad wrapped up the innings with his career best figures of 6/33, when Younis top-edged him to Ramesh at midoff. Six wickets had fallen for eleven runs as Pakistan folded up for 286. The victory target for India, which seemed at one stage like being nothing less than 350, was down to 271.
Ramesh started off by picking Akram off his legs for a boundary but Younis got Pakistan the breakthrough when Ramesh edged his away-swinger into the hands of Inzamam at 2nd slip. He then snared Laxman with an inswinger that came back late and hit him in line with middle and leg to leave India at 6/2. Sachin was a bit tentative at first and was rapped on the pad by another Younis inswinger that was drifting down leg. But he responded by driving Younis through the covers for four. After a torrid one hour he and Dravid lived to see the day through and give India hope for the morrow. But with India needing another 231 on a fourth day pitch, the odds may still be favouring Pakistan.
Pakistan was the winner but so was the game of cricket as the Chennai Test ended in a grandstand finish. Like two punchdrunk boxers the teams kept going at each other stumbling and falling many times but drawing on hidden reserves to keep the contest alive till the very end. One can't remember such a tight finish in a Test in India in recent memory and although this one didn't quite go all the way to the wire as the Tied Test here 13 years ago, it was every bit as good a game of cricket. At 82/5 India was down and out but four hours later at 254/6 it was Pakistan which was on the mat and then there was one final twist to the tale as Pakistan squeaked home by 12 runs.
No one would grudge Pakistan their victory, certainly not the crowd at the stadium which cheered the Pakistan team as they went on a victory lap, maybe not as vociferously as they would have applauded an Indian win, but still as a collective reaction it had loads of symbolism. After all this was not just a game of cricket, the emotion-filled buildup to the series had ensured that it would transcend sport and become a milestone in the love-hate relationship between the two countries. It was also a marvellous advertisement for Test cricket, the one-day version just an ersatz imitation of the sustained thrill and excitement that the five-day contest can generate.
Saqlain and Akram commenced the proceedings from the pavilion and Indian Oil ends respectively. In his second over Akram rapped Dravid on the pads with one that came back late and Dravid was lucky to survive. Off the next ball Akram swung it the other way taking Dravid by surprise and it just clipped the offbail on its way through to Moin. But Akram was trying a bit too hard and ended up bowling a lot of noballs in the bargain. At the other end Saqlain kept Tendulkar on a tight leash as he struggled to time his shots. The Pakistanis kept the umpires on their toes appealing for anything that touched or went off the pads. Akram took himself off after 5 overs and brought on Waqar.
But it was Saqlain who struck, when Azhar fell LBW while playing forward without offering a shot, not the first time in the match a batsman had been dismissed in this fashion. Akram set an intimidating field for Ganguly with four fielders in an arc around him on the off side. It brought immediate results - Ganguly cut Saqlain on to the shin of one of the silly points and it hit the ground before a diving Moin picked it on the rebound. Dunne consulted Ramaswamy to find out if Moin had picked it cleanly or not and raised his finger in a shocker oblivious of the touch on the ground en route to Moin.
Progress in the morning session was painfully slow as India pushed and prodded for 46 runs in two hours. After lunch, Tendulkar cut Saqlain to the point boundary signalling the first four in 111 balls, an indicator of how tough the going was. Mongia also gained in confidence and his first boundary was a square cut off Afridi. Tendulkar and Mongia batted out the session and India went in to Tea at 147/5. In the first over after Tea - bowled by Saqlain, there were two theatrical appeals by the Pakistanis for bat pad against Mongia and Tendulkar, but Dunne was unmoved. But in Saqlain's next over, Tendulkar hit him for four boundaries - a pull to midwicket, wo paddle shots to fine leg and a hoick across the line to the midwicket fence. But in the same over, Tendulkar gave Saqlain the charge and got a bottom edge which Moin dropped and also fumbled with the stumping. Incidentally, Tendulkar has never been stumped in his entire Test career.
Akram responded by taking the new ball and Mongia brought up the 100 partnership by lofting Waqar between mid on and the bowler for four. Mongia also brought up the 200 with a cover drive for two, off Akram. Akram lost his cool and bounced one at Mongia which eluded Moin and went for 4 byes and it was a noball to boot. The runs were now coming freely with 33 coming off five overs after the new ball was taken. Akram promptly brought back Saqlain to replace Waqar. Mongia greeted Saqlain by going on one knee and hoisting him over midwicket for six to bring up his 50.
In Akram's next over, Mongia tried to pick him from outside the off stump and top edged to Waqar at mid off. Suddenly Pakistan had been handed the glimmer of an opening. But the partnership worth 136 had brought India back from the dead. Joshi got four leg byes to third man in Saqlain's next over and off the last ball of the over, he hit Saqlain for a magnificent six over long on. Tendulkar by now was visibly tired and suffering from spasms in his back. He seemed keen to finish the game in a hurry and stepped out and cracked Saqlain two bounces into the sight screen and pulled him for four more to square leg. He tried to loft the next ball over the bowler and ended up holing out to Akram at long off. With 17 more to get for victory, Pakistan were back in the hunt.
Akram unleashed a big shout against Kumble after rapping him on the pads with one that came back into him and straightened up, but Ramaswamy was unmoved. Two balls later, there was an action replay. Ramaswamy raised his finger. Off the first ball of Saqlain's next over, Joshi spooned the ball straight back Saqlain who accepted the easy catch with glee. Suddenly, India were down to its last pair with 15 still to get. Prasad survived a torrid over from Saqlain including an appeal for LBW and a referral to the third umpire for a stumping chance. But after a one over interlude from Akram, Saqlain came back to finish the match getting Srinath to play on between his legs onto the stumps. In a match that saw several stand-out individual performances Cammie Smith gave Tendulkar the man of the match ahead of Saqlain and Afridi.