Tuesday, 31 January 2017

1986: The tied Test

Australia will soon be touring India to take part in a four Test series, but it is hard to imagine any of their matches being quite as dramatic and exciting as the 1986 Madras Test.

It seems that the debate relating to the future of Test cricket is not just a recent trend. Back in 1986, Richard Streeton wrote in The Times about the growth of limited overs cricket, and the impact this was having on the longer form of the game, especially in India. "The simple reason is that in common with the worldwide trend, Indian spectators are now fully converted to limited-overs cricket." Test cricket, and the lack of spectator interest, was a major concern.

Streeton's article made it to press just a couple of days after a match that had done its best to provide Test cricket with a much needed boost. The nerve wracking tied Test in Madras between India and Australia had been fairly standard-fare for large parts, although there were a few notable personal achievements during the first four days. Yet it exploded into life on a final day that highlighted the beauty of Test cricket, proving that all things come to those who wait.

Australia entered the first match of the series with the odds stacked against them. Without a series win in nearly three years - including relinquishing the Ashes in 1985, and losing home and away to New Zealand - the fortunes of the once great cricketing nation were at an all-time low. Captain Allan Border, and coach Bobby Simpson, in just his second series in charge, faced a daunting challenge.

The set of players taken to India were far from experienced. Five of the XI that took the field at Madras had played in six Tests or fewer, and only Border had participated in a Test match in India before. Fortunately Border would win the toss in Madras, allowing his side first use of a dry pitch, one that offered little bounce or turn early on. From day one, it looked as if the Australians were building an impregnable position.

Indian skipper Kapil Dev was forced to turn to his spinners - left-arm Maninder Singh and off-spinner Shivlal Yadav - quickly, yet it soon became apparent that the lifeless pitch would make it hard to force any inroads.

A partnership of 158 for the second wicket between David Boon and Dean Jones would dominate the day, with the former continuing his upturn in form since being promoted to opener the previous year. Completing his third Test century, all against India, Boon fell shortly before the close of play, but with Australia closing on 211/2, the day had belonged to the tourists.

If day one had been about Boon's continuing development as a Test player, then the next day would see the focus sharply move on to Jones. Having played the last of his two tests back in 1984, the Victorian had been handed the number three spot ahead of Mike Veletta, and was determined to seize the opportunity. But if the match in Madras would at first be a journey to heaven, it soon developed into a trek to hell and back.

Batting for a total of 503 minutes, Jones' innings of 210 was the first time an Australian had scored a double hundred in India, yet the toll it took on his body is now stuff of Australian cricketing folklore. The leg cramps, nausea, and pins and needles were bad enough, but the involuntary urinating was surely a tiny clue that Jones really needed saving from himself.

Any thoughts of retiring hurt were quashed by Border and his mind games. The two shared a partnership of 178 for the fourth wicket - Border took 44 minutes to score his first run, and was dropped three times during his 106 - and as Jones began to wilt in the intense heat, vomiting as each over ended (link warning: enjoy your lunch), he understandably thought enough was enough.

Sensing Jones was about to call it a day, Border used a bit of reverse psychology on his 23-year-old partner. "You weak Victorian. I want a tough Australian out there. I want a Queenslander. Get me Greg Ritchie," were the words directed at Jones, as the young man, trying to make his way at international level, then set about proving Border wrong.

Jones had moved on to 170 when Border intervened, and Jones has since admitted that this drove him on to his double century, yet the price of this success was high. Dragged to the shower at tea, and being dressed by his team mates, Jones would lose 8 kilos, take nine months to regain his weight, and ended what should have been a glorious day in hospital.

The innings cemented Australia's position of strength in the Test, as Border was able to declare at 574/7, 37 minutes into the third day. A dashing 50 from Kris Srikkanth appeared to illustrate the docile nature of the pitch, but with runs on the board, Australia chipped away at the Indian batting line-up, and threatened to make the hosts follow-on.

Spinner Greg Matthews inflicted the main damage, taking 5/103, with all of his victims top order batsmen. At 245/7, India still required 129 to avoid the follow-on, but a fine captain's innings from Dev saved the day, his 119 coming from just 138 balls, and although India would be dismissed for 397, the draw now seemed the likeliest outcome.

Closing day four on 170/5, Border surprised many by declaring first thing on the final morning, setting India a target of 348 from 87 overs, at a required run-rate of four an over. Border's decision helped to create a day that would go down in history.

Sunil Gavaskar, who had recently been dropped from India's one-day team that had faced Australia in two ODIs prior to the Madras Test, would anchor the run chase brilliantly in his 100th consecutive Test match. Putting on 55 for the first wicket with Srikkanth, and 103 for the second wicket with Mohinder Amarnath, Gavaskar helped India to 94/1 at lunch, and 193/2 at tea, leaving the hosts requiring a further 155 from the final 30 overs of the match. With a crowd of over 25,000 present, the final session would be the very definition of squeaky bum time.

