11

Gold from a Madras furnace

On the last day of the India-Australia Test 30 years ago today, it all came to a boil, in more ways than one. The umpires, and others who were there, look back

Alagappan Muthu |

The Chepauk cauldron: the radiating heat from the concrete stadium structure could mess with your body and your mind

The Chepauk cauldron: the radiating heat from the concrete stadium structure could mess with your body and your mind © Getty Images

Dara Dotiwalla wakes up at 5.30 am on September 22, 1986. He always does on Test match days. He shaves. "It looks bad otherwise," he recalls 30 years later, shaking his head as if having stubble is an unimaginable faux pas.

He lives away from the spotlight now, with his family in Mumbai. He once demanded, and received, an apology from Viv Richards, but now, at 82 years old, his body is frail and his voice weak. He perks up at the mention of the tied Test of 1986, though, in which he umpired. He strides over to his bookshelf and pulls out a fat collection of newspaper clippings and the memories begin to flow.

"We didn't normally have breakfast at the hotel. It would be at the ground. The players got there by bus. We had a separate car." All was routine. Until Allan Border jammed a shot of adrenaline into proceedings. Australia's first order of business on the final day is to declare. India are set 348 to win. A match that was fading jerks awake.

"Scoring so many runs in five and a half hours…" Dotiwalla pauses.

He was not the one who had to make the final decision in the match, though. The lbw that sealed the tie was upheld by a man standing in only his second Test. V Vikramraju was born on New Year's day in 1934. He was educated in Bangalore, and upon the insistence of a friend took an umpiring exam administered by the state of Karnataka, and later one by the Indian cricket board. He had 20 years' experience before he made his Test debut.

"From 1958, I have done up to 1990, that's about 50 Ranji Trophy matches," Vikramraju says. "I've umpired India-Pakistan matches. Duleep Trophy finals. The CK Nayudu Trophy. Irani Trophy. And then there are the tour matches with West Indies, Australia, England, Sri Lanka. I was only umpiring the tour match in Bangalore before the tied Test."

It was also his last Test.

****

All of us dream of losing weight. Just not seven kilos in one day. We fantasise about scoring maiden Test hundreds in meaningful circumstances. Just not about puking our guts out in the process. We want the captain's approval. Preferably at the start of the tour, and especially after two and a half years in the wilderness.

Australia spent a month in India before Border decided to talk to one of the rookies. "I like the way you play." On the second day, in the kind of heat that makes the word delirium sound hollow, Border calls this same 25-year-old, who had got himself an unbeaten 170-odd, a "weak Victorian".

Dean Jones finished on 210, having battled cramps in the leg and stomach, receiving warm applause from the opposition's fans. He personified courage under extreme duress. He fainted and ends up on a hospital bed. In Chennai, Jones found his place in the team, and then in Test history.

"He was taking five minutes or ten minutes' rest in between sometimes, and then the bowling changes were there and all that," Vikramraju says. "But they didn't say anything about the weather or any such thing. But after the match they also felt that it was very hot. What to do, though? We have to go through that, no?"

The subcontinent is like a haunted house for overseas teams. You don't know what to expect and you aren't sure if you'll come out the same as when you went in. The spin. The weather. The sheer assault on the senses.

The time comes for the last of the 400 overs bowled in the match. A man walks up to umpire Vikramraju. He is wearing two woollen jumpers. His name is Greg Matthews. He is Lewis Carroll's Mad Hatter

Australia had gone in with their hands tied behind their back. Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh had retired a couple of years before. The captain had 81 Tests to his name. His vice-captain had seven. Meanwhile India had returned after a marvellous series victory in England. It seemed a lopsided contest.

****

"The one thing I remember clearly - it was not meant for pace bowlers," Dotiwalla says. Not even for one as skilled as Kapil Dev. In a career that spanned 16 years, only once did Kapil not take a wicket in a series. This series.

His outswinger probably took one look at the pitches in Chennai, Delhi and Mumbai and faked a fever. His batting average and strike rates stayed, though, and finished the three matches at 60 and 85.71.

To a large part, those figures owed to his work at the MA Chidambaram stadium, where Kapil saved his team from the follow-on. Arriving at No. 7 with the score at 206 for 5 and then watching it slide to 245 for 7, his anger boiled over.

"He railed about how all of us had got out to some ordinary shots and taken the aerial route. That we had to realise this was a Test match, not a one-dayer, and so on," Sunil Gavaskar recalled when the players got together to mark the 15th anniversary of the Test, in Chennai. "He was right, of course, and we had nothing to say. Next morning I think Steve Waugh opened the bowling and in his first over Kapil hit three shots in the air for boundaries and went on to score a magnificent hundred."

Batting of a similar variety was required in the second innings. The target was 348 in 87 overs.

