Sept 19, 2022: It never fails. At this time every year my mind goes back to the memorable events that unfolded at the MA Chidambaram stadium in Chennai over five days from September 18 to 22 culminating in only the second tied Test match in history. The first such result occurred at Brisbane in December 1960 between Australia and West Indies. That was Test No 502. Tied Test II as it has been christened was between India and Australia nearly 36 years later and was Test No 1052. Since then over 1400 matches have been played over 36 years and there has been no tied Test – underlining the extreme rarity of such a result.
The events of Tied Test II have been well chronicled but just as one reads a good book over and over again or repeatedly sees a classic film, the narration of the match can be enjoyed any number of times. Predictably enough I have been a witness to innumerable unforgettable moments in my long career as a sports journalist specializing in cricket writing. But watching and writing on Tied Test II has to be right on top of the list. My mind is full of indelible memories of those five days. For starters I remember that the stadium was a cauldron throughout the match. September is known as ‘second summer’ in the southern metropolis and it certainly lived up to this reputation. In half a century of watching cricket at Chepauk I have never experienced the kind of intense heat and humidity that prevailed. And in these oppressive conditions for a visiting batsman to get 210 in a stay of nearly 8-1/2 hours, has to constitute one of the most heroic feats by a cricketer. And that is why Dean Jones gets pride of place when it comes to listing the heroes of this historic encounter.
Midway through the innings overcome by the enervating heat the 25-year-old Victorian right-hander started retching by the side of the crease. But he refused to leave the crease and after receiving medical attention continued to bat. Later he was overcome by bouts of nausea and cramps but continued to stay in the middle before he was finally out at 210. Back in the comparative cool confines of the pavilion Jones was found to be completely dehydrated and was rushed to hospital for saline treatment.
Jones then as I said emerges as the heroic figure of the match but can Kapil Dev be far behind? Replying to Australia’s 574 for seven declared, India were facing the ignominy of a follow on when the Indian captain entered on the third evening. And with a counter attack only he could have scripted, Kapil Dev flayed the attack to all parts of the ground in hitting 119 before he was last out at 397 on the fourth afternoon. By the time he was dismissed not only had the follow on been averted but to all intents and purposes the match had been written off as a dull, drab draw.
At least that’s what we all thought when we made our way to Chepauk for the final day’s play. Australia without showing much urgency had made 170 for five and the word ‘draw’ was written all over the match. Allan Border’s unexpected overnight declaration however opened up several possibilities. India now had to get 348 for victory in 87 overs and on the evidence of the first innings the Aussie captain’s decision did seem to have an element of risk. It did not appear that the Australians had the bowling to dismiss a strong Indian batting line-up in a day. And India did seem to have things under control with a score of 190 for two at tea with 30 overs remaining to be bowled. With eight wickets in hand 158 runs were eminently gettable but the post-tea session provided the third hero of the game.
Greg Matthews after scoring 44 had taken five wickets in the first innings. In the second innings the off spinner bowled unchanged for 40 overs and slowly got Australia back in the match. Wickets fell at regular intervals even as runs were being scored and it was clear that the spectators were going to witness a pulsating finish. The stadium was sparsely occupied initially with the match seemingly doomed to a draw but Border’s declaration and India taking up the challenge meant that the stadium was almost filled to capacity towards the final stages.
I well remember that India were 330 for six with five overs left – a winning position. But the never-say-die spirit of the Aussies saw them claw back. Ray Bright, the left-arm spinner, took two wickets in one over as India slid to 334 for eight. Shivlal Yadav was ninth out at 344 in the penultimate over and by now it was sheer bedlam. We all knew that there was a distinct possibility of a sensational result – a tie! Ravi Shastri was holding one end up commendably and it was now a straight duel between him and the untiring Matthews bowling with his sleeves buttoned to his wrist and with his baggy green cap on.
By now the spectators were on their feet clapping, cheering and shouting themselves hoarse. Matthews started the last over with India needing four runs and Australia wanting one wicket. Shastri expertly controlling things scored three runs to level the scores giving Maninder Singh the task of getting the winning run. But Matthews, keeping his cool in the unbelievably tense situation, had the final say by having Maninder leg before with the fifth ball of the over for his tenth wicket of the match. It was a tie after all with both teams having scored 744 runs.
(Partab Ramchand is a veteran sports journalist, the views expressed here are personal.)