In the autumn of 1986, all was not well with Australian cricket.
The Aussies had not won a series in nearly three years, had reluctantly handed back the urn to England the previous year, and lost both at home and away to New Zealand. Now, a young inexperienced team under Captain Allan Border and Coach Bobby Simpson had landed on the shores of India, one of the most difficult places in the world to turn around one’s fortunes in Test cricket.
Border was the only member of the side who had played in India before. As Dean Jones was to say later, “Allan Border had played 70 Test matches and I think the next best was seven. It was a very inexperienced team.” India, on the other hand, was brimming with confidence after a 2-0 series victory against England, in England.
So when in sweltering 40 degrees heat in Madras, Border went out to toss with Kapil Dev and called correctly, he had no hesitation whatsoever in rushing back to the comfort of the air-conditioned visitor’s changing room at the Chepauk stadium and sending in his openers to bear the brunt of the 80% humidity and searing heat in company of 13 Indians presumably better able to handle the conditions.
Day 1 – Boon and Jones make the Indians sweat
On a dry lifeless pitch, a profusely sweating David Boon soon forgot about his discomfort as he went after the Indian bowling. After an initial spell from himself and his bowling partner Chetan Sharma, Kapil quickly brought in the dual spin attack of left-armed Maninder Singh and off-spinner Shivlal Yadav. However, the little cheer that Geoff Marsh’s departure brought to the Madras crowd was quickly snuffed out by some excellent batting by David Boon and Dean Jones. Boon finally fell after scoring his third Test century (all scored against India at that stage), and Australia ended the day at 211 for 2 thanks to the 158 run partnership between the two.
The story of the Australian innings was not however about Boon’s dominating ton, but about what his partner Dean Jones did the next day, inscribing his name in the annals of Australian cricket history in indelible ink.
Day 2 – Dean Jones becomes an Australian icon
Dean Jones was back in the team after a gap of three years and was determined to make his mark at the No. 3 position he had been given. Like most of his teammates, he had never played in India, and certainly not in the kind of intense heat and humidity that Madras served up that September. With Allan Border for a company, Jones put on a courageous display against the wishes of his own body as has rarely been seen before or since.
Jones batted for 503 minutes to score 210 becoming the first Australian to hit a double century in India. As Steven Pye recounted in The Guardian, “The leg cramps, nausea, and pins and needles were bad enough, but the involuntary urinating was surely a tiny clue that Jones really needed saving from himself.”
Bobby Simpson recalled: “I have not seen a braver innings that Dean’s. He was running on adrenalin. During breaks we would have one bloke waiting to take off his pads and another would strip him and put him in an ice bath just to try and revitalise him. It was immensely courageous.”
When Jones reached 170, he had had enough. At the end of every over, he had been throwing up and told his captain that he wanted to go off the field. What happened next was classic Allan Border. It was an early exhibition of the mind games that in subsequent years would take Australian cricket from the nadir it was experiencing and set it on its glorious path to long term success.
Jones’ account of that moment says it all: “I was a mess. On about 170, I wanted to go off because I was stopping the game every over to be sick. And Allan Border said “You weak Victorian. I want a tough Australian out there. I want a Queenslander.” So I stayed. My last hundred I got in 66 balls because I couldn’t run at all. I said `block, block, I’m going to slog this for four.’ Then I’d block until I had enough energy for another go.”
Jones was rushed to hospital after his innings. He recalls: “When I came off the ground they put me in an ice bath. People were talking to me, and I was quite coherent, I thought I was OK. Then when I got out of the bath I completely passed out and woke up in the hospital at one o’clock in the morning.”
Days 3 and 4 – Australia declare and Kapil Dev responds
Border made 106 after being dropped thrice and declared at 574 for 7 soon after he himself was dismissed.
India lost Sunil Gavaskar and Mohinder Amarnath cheaply, and when Srikkanth departed after a typical quick fire 53 studded with nine boundaries, at 65 for 3, the Aussies were well and truly on top. First Azharuddin and Shastri and then Chandrakant Pandit put up some dogged resistance, but it was captain Kapil Dev’s magnificent 119 at almost run-a-ball that pushed India’s reply to 397 and gave Australia a lead of 177 runs. From a time when it looked like India would have trouble avoiding the follow on, it had been a remarkable recovery thanks to yet another captain’s knock from Dev.
Day 5 – Cricket is the victor on a day like no other
Border declared for the second time in the match at the score of 170 for 5 without coming in to bat on the fifth morning, leaving India 348 runs to win. It was a courageous declaration, and an indication of how Allan Border played cricket – take your chances and go for a win every time, no holds barred.
