My first memories of test match cricket are of a batsman vomiting. Five year old me watched Dean Jones puke, many times over. I don’t remember what I thought or what my dad and his friends told me as Dean Jones puked, peed and sweat his way to a double hundred. But I remember watching his innings and the extraordinary finish three days later and knowing I had watched something special. My dad regaled me with stories of Conrad Hunte, Bill Lawry and the first tied test as if he’d been there. He then explained how rare it was to see a tie and how a tie was different from a draw. He also told me Maninder Singh was the worst batsman ever and that Ravi Shastri was a damn fool to give up strike during that last over.
Since that day, India vs. Australia in India has provided the most memorable test matches of my life. A few days ahead of the latest installment of this unique rivalry, here below are my six most lasting memories –
1) The Tied Test Alan Border set India 348 runs to win on the final day. I remember Indian batsman after Indian batsman playing aggressive shot after shot all through the day. I remember first innings centurion and captain Kapil Dev being the lone failure as a vaunted middle order fresh off success in England took on two spinners who bowled marathon spells. Greg Matthews bowled with his baggy green cap on. He was a gregarious character who reacted to every dismissal with a lap around the ground. I remember Alan Border looking puzzled and scratching his prickly beard all thru the day (unaware of the era of success and dominance that lay ahead of his team and nation). I remember getting excited by a spree of Ravi Shastri boundaries. I remember thinking this would be an Indian win. I remember Maninder Singh being given out lbw with one measly run to get.
It was some start to a life of watching test matches.
Here below is a documentary of the test on Youtube –
2) The worst wicket taking delivery ever bowled Australia did not tour India for tests for another decade. The next time I got to see Steve Waugh play a test on Indian soil, it was on a smoggy October afternoon at a characterless Feroze Shah Kotla. It was the first appearance on Indian soil for Rahul Dravid, Saurav Ganguly, Ian Healy and Glenn Mcgrath. The absence of another legend (Shane Warne) though meant Australia would field mediocre spinners in the form of Peter Mcintyre and Brad Hogg who were no match for the home team. Ten years away from the unique climes and soils of India showed and India pulled off an easy win. Nayan Mongia scored a hundred and Anil Kumble made the batsmen dance but my lingering memory from the game is of a horrendous Michael Slater dismissal.
David Johnson was one of the many ‘fast’ bowlers who played for India in the 90’s. He was inaccurate, inconsistent and lasted all off two test matches. One of his deliveries to Michael Slater would have missed the tenth stump. It would have been called a wide. Except, Mr. Slater decided to have a go at it only to be caught at slip by Azharuddin. Slater would be dropped from the test side for the next three years. Rarely has a ball that bad produced a shot even worse and affected a batsman’s career as much. I will not forget it. Ever.
If you have not seen or do not remember this delivery, watch it below.
3) Tendulkar vs. Warne
I was at the Chepauk on March 6 1998. Sachin Tendulkar was the best batsman in cricket and Shane Warne was the best bowler. Their head-to-head battle was much-anticipated and lasted all off 7 minutes. Sachin was out caught at slip for four as Warne won bragging rights and shed any psychological baggage he may have held from a practice game in Mumbai a few days earlier. 72 hours later the two men were at it again as the match and series lay poised on a razor’s edge.
No one who witnessed the carnage that Monday afternoon will ever forget it. Tendulkar was prepared for everything the maestro had up his sleeve. He played strokes with and against the turn and negated the greatest spinner of all time on a fourth day Chepauk pitch. It was beautiful, brilliant and the first signs that the all-conquering Aussies will have to work just a bit harder to conquer what would eventually be called the final frontier.
4) Do you believe in miracles?
Faith, fandom and fairness in life were all questioned midway thru the Kolkata test of 2001. A new India captained by Saurav Ganguly and coached by John Wright was supposed to stop the omnipotent 16-wins-in-a-row Aussie squad. Steve Waugh had called India the final frontier. The only issue was that the Aussies were pretty darn good. If test cricket had a hall of fame, that Aussie team had eight hall-of-famers.
I remember days four and five like they happened yesterday. Day four dawned with prayers to the gods that the team put up a fight. By tea on day four pride and passion were restored. By lunch on day five, an impossible dream seemed very possible. By the end of day five, I was speechless, stunned and could not believe what I just saw. Harbhajan Singh picked up 13 wickets including a hat-trick and was only the third biggest story of the game.
I remember frustration turning into tears of joy as only test cricket can. A generation of Indian fans would believe that anything was possible as the country entered its most fruitful decade not with a whimper or a bang but with a sonic boom.
5) Do you believe in shambles?
Being a fan has its downs too and not many moments match the abyss that Indian cricket reached in October 2004 at Nagpur. India had retained the Border-Gavaskar trophy in Australia and won a test series in Pakistan in the previous twelve months. Few fans expected this hard-earned success to be lost any time soon especially at home.
Oh, how we were wrong!
After rain had destroyed the prospects of a thrilling fifth day at Chennai, Australia entered the Nagpur test with a chance to win the Border-Gavaskar trophy and an away series in India. What Steve Waugh had failed to achieve, domestic politics would. A fracas between the host Vidharba Cricket Association and the BCCI would ensure that the pitch resembled Napier more than it did Nagpur. Frustrations over the pitch and selection would bubble over in to Saurav Ganguly ruling himself out of the test match. An insipid Indian team would get dragged all over the stadium and asked to watch as Adam Gilchrist and his friends would become the first touring team to win a real series in 17 years. The final frontier would be conquered not with a bang or a sonic boom but with a whimper.
Never had a home series been lost with such little fight. This, I will never forget.
6) The final installment of Very Very Special
VVS Laxman was Australia’s nemesis from 2000-2010. Something about seeing the baggy green made him elevate his game to heights seldom seen. And in a decade full of special knocks, VVS held on to produce one final masterpiece at Mohali.
I didn’t watch this game live. Let me rephrase that. I couldn’t watch this game live. With India needing close to a 100 and with only two wickets in hand, I had given up. For some reason I couldn’t fall asleep as much as I tried and I kept refreshing the scorecard and my Twitter feed. VVS Laxman was shepherding Ishant Sharma thru to the end and I held on to my steadfast belief that me not watching the contest was in some way responsible for what was going on.
To this day, I cannot believe that this night happened. It was an unbelievable too-good-to-be-true sporting event. Like so many that seem to happen when India plays Australia in India.
Happy test series everybody…