If all Test cricket venues were books in a library, Chennai will perhaps be the most popular among the romantics. The city has hosted several matches that are, despite the passing of time, still readily recalled by cricket lovers over the world.
It isn’t just about the mere reminiscence of a great inning or an enthralling spell or the outcome of the game. These matches produced moments that will not fleet away easily. Twenty years ago, Chennai witnessed a match that had several such moments.
India and Pakistan traded blows for the first two innings. India dismissed the visitors for a sub-par 238 on the first day. Pakistan flexed their bowling muscle, bowling India out for 254.
Enter Shahid Afridi. Opening the third innings with Saeed Anwar, he batted in the only manner that he’s aware of. For most of his 305-minute stay at the crease, it was mayhem. He made 141 off 191 with 21 fours and three sixes. The captain Mohammad Azharuddin, struggling to arrest the bleed of runs, even got VVS Laxman to bowl in the innings.
But the match turned again when a high-soaring Pakistan crash-landed after getting hit by a superb Venkatesh Prasad spell.
The target of 271 on a fourth and fifth day Chennai pitch was, however, close to the realm of impossibility. And, the Indian top order didn’t do much to alter the convention. By lunch, the hosts were reeling 82 for five.
India needed to score 189 more runs against a bowling attack that included Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Saqlain Mushtaq and Nadeem Khan. They were left with: Nayan Mongia, four tail-enders and the one they counted on the most – Sachin Tendulkar.
Tendulkar batted – battling a severe back ache – pushing and prodding and, with the passage of time, dazzling and dashing but all the while, wincing. Mongia was playing the perfect second fiddle until he unwittingly chose the wrong occasion to be adventurous and fell to Akram when India were 53 runs away from a spectacular victory.
Thirty-six runs later, Tendulkar, at 136, succumbed to the pain and fell to Mushtaq. Three more runs later, India folded. Tendulkar, the then Indian coach Anshuman Gaekwad revealed after the match, buried his face in a towel that soaked a lot of his tears. He, in enormous physical and mental pain, didn’t turn up to collect his man of the match award.
But the best moment of the match – perhaps the one that led to the birth of the cliche, ‘knowledgeable Chennai crowd’ – came later. Pakistan’s victory, perhaps for the first time in India, was greeted to a standing ovation by those gathered at the MA Chidambaram Stadium.
For this moment and the on-field drama that preceded it, the Chennai Test of 1999 deserves a special place in the annals of cricket.
Watch the highlights of the classic:-