On an unfortunate note, it had already been a bad tempered match given the intense heat and humidity and was helped in no small measure by Border’s aggressive nature that would become legendary in his later Ashes conflicts. On Day 5, the tension caused the pot to boil over. Border argued incessantly with umpire Dotiwalla who perhaps justifiably questioned the time wasting tactics between each delivery. Ray Bright, Greg Matthews and Tim Zoehrer disputed umpiring decisions. Chetan Sharma reportedly threatened to insert a bat into wicketkeeper Zoehrer’s posterior and Greg Matthews launched a tirade against Pandit after dismissing him. But between these distractions, the cricket went on.
Sunil Gavaskar, playing his 100th Test match, anchored the run chase with intent and aplomb. He put on 55 with Srikkanth for the opening stand, following it up with a partnership of 103 with Mohinder Amarnath. When India went in for Tea at 193 for 2 with 30 overs left to play in the day and 155 to get, it was anyone’s game.
However, when Azharuddin, Gavaskar and Kapil Dev all departed in quick succession after tea, at 253 for 5 the chase looked all but over. A stunning 39 from 37 balls from Chandrakant Pandit (which perhaps explained Greg Matthew’s frustration and tirade) and a cameo from Chetan Sharma (which led to Zoehrer’s sledging and Sharma’s response) and some superb batting from Ravi Shastri took India to 331 for 6.
With 17 runs needed from the last 5 overs and 4 wickets in hand, the Chepauk crowd was already celebrating in anticipation of a remarkable Indian victory.
Spinner Ray Bright had left the field from exhaustion. Greg Matthews remembers: “Ray Bright was not young and fit like Dean Jones. He got the 12th man to ask AB if he needed him in the field after he had gone off with exhaustion. AB told him to “get his arse out here“.
Border’s ruthlessness paid off yet again. Bright came back and in rapid succession got rid of Chetan Sharma, wicketkeeper Kiran More and Shivlal Yadav.
It all came down to a seething Shastri watching these dismissals helplessly from the other end and last man Maninder Singh, whose batting prowess ranked barely above and batting average slightly below that of fellow No. 11 BS Chandrasekhar, the first man to have famously retired from Tests having taken more wickets than runs he had scored.
Shastri was on strike when Greg Matthews started the last over of the match with 4 runs needed for victory. Shastri defended the first ball then turned Matthews behind square for the second. A misfield from Steve Waugh enabled Shastri to scamper back for a second. “I thought, that’s fantastic, I’ve just cost us the Test match,” Waugh admitted later.
With two runs to get from four balls, Shastri took a decision that would ensure this match attained a special place in cricket history. “If I take the single, it’s the last thing that Allan Border wants me to do,” said Shastri later, “because then India can’t lose.”
The Last Ball and the image that says it all
Facing up to Matthews with specific instructions from Shastri and the scores level, Maninder defended the first ball and then was rapped on the pad the next ball. To the delight of the Australians and the stunned disbelief of the 25,011 Indians on and around the ground, umpire Vikram Raju immediately raised his finger.
For the first time since Brisbane in 1960 when Australia and West Indies had faced the same situation, and just for the second time in history, cricket had a Tied Test Match to add to its archives.
There is only one photograph that recorded the moment that Maninder Singh was dismissed. It was taken not by one of the official photographers who had all left their seats to prepare for the post-match presentation. Instead, armed with an amateur’s excitement at a close finish, a Nikon F3, a shutter cord and a tripod, a spectator, Mala Mukherjee, then a photography teacher and sitting in the club house as a guest of MA Chidambaram and the Madras Cricket Association, captured the moment for eternity.
As Karunya Keshav, writing in Wisden last year, perfectly described this iconic photograph: “Vikram Raju, the umpire, had his finger raised for the lbw of Maninder Singh, the last man in; Greg Matthews exulted at what his penultimate delivery had done; Border, at silly point, had recovered from the catch he thought he had missed; Ravi Shastri, at the non-striker’s end, refused to believe it was all over.”
On the decision itself, Maninder remains adamant that he had hit the ball as does Shastri, and curiously Border years later admitted that he thought likewise. Umpire Raju, who never again officiated in a Test match, to this day, defends his decision. “Just because India is playing, I cannot give a decision in their favour,” he says. “As a neutral, I’ve to do justice, isn’t it? The ball was nowhere close the bat, he (Maninder) was plumb in front of the wicket and how can he say no?”
With no referral system and official television footage bizarrely taped over by India’s national channel Doordarshan with what one assumes was a less iconic event, perhaps appropriately Mukherjee’s photo remains the only reminder of the final moment of one of the most incredible Test matches in the history of cricket.