Gavaskar tends not to like being outdone as a batsman. Certainly not by a glorified math problem. It might have been a pathological issue. Men can't play 100 Tests on the trot without suffering a downside.

"Indian players had a meeting among themselves and they said, 'We'll try to chase it.' They had decided to chase it," Dotiwalla says. "So if you see, from the very beginning, the batsmen who came, they all went for it."

Umpire Dotiwalla remembers having to ask for a napkin to be able to hold Greg Matthews' sweat-soaked cap in his hands

Umpire Dotiwalla remembers having to ask for a napkin to be able to hold Greg Matthews' sweat-soaked cap in his hands Alagappan Muthu / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Gavaskar drills Craig McDermott through the covers, his elbow scything up, his knee settling down, his concentration pristine. He cuts Matthews, leaping back, making room and carving the ball like it is a Thanksgiving turkey. Gavaskar is hungry. Australia are nervous. The stage is set.

****

The MA Chidambaram Stadium was built in such a way that the players would feel boxed in. There were no gaps between the stands, as there are now. Word had got around the bazaars that India were putting up a fight and Australia were up against it. Thousands of people came to watch the final day's play - the exact number ranges from 10,000 to the population of the known universe, and its babysitter.

Under such scrutiny, with so much in the balance, it is no surprise a few players snap.

The batsman and wicketkeeper are having a chat. The batsman is angry about something. He shoves the handle of his blade straight into an open palm.

The wicketkeeper nods as he listens intently. Then he turns and bends over. The batsman walks away, seething.

So much for thinking Chetan Sharma had dropped a coin and Tim Zoehrer was helping him look for it.

Even the Australian captain ended up throwing a fit, asking for that "weak so-and-so" Ray Bright to get back on the field. Bright was sick and had been in the dressing room until he made the grave mistake of sending the 12th man out to ask if Border needed him.

The time comes for the last of the 400 overs bowled in the match. A man walks up to umpire Vikramraju. He is wearing two woollen jumpers.

His name is Greg Matthews. He is Lewis Carroll's Mad Hatter.

"The Australians didn't say anything about the weather or any such thing. But after the match they also felt that it was very hot. What to do, though? We have to go through that, no" Umpire Vikramraju

"Full of perspiration," Dotiwala says with a bemused smile. "The way he used to give me the cap, it was sometimes so difficult to keep it in my hand. Ultimately I had to call for a napkin from the dressing room."

Come the last over, V Vikramraju has to contend with the soaking wet hat. And Ravi Shastri has to find four runs in six balls. No. 11 is at the other end.

The crowd waits. Matthews runs in.

Shastri is on strike with 45 off 37 balls. "Should I? Should I go for this big one?" he says in a documentary by the Australian Broadcast Corporation. "Knowing very well you had already hit a couple of sixes, you had every right to believe in yourself."

"I was panicking," Border says as the clip rolls, "that he would just basically wait for the right ball and just hit the ball out of the ground, and that would be the end of the game."

Shastri had already shown himself capable. He had smashed six sixes in an over in a Ranji Trophy match in January the previous year. And in Chennai he had been everything India needed. The only comfort left for his team-mates.

Matthews is no longer wearing his jumpers as he runs in. Shastri sees the first ball off. He heaves the second through square leg. Steve Waugh gets a bad bounce. India steal two. The third yields the single that ties the score.

"That's the last thing Allan Border wants me to do, really, because then India can't lose," Shastri explains.

Dotiwalla watches it all from square leg. "I consider myself lucky I was not umpiring in the last over."

****

Maninder Singh has three balls to face. He keeps the first one out. He tries to do the same with the second but is hit on the pad.

An arm shoots up from the other end. Maninder's stomach drops.

Wait, it's only Shastri. Telling me not to run. I know that. The ball barely went past my big toe. Right, let's do this.

Hm, what's the hold-up? Where's the last ball? What's that other fella doing with his hand? Why are the Australians running around like headless chickens?

What the *^$%% just happened?

****

Vikramraju keeps a picture of the moment he gave Maninder lbw.

There is a tinge of controversy, though. The players, from the opposition captain to the non-striker, believe Maninder got an inside edge.

But Vikramraju insists "the bat was nowhere near the pad, and he was covering the stumps. I was confident he was out".

Dotiwalla agrees. "I was at square leg and I did not hear any sound."

Border didn't even appeal. From silly point he was busy trying to retrieve the ball. By the time he looked up, all his team-mates had bolted.

Shastri, who said he didn't even see the finger go up and come down, and Maninder, who felt Vikramraju had given him out almost before he played the ball, confronted the umpires after play.

"That last day, the way these two players behaved…" Dotiwalla remembers, "They didn't say anything to me. But they were very harsh on Vikram. I was standing by the side. If they had said something to me, I would have given it back."

