England. Final day. India chasing.
Last summer, Virat Kohli’s India were subjected to four chastening defeats batting last in the five-match series. Those are the expectations these days; India are expected to be excellent tourists as well but that aspect continues to be a work in progress.
Twenty nine years ago, in 1990, India were nowhere close to posing a serious threat away from home on a regular basis. That being said, four years earlier, Dilip Vengsarkar’s magic had set the tone for their first-ever series win in England.
A lot had changed in Indian cricket in those intermittent years. The old guard of Sunil Gavaskar and Mohinder Amarnath had hung up their boots. The likes of Kapil Dev and Ravi Shastri were nearing the end of their careers. Krishnamachari Srikkanth and Maninder Singh were dropped.
Easily the focus of young core of India at the time was the Mumbai prodigy Sachin Tendulkar.
The baby-faced teenager had already set the domestic stage on fire as a 15-year-old and showed courage and flair in equal measure during his first tour – against Pakistan, nine months earlier. Against New Zealand, he nearly became the youngest Test centurion but missed out on the landmark by just twelve runs.
But few would have expected the occasion to be on the final day at Old Trafford. India were fighting to save the match and the series. Graham Gooch made mincemeat of Mohammad Azharuddin’s bowlers and the hosts set an imposing 408 to win.
When Eddie Hemmings dismissed Kapil Dev, India were tottering at 183/6. There was so much cricket left to play and England were purring. There were men around the bat for Tendulkar.
In the first Test, Tendulkar’s carefree approach had cost him, throwing his wicket away in both innings after getting off an encouraging start.
An overbearing management group would have easily tried to change the approach of the youngster. And this was a time well before the big-hitting behemoths started to rule cricket. Tendulkar counter-attacked in a way only he knew. The harder the England pacers came at him, the quicker the ball disappeared to the boundary.
Cuts, pulls, drives down the ground: Tendulkar showed a whole range of shots. There was little wrong with the bowling. Watch how the batting legend rolls his wrists over the ball when Chris Lewis tries the inswinger. Angus Fraser, meanwhile, was looking for the outside edge with a packed slip cordon waiting. Tendulkar goes behind square and on occasion, used hard hands to lift it over the fielders. The straight drives, now a very integral part of cricketing folklore, had the authority of a 100-Test veteran and the aesthetics that could capture the imagination of the best of photographers and painters going around.
All-rounder Manoj Prabhakar’s gritty innings almost went unnoticed; the duo put on an unbeaten 160-run stand as India somehow scripted a jailbreak. Tendulkar’s majestic first hundred was easily the highlight of the match. The Manchester crowd, and the England players, wholeheartedly applauded what they had witnessed. Cricket connoisseurs and even Tendulkar himself have rated this knock as one of his best ones – no mean feat that as he would get to the milestone another 99 times in the 23 years that followed.