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By Suresh Menon
Twenty six years ago this month, the Australian off spinner Greg Matthews hit Maninder Singh on the pad, umpire Vikram Raju's finger went up, and a Test match ended in a tie at the Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai. Meeting the umpire, now a sprightly 78, before the New Zealand Test in Bangalore recently brought back many memories. Of that Test match, of the incredibly oppressive heat in which it was played, and of the various eye-witness accounts that didn't always agree with one another.
In the years before the neutral umpire (a term the late Tiger Pataudi disliked, arguing that umpires are by definition neutral) appeared on the scene, Vikram Raju's brave decision gave Indian umpiring a shot in the arm. Yet, Maninder Singh insists to this day that he got an inside edge onto the pad. For years now, I have tried to catch Maninder off guard, asking him at inopportune moments when we have met: “You didn't really get a touch, did you?” It is a running joke between us. “Wake me up in the middle of the night,” he says, “and ask me the question and my answer will be the same.”
The whole episode was put in perspective by Krishnamachari Srikkanth the following day when we were flying to Hyderabad for a one-day international. While many of the players felt India had been deprived of a win, the opening batsman said, “Hey guys, forget the win; we have become a part of history.” Ravi Shastri, who played a magnificent role in getting India close to the winning target of 348 on the final day, called for the fateful single that exposed Maninder to Matthews. That run, following a push to midwicket, ensured that India would not lose – a fine commentary on the two different personalities, Srikkanth who was seen those days as a player with the amateur spirit while Shastri was the quintessential professional.
It was a match which saw some great batting. Kapil Dev's century, fit to rank with his effort at Port Elizabeth six years later as his best; Dean Jones's double century in the course of which he was dangerously dehradated as he vomitted regularly; some of the finest off driving during a partnership between Sunil Gavaskar (who made 90 in his 100th Test) and Mohinder Amarnath (51). It saw too the coming of age of Matthews himself, a blue-haired, earring-wearing packet of energy who finished with ten wickets. Dean Jones called it the turning point of the team's fortunes – next year Australia won the World Cup for the first time, and went on to become the No 1 side in the world.
It was, and remains only the second tie in the 2055 Tests played; the first was in Brisbane. I remember rushing to meet Bobby Simpson, the only man to have been involved in both matches, the first as player, and then as manager. He thought it had been one of the toughest Test matches.
Looking at my notes of that final over, I see that Shastri took two of the second ball and a single off the third. Maninder survived the fourth but was out to the fifth. At Brisbane too the match had been tied with one ball remaining.
By then – the fifth day of making notes and writing the report for Indian Express newspaper – I was more appropriately clad for a Chennai match in September. On the first day, I had walked into the press box wearing a tie and in a mental competition with R Sriraman, later the BCCI President, who sat in an enclosure nearby wearing a suit. I will remove my tie, I told myself, when Sriraman removes his jacket. But I was soon tie-less while Sriraman's suit remained. A quarter of a century ago press boxes were not air-conditioned and cricket writers dressed more formally than today.
When Maninder was dismissed, wrote the Australian journalist Mike Coward, “(Steve) Waugh, a young man with a sense of history, ran from square leg and deftly souveneired the middle and off stumps, one of which he gave to Matthews. The tension and excitement had numbed the crowd and strangers embraced as the curtain fell....”
Two abiding memories of those final moments – no newspaper photographer managed to capture the dismissal; the iconic picture was taken by an amateur, a lady sitting to the right of the press box. As the tension mounted, former Mumbai and Tamil Nadu player S Srinivasan rushed down to the press box to scream into my ear: “This will end in a tie!”