Vikramraju, however, says nothing untoward was said. "I know nobody was shouting inside our dressing room. Outside, everyone wanted India to win the match, but when they did not win, they showed it. That we can't stop it.

"Nobody met me except McKenzie, the manager of the Australian team. He just said 'Thank you.' He didn't say anything more. Even [Erapalli] Prasanna, who was the manager of the Indian team, he didn't say anything. Nobody questioned that decision. In fact, people [who asked me about it years later] congratulated me for it."

****

There have only been two tied Tests in over 100 years and 4000 matches.

It seems unbelievable that a match with 22 men, each with four chances to influence its outcome, ended up exactly the way it had begun - with neither team ahead.

Why did they even bother?

Bright was ill on the final day, but bowled because his team needed him. Everyone said India had no chance after Kapil fell in the second innings, but Shastri trolled them all.

Jones played the innings of his life, probably feeling like he was about to lose his life in the process. Maninder was "numb" from the moment he stepped out to the field, but willed himself on as well as he could. Matthews wheeled away for 39 overs in 40°C weather with no breaks.

Dotiwalla threatened to toss the Australian captain out if he kept delaying proceedings. Vikramraju did what he thought was right despite the consequences.

It is about now that you realise their courage was rewarded with something greater than a win.

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

 

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LOGIN TO POST YOUR COMMENTS

  • POSTED BY Amindha on | December 28, 2016, 15:16 GMT

    Given him out before he played the ball? What nonsense.That implies that he was watching the umpires finger instead if the ball

  • POSTED BY tonybi5722901 on | September 24, 2016, 9:02 GMT

    A shame that such an amazing final day of a Test which ended in a tie should be recorded here in a prose style more suited to a cheap paperback, although from other comments there are those who have enjoyed it but not me. Someone has suggested that the first tied Test between Australia and West Indies be reported here which is a good idea but, for me at least, preferably in a more classical style!

  • POSTED BY Peter on | September 24, 2016, 0:45 GMT

    Matthews recently stated that Ray Bright was the forgotten hero in this match. He said the pitch was a complete road & didn't rate Jones innings anywhere near his top 10 due to easy pitch conditions heavily favouring batsmen.But then again, Matthews did walk to the beat of his own drum, he certainly acknowledged the tough conditions heat wise, but not the innings. And he confirmed that the decision to give our Maninder would have been easy as he believed the ball would have struck the centre of middle stump halfway up, as plumb an LBW he thinks he had ever seen with the bat nowhere near the ball.

  • POSTED BY Sanjay on | September 23, 2016, 15:34 GMT

    I'm sorry but this is written in the style of Jarrod Kimber and it doesn't work here. It's all jumbled up and un-necessary. It's like watching a passage of play where the batsmen keep taking un-necessary breaks.

  • POSTED BY bssarav@gmail.com on | September 23, 2016, 14:09 GMT

    Have lot of memories as a nine year old watching the last days play on TV with my sister. There was a passage of play when Ravi shastri and chetan sharma's partnership was going great guns and india seemed to cruise towards the target. They hit lot of aerial shots against spinners and they all came off till one such chetan sharma shot found the fielder. We already started celebrating at our home before the final twist. In the end it was shastri's coolness made sure that India did not loose.

  • POSTED BY Prateek on | September 23, 2016, 4:33 GMT

    Beautiful trip down memory lane! Still remember watching the test on TV. Until the match got over, I didn't even know that 'tie' was one of the possible results. I first thought it was a draw but soon learned it was a historic moment that has so far come only once in my life, and I was a lucky to have witnessed it early on in my journey as a cricket fan. The only thing better would be to be at the ground if and when a third tied test match is played.

  • POSTED BY Sunil on | September 22, 2016, 19:39 GMT

    It would've been more fitting if the author had included that iconic photo of umpire Raju giving Maninder Singh out lbw with Shastri arm raised to stop Maninder from running. That image is seared in my memory. Stuff of legend.

  • POSTED BY krshnb1853158 on | September 22, 2016, 16:07 GMT

    Remember watching this match on good old DD. Vikramraju's finger did go up instantly when Matthews appealed.It was as if he wanted to be a part of history by raising the finger or may be the bias towards India makes me think like that folks. Shastri was in top batting form and scored century at Wankhede in the Third test. Gavaskar's centuries started drying up with this series .He rightly called it quits the following year. Waugh Steve ,Boon and Marsh went on to become highly successful players not to mention Craig Mcdermott .As for Matthews ,I dont think he could achieve much success as a spinner and faded away.

  • POSTED BY sathi86389454 on | September 22, 2016, 11:34 GMT

    Can we have an article on the first drawn test also