The abiding memory for me of the Test match between Australia and India played 25 years ago at Chepauk, Madras, on September 18-22, 1986, was not that it ended in only the second tie in the history of Test cricket, but of the appalling heat and humidity.
The oppressive conditions took a heavy toll on the players who were trapped in the middle of the concrete cauldron of the MA Chidambaram stadium. Whatever little breeze there was brought in the stench of the filthy Cooum River nearby — known locally as ‘Channel No. 5’. Even the spectators and journalists were wilting in the terrible heat.
On the pitch, a battle of attrition was going on. Australia’s opener David Boon, Dean Jones and captain Allan Border all scored centuries. But Australia’s total of 574 for 7 declared took a shade over two (sweltering) days.
Jones’ top score of 210 remains one of the most courageous acts on a cricket field. Dehydration and nausea meant his innings was repeatedly interrupted by bouts of being sick on the field. But despite losing control of his bodily functions, he was goaded to carry on by his captain. Once he was out on the second day, Jones was rushed to hospital and kept on a drip all night.
Despite Indian skipper Kapil Dev’s lively century, Australia were on top with a big first innings lead and declared their second innings at 170 for 5, setting India a final day target of 348 runs.
Coach Bob Simpson had been part of the Australian team that was involved in the very first tied Test at Brisbane against the West Indies in 1960. Now he was to play a crucial role in the second tied Test as well as he had managed to persuade Border to declare. It was this courageous act — and the matching response of the Indians —that brought the match to life on the final day of the first India-Australia Test on Monday, September 22, 1986.
It is now part of cricket history that last man Maninder Singh was given out lbw to Greg Matthews with one ball remaining in the match and the scores level. To this day Maninder swears he got an edge on the ball.
There was chaos at the ground. Many spectators and even some journalists thought it was a draw or an Indian win. My first reaction — after I had finished jumping up and down screaming “It’s a tie! It’s a tie!” in anguish — was to turn to the Australian journalists present and ask if any of them had ever witnessed the first tie in Brisbane. None had.
Allan Border would later say that this — Chepauk, September 22, 1986 — was the moment Australian cricket began to believe in itself again after a long spell of being down in the dumps. And a year later it was Border who led his team to their maiden World Cup triumph in India to usher in a long, glorious era in Australian cricket.
At the end, the Australians were elated that they had got out of jail; the Indians despondent that they had come so close.
But a quarter of a century later, all the participants have the satisfaction of knowing that they were part of cricket history.
(Gulu Ezekiel is a New Delhi-based sports journalist and author. The views expressed by the author are personal)