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India, Pakistan produce a classic at Chepauk

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Last updated on 31 Jan 2024 | 05:55 AM
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India, Pakistan produce a classic at Chepauk

The 1999 India vs Pakistan Test began in the gloom of hatred but ended in the fair light of cricket, courtesy of the knowledgeable Chennai crowd

3 weeks before the 1999 India tour of Pakistan, 25 supporters of the Shiv Sena, a Hindu Nationalist party that was then in a coalition government in Maharashtra, dug up the pitch at Feroz Shah Kotla which was to host the first of the two-match Test series. 12 days later, another group of Shiv Sena vandals entered the BCCI headquarters in Mumbai and damaged many properties including the 1983 Prudential Cup. Kirti Azad, a member of the 1983 World Cup winning squad, couldn’t hold back his tears. 

The first Test match was shifted to Chennai. Shiv Sena wasn’t going to relent. There were talks of a suicide squad being sent to prevent the match from happening. They were even ready to send poisonous snakes into the ground. Four days before the Chepauk Test, Palani an auto-rickshaw driver, succumbed to his burn injuries when he set himself on fire to protest Pakistani presence on Indian soil. To prevent Kotla 2.0, Chennai police were guarding the ground 24*7. 

31st January 1999

The Test match at Chennai had just ended on the fourth day. Chepauk was thundering with applause. Claps reverberated from the Chennai sky. Not a single human butt was resting. Every human palm in the stadium was red from clapping. 

The obvious inference from observing such respectful jubilation from an Indian crowd would have been a dominant Indian win. It was anything but that. In a match that swung both ways at pace, as if it had morphed into a ball in Javagal Srinath’s hand, Pakistan had defeated India by 12 runs. And not only had they defeated India but were now taking a victory lap and the crowd at Chepauk was cementing its moniker of a “knowledgeable crowd” by beating the shit out of their hands to applaud a Pakistani team on Indian soil. 

The only thing that slithered and curved like a snake in the ground that match were the viciously swinging balls that came out of the hands of Wasim Akram. Saqlain Mushtaq’s doosras were the only being that spat venom like a cobra. Something had happened during the match that made the end completely opposite of the beginning - a 6-letter word and two 7-letter words. 

Sachin, Saqlain, and Cricket The entire Test match was a see-saw battle. Pakistan scored 238 in the first innings as Kumble ate 6 of their batters like early morning Idlis. Then India made 254 and with Sachin Tendulkar not troubling the scorers as Saqlain’s doosra wreaked havoc. In the third innings, Shahid Afridi - who only played that game due to captain Wasim’s insistence - scored 141 and ensured Pakistan reached 286. 

India were given a target of 271 runs on a track that was wearing out faster than a marathon runner. Moreover, Pakistan had Wasim and Waqar who could swing the new ball and the old one in both directions at pace. No one was able to read or play Saqlain with authority, with his away-turning doosra (Saqlain was the progenitor of this delivery as well) muddling the batter’s brain like a psychedelic. 

When Tendulkar arrived to bat in the fourth innings, India was already struggling at 6 for 2 as Waqar Younis had removed openers, Sadagopan Ramesh and VVS Laxman. Dravid was later castled by Wasim. Azhar couldn’t do a repeat of Cape Town with Tendulkar as Saqlain soon sent him packing. Ganguly became the victim of the most bizarre dismissal as the ball bounced twice off the pitch but he was still given out by the umpire Steve Dunne. Wasim realised what a howler it was only when he saw the replay. 

This was all too familiar for the Tendulkar of the 90s. A bad start, a batting collapse and him being left alone to sail the boat home through a storming sea. India was 5 down for 82. He started batting in the default Test template of risk aversion and survival. His first 50 runs took him 136 deliveries. Once he was set, he started moving around the strike along with Nayan Mongia. 

The short stuff was pulled with disdain. When the spinners erred towards the leg side, he paddle swept them for four. When Waqar or Wasim got too full, he hit them for straight boundaries only like he could. The next 50 took him 99 balls. Tendulkar, who was playing his first Test against Pakistan as an adult, now had a Test hundred against Pakistan. 

After his hundred, it was evident that his back had given up on him. But now the crowd witnessed the quintessential 90s version of Tendulkar the aggressive batter. He combined run accumulating at breakneck speeds with such high-risk aversion that you never believed he’d get out. His next 36 runs came in 38 balls. Nayan Mongia had departed amidst that blitzkrieg. India needed only 17. And here came the climax. The other hero of the game had to have a say in it. 

Saqlain was advised by Wasim to bowl a doosra wide of the off stump. He looked helplessly at his captain and said that he’ll be hit for a six. He wasn’t wrong. Tendulkar was that good and that day he was batting like the best. 

But Wasim said that he’ll take the responsibility for the defeat and Saqlain did bowl that doosra. He erred in line, but the length was right and extra bounce ensured that a tired Tendulkar skied the ball. Wasim completed the catch in Aussie reverse cup style. Harsha Bhogle chipped in from the commentary box - “Sachin Tendulkar knocked on the door…it is still closed”. 

Tendulkar in the 90s was not only the accelerator of this Indian team but also its brake. When he got out, the Indian car just crashed. The others after him could make only 4 more runs. Saqlain took the last wicket and did a Sajda. He had taken 93/5 and Pakistan to victory. The Chepauk crowd was stunned. But the claps didn’t stop. After all, it was Chennai. They had a reputation to maintain.

A reputation for sportsmanshipDuring the victory lap of the Pakistani team, Harsha Bhogle’s voice seemed to be coming from a far-off island in the Bay Of Bengal as Chepauk kept clapping the Pakistanis. But what he said, sums up all that one needed to say at such a conclusion of such a Test - 

“……..Pakistan are going on a victory lap and far away from their homeland and here it is Chennai in India they are getting a rousing reception. I have never seen a stronger statement in favor of sport than this. This crowd has been absolutely fantastic and Pakistan recognizes that. There has been no jingoism. They have supported the home team as they must but they have appreciated everything that has happened in this match. There is not a man in this stadium, not a woman in this stadium who is sitting. They realize the fact that they have seen four days of most intensely gripping Test cricket they have seen in their entire life……..”

Love. Support. Sportsmanship. Sachin. Saqlain. Cricket. This was that 1999 Test at Chepauk. 

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