Gabba Win and the the many Demons it exorcised!

This piece was written for the News site – The News Minute and was carried on 24th Jan, 2021 It can be read here:

https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/india-s-historic-gabba-win-and-many-demons-it-exorcised-142077

It was September 22, 1986. If Chennai had four seasons, it’d have been a nice pleasant autumn day. But since Chennai has only one season, it was just another hot and humid day. It was the fifth and final day of the first test between India and Australia. The previous day ended with Australia still batting at 170 with the loss of five wickets. With a lead then of 347, one expected the Aussies to continue batting for a session or two to build a lead of over 400 before they contemplated a declaration. So, a dreary draw was the anticipated outcome of the match. A crowd of just 10,000, a modest turnout at Chepauk by any standards, showed up to watch the proceedings.

Things, however, changed as the fifth day’s play began. Allan Border, the Aussie captain, decided to add some spice to the proceedings by pressing an outcome, which in his mind was the only one – a win for Australia. Australia declared their innings at their overnight score of 170 for 5, setting a challenging target of 348 for India to win. The probability of an Indian win at that stage seemed a fantasy. But, when Srikkanth in his usual flamboyant style got off to a quick start and later Sunil Gavaskar and Mohinder Amarnath put up a solid partnership reaching 150 runs with the loss of just one wicket, hope started swelling. So did the crowds at Chepauk. Elsewhere, Indians started looking for excuses to settle in front of a television set to get a glimpse of the live action.

By the time the last 20 mandatory overs started, India was sailing comfortably with less than a run a ball required and seven wickets in hand. It appeared that the top order came with a resolve to win as desired by the Indian captain, Kapil Dev. With a solid knock of 90 from Gavaskar, a steady 51 from Amarnath and a stylish 42 from Azharuddin, things were going as per plan for India. And then all of a sudden, two quick wickets to the wily off-spinner Greg Matthews put India in a spot of bother. In walked Ravi Shastri, who was in an infallible zone in that period. With a mature head on his young shoulders, he was touted as the next big thing of Indian cricket. He sized up the situation and even as wickets were falling at the other end, kept his cool and batted sensibly as the situation demanded.

Cut to the last over, India needed just 4 runs to win. And Aussies just a wicket. Shastri by now was batting with Maninder Singh, who was the last man in for India. Matthews, who had a golden run in the innings so far, was pressed into action for the final over. With Shastri on strike, India was just one stroke away from an epic win. Shastri defended the first ball and scrambled to take two runs off the second ball. We were now just 2 runs away and Aussies a wicket away without giving a run, for a win.

Now, what Shastri did with the next ball would become a matter of intense debate for days, months and years together. He played a cricketing shot and took off for a single, thereby giving tailender Maninder the strike. That brought the scores at level. One run in the next 3 balls would have given India a historic win. A wicket off the next 3 balls would tie the match. And that’s what happened. Maninder successfully defended the fourth ball but in the next ball, got wrapped on his pads and umpire Vikram Raju lifted the dreaded finger to give him out. Even as Maninder stood his ground trying to indicate that it was bat and pad, it was all over. History was made as the match ended in a tie, only for the second time in cricketing test annals.

After the match, I remember the heated discussions in homes, offices, colleges, local trains, in the media and so on. The crux being: ‘Did Ravi Shastri do the right thing by taking that single? Instead, should he not have kept the strike and gone for the winning two runs?’ Shastri himself defended his move vehemently saying that by taking that single, he ensured India “did not lose”.

For the Aussies, the result came as a huge relief. After declaring with an intention to win, had they lost the match they’d have been roasted back home. A tie was an acceptable middle path. For the Indians, though the tie result was not a defeat in the technical sense, it was an opportunity to win that was lost. This tied test match, which we could have won, remained a demon that was not exorcised. Well, till last week.

Indians like me who belong to the Doordarshan generation have been used to attaching priority to ‘Not losing’ instead of ‘Winning’. And that is not without reason. Who can forget the agony we went through when we lost to West Indies by 38 runs chasing a paltry score of 120 at the Bridgetown Test in March 1997? Or for that matter, the collective depression the country went through after the narrow 16-run defeat to Pakistan at Chepauk in January 1999.

Even on the last day of the Gabba test, the resounding sentiment among a majority of Indians was, I guess, even if we draw the match we’ll still be able to retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy. So, it was such a revelation to see the current generation of cricketers like Rishabh Pant, Shubman Gill and Washington Sundar not being satisfied with a ‘Draw’ result and going for a win. And what a win it turned out to be.

And the win at Gabba came close on the heels of a well-fought draw in the previous test at Sydney, which in itself was not expected. For Ravi Shastri, who happens to be the coach for the Indian team, the win at Brisbane must have brought closure to the Chepauk test tie. By egging the team to be fearless and go for the win instead of settling for a draw and finally achieving the same in a test after being down and out, Shastri has managed to have the last laugh.

Much has been talked and written about the historic Indian win at the Gabba. Suffice it to say that this one win has managed to exorcise the demons of that ‘Tied Test Match’ of 1986 against the Aussies. Wait a minute. In one stroke, the Gabba win has managed to exorcise wholesale all those demons of the narrow misses of the Indian team thus far in test cricket. Period.

The “Little Master’s” Long & Towering Inning!!!