With Mohammad Azharuddin, Gavaskar, and Dev departing after tea, it looked like the brave run chase would end as India were reduced to 253/5. But a dashing innings of 39 from 37 balls by Chandrakant Pandit advanced the score to 291/6, and a cameo from Chetan Sharma, saw India progress to 331/6. With Ravi Shastri batting superbly, the Indians edged closer and closer to a remarkable victory. Requiring just 17 runs from a little under five overs, and with four wickets in hand, the match was now India's to lose.

Tensions had been running high throughout the day, unsurprisingly given the nip and tuck nature of the match and the stifling heat. Umpire Dara Dotiwalla became involved in a row with Border, questioning the Australian tactic of delaying the match in between most deliveries, with Border also accused by The Statesman in India of debating Dotiwalla's decisions. Australian tour manager Alan Crompton refuted the claims, stating that play was "understandably slow due to the extreme weather conditions."

Crompton may have had a point. With temperatures reaching 45°C and 85% humidity levels, tempers were frayed, as Sharma threatened to insert his bat up wicketkeeper Tim Zoehrer's behind, with Matthews launching a tirade of abuse at Pandit after dismissing him.

Spinner Ray Bright would be the latest Australian to literally feel the heat on the final day. Leaving the field and collapsing, Bright sent Dave Gilbert out into the middle to ask Border if he was needed again. When Border bluntly replied that Bright was required, the spinner returned in an act of bravery Matthews would later compare to that of Rick McCosker in the Centenary Test.

It was a good job for Australia that Bright managed to make it back out to the middle. From 331/6, Bright removed Sharma, More, and Yadav in quick succession, leaving India on 344/9 with eight balls remaining, and the Test on a knife edge. Maninder Singh managed to block out Bright's final two deliveries, bringing the equation down to the following: six balls remaining, India requiring four runs to win, Australia one wicket. India's hopes rested on the shoulders of Shastri, a man who had enjoyed a fine Test, passing 2,000 runs and taking his 100th wicket. Australia needed Matthews, bowling his 40th consecutive over, to conjure up another piece of magic.

"Should I go for this big one?" Shastri asked himself as Matthews, wearing his cap as he had all day during his bowling spell, started the final over. Border was fearful that Shastri could finish the match with one blow, but Shastri was watchful. After blocking the first delivery, Shastri turned Matthews behind square, and after a misfield from Steve Waugh, the Indian vice-captain was able to return for a second run. "I thought, that's fantastic, I've just cost us the Test match," Waugh admitted later.

With just two runs required from four deliveries, the match was slipping away from Australia, but Shastri would give Australia one final chance. "If I take the single, it's the last thing that Allan Border wants me to do," Shastri stated. "Because then India can't lose." The single levelled the scores, but Border was far from upset. "I was very surprised and relieved that he gave us the opportunity to bowl at Maninder for those last few deliveries."

Three balls left. Shastri instructed his partner to take care with the next two deliveries, and if necessary, go hard at the final ball. It didn't get that far. After blocking the fourth ball of the over, Matthews rapped Maninder on the pad, and when umpire Vikram Raju raised his finger in an alarmingly quick manner, Matthews and his team-mates charged around the outfield in celebration.

Jones later spoke of his confusion, with one scoreboard indicating a tie, and another stating that Australia had won by one run. Simpson cleared up the situation. Joining the players in their huddle, the coach said that for only the second time in Test history, the match had ended as a tie. The only other instance had come in Brisbane in 1960/61, a match in which Simpson had played against the West Indies.

If Border and his men felt elated, Maninder and Shastri looked distraught. Maninder to this day remains adamant that he had in fact hit the ball, with Shastri, and crucially Border, backing up that opinion. Yet Vikram Raju seems equally sure that he was right. "The bat was not near the pad. And he was plumb in front of the wicket." Either way, Vikram Raju never umpired a Test match again.

"A match in which the pendulum of fortune had several times already swung seemingly decisively from one side to the other reached its dramatic climax," Marcus Williams reported in The Times, as news of the tie spread across the cricketing world. A Test match in which all four results were still possible at the start of the final over, deserved to make the sporting headlines and be lauded.

There was so much to remember about Madras 1986. Hundreds from Boon and Border; Jones' personal milestone and physical pain; Dev's pivotal century; Greg Matthews taking 10/249 and scoring 71 runs without being dismissed; Ray Bright taking 7/182, despite suffering from illness; and that dramatic conclusion. "It really is the forgotten tie, and it shouldn't be," Border said. Very true.

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