Jan-Feb 1997. Standard Bank International Tri series competition featuring India, South Africa and Zimbabwe in South Africa.  South Africa had already qualified for the finals with a few straight wins. India (under Azhar) coming after a poor away Test series against South Africa was struggling for form and so was Sachin Tendulkar. India’s only hope for qualifying for the finals was to beat Zimbabwe and that too with a better Net run rate. On that day the equation before India was to chase down the target of 241 to win the match under 41 overs.  Sachin opened the innings and with an aggressive intent from the word go scored a century and made sure India wins and wins with a higher NRR to qualify for the final. This innings somehow doesn’t figure in the pundits’ top 10 ODI innings of Sachin. But for me, this innings 8 years after his debut and 3 years since he started opening in ODIs signalled the transition of “Sachin – the talent” to “Sachin – the phenomenon”. Because it’s from here that he started his immaculate journey of being the “Impact” player for India for the next 10 – 12 years. An impact player elevates his/her game to the demands of the situation and influences the result of the game.

From then on Sachin’s career graph zoomed along with India’s victory record.  With a full-time job one doesn’t get the opportunity to watch a lot of Cricket. From what I saw, the following innings of Sachin stay etched in my memory for the sheer impact he left on that game:

  • Grabbing the ball from Azhar and bowling that last over in the Hero Cup 1993 against South Africa. Needed 6 runs to win, South Africa could just score 3 off that over of Sachin and we won that Semifinal. I don’t know if involuntarily Sachin sowed the seed for the “Choker” label on South Africa that day!
  • 155 against Australia at Chepauk in 1998 where he took on Shane Warne & Co. He feasted on Aussie blood since.
  • The 2 back to back centuries in Sharjah again Vs. Australia in 1998. The 1st helped India to qualify in the final and the second won sealed the cup.
  • 136 against Pakistan at Chepauk in what turned out to be a lost cause. I can’t forget this match. I remember very vividly the spring in the Pakistani players the moment Sachin got out. Wasim Akram who was going through the motions as India was coasting to a victory with just 16 odd runs required till then, smelt blood when Sachin’s wicket fell and choked the tail enders. India lost the match by 12 runs. Sachin did not turn up for the awards to collect his Man of the Match award.
  • 98 against Pakistan in the 2003 World Cup is part of folklore. To me this innings and our win exorcised the ghost of our loss against Pakistan in the Australasia Cup in 1996 when Javed Miandad needing to score a 4 off the last ball smashed a 6 off Chetan Sharma. Ind – Pak encounters were never the same again 😦

These are from what I got to see “live”. Am not saying that these were his best innings. (It’s clear that I’ve seen less of live cricket oflate 😦 😦 )

I feel that he ceased to be an “Impact” player since 2003.  While he continued to contribute to the team’s cause with bat, ball and brain, the baton shifted somewhat to Sehwag, Dravid, Laxman and these days Kohli. Though he ceased to be that element which decided the fate of the match in India’s favour, still he continued to provide that sense of security as long as he was in the crease. When he was in the crease, the thousands of Gods India boasts of were invoked simultaneously by few millions and made to work over time.  This TVC of Adidas which captures this essence is my personal favourite.  Along with Sachin, the Gods will feel a sense of retirement since yesterday 🙂 🙂

Talking of retirement, I personally felt that Sachin’s retirement came a few seasons late. He could have actually retired long before we started seeing rookie bowlers sending his stumps cartwheeling. Well, all that is forgotten and forgiven for now. At the end his “Calling it a day” went as per well-orchestrated script. By choosing to retire this way ( a la Steve Waugh – announcing in advance that the 200th test will be his last test) he ensured a lot of things. BCCI pulling off a home series with Mumbai as the venue for the 200th, fully packed stadiums, stadiums resembling some collage of brands and advertisements, Tourist arrivals to watch the 200th match, Media frenzy, unparalleled test match viewership for the 2 matches,.. ,.. At times you got a feeling that it was the last TEST match to be ever played!!!  If all these motivated a few youngsters to aspire for a similar farewell when they call it a day it was all worth it.

In a country which is as diverse as India where there are multiple religions, few 100’s of languages and dialects, food habits which change every 250 Kms, Attire which is different as chalk and cheese in the North/South/East/West corners of India not to talk of the different cultural sensibilities, where even Bollywood is not an unifier, the only unparalleled and unchallenged unifying phenomenon is “Cricket”. Cricket cuts across geographic, demographic, psychographic, social, financial, cultural,…,… divide.  It is to Sachin’s credit that he could be a true “Indian Idol” spanning across this entire divide.  To carry on his shoulders the aspirations of a few millions of people that too for a long period is not easy and he did that with commitment, discipline, focus and many more adjectives like that.

  • India won the last Test match and Test series he played
  • India won the last World Cup he played
  • Mumbai Indians won the last Champions Trophy Sachin featured
  • Mumbai Indians won the last IPL he probably played

This is some tall stuff for a Little Master in his inning called life!!!

A big “Thank you” is in order.

Sachin

Postscript: As I remember, the original “Little Master” was Gundappa Vishwanath. When he retired the tag passed on to Sunil Gavaskar and then to Sachin Tendulkar. Who will be the next #Little Master???

If you are a fan of Sachin, do check these links :

1. Google’s tribute

2. Star Sports’ Sachin Memory Project