Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Looking back - 1986 Tied Test

The 1986 tied Test, it has been argued more than once, is one of the great forgotten Test Matches of all time. The short video in this post is about Umpire Vikram Raju's final decision, which brought the result about. It remains controversial to this day, but I tend to see this the Umpire's way. I think the Umpire was probably right in this instance, even though Maninder seemed to be absolutely sure about the inside edge and Allan Border at silly point suspected it. The grainy pictures are hard to decipher, but it seems to me that Greg Mathews bowled the quicker one and Maninder Singh was trapped plumb in front, his bat came down late on the ball. Whether it came down late enough to miss the ball, or whether it came down just fast enough for the ball to kiss the edge, we will never know. The only disinterested observer thought it missed the ball, and that is the best evidence that we have. While Allan Border suspected the inside edge, the other players around the bat didn't. Their appeal was as spontaneous as Maninder's show of the bat.

Close LBW decisions have a way of playing a part in close India-Australia Tests. With the series level and India chasing 155 for victory, Glenn McGrath bowled to Sameer Dighe with India at 7/147. Cricinfo has recorded that delivery as follows

37.5 McGrath to Dighe, no run, thrusts his pads in front, brushes the pads on its way to the keeper, loud appeal, turned down, looked very close.

It was very close indeed. I remember it like it was yesterday. Dighe was caught on the crease to one that McGrath got to swing in late from a fullish length. It may have hit Dighe a shave outside off stump, but I don't think there would have been too many complaints had that been given out. It made all the difference in my view.

The 1986 game was a rare Test Match where a side made two declarations, neither of which could be consider quixotic, and still came within one run of losing the game. I have a hard time accepting Kapil Dev's spouting of the conventional wisdom about the turning track. It was not a spiteful 5th day wicket, India made 347 runs on the last day there! Sunil Gavaskar, as usual, makes the telling point - that it was a game that India should have won easily, given that they were 251/3 and then 331/6 in the run chase, chasing 347. India used to bat deep in those days. But India's run chases in the 1980s, especially the ones which were reasonably close, were, almost without exception marked by bad judgment, usually including a terrible shot by Kapil Dev.

If you think about the tied Test of 1986, it becomes clear just how much time there is in a Test Match. Australia's first innings continued into the third day, while India scored at over 4 runs per over in that game. It's a stretch to argue that this tied Test was better than the 1960 tied Test. That game saw 40 wickets falling, and fortunes fluctuating over all five days. The West Indies were ascendant early with Gary Sobers' blistering century - he made 132 in less than 3 hours, an almost Sehwagian pace, only to be bested by Australia through Norman O'Neill's 181. Australia did their best to drive home the advantage, reducing the West Indies to 4/127 (effectively 4/54), before Frank Worrell and Joe Solomon steadied things and the lower order extended the lead to 232. Wes Hall then set about the Australians in their 4th innings run chase, reducing them to 5/57, which soon became 6/92 when Sonny Ramadhin dismissed Ken 'Slasher' Mackay. This was to be Ramadhin's penultimate Test wicket, he would breach Mackay's defense again at Melbourne.

At this point Australia were out of it, they needed 141 more to win with 4 wickets in hand. Richie Benaud and Alan Davidson added 134 of those in a 7th wicket stand. When Davidson was dismissed at 226, Australia needed 7 runs to win, with their last three wickets standing. Amazingly enough, Australia managed to lose those three wickets before they scored those 7 runs.

The two tied Tests were very different games. In the Chennai Test, the bat was dominant for the most part, and until India collapsed from 251/3 to 347/10, losing 7/94, the Test had seen 27 wickets falling for 1392 runs. It was a Test made by an aggressive declaration by Allan Border. It was aggressive because India had scored very quickly in their first innings, but it was justified because it was the last day, and India's first innings pace had been on account of Kapil Dev's whirlwind century (119 in 138 balls, this is still slower than Sehwag's usual effort these days). The Indian response was equally aggressive. The early pace was set by Sunil Gavaskar (92) and Krishnamachari Srikanth (39) and the later batsmen kept scoring reasonably quickly.

The Brisbane Test was a more even contest between bat and ball. There were periods when the bat was absolutely dominant, such as during the innings played by Sobers and O'Neill, and there were also periods when the ball was ascendant, through Davidson and Hall. Fittingly, that game ended with Joe Solomon scoring a direct hit from square leg, with just one stump to aim at.

I don't think greatness of Tests is marked by what happens at the fag ends of a Test Match. It is marked in my view by the way in which the viewers perception about the conditions is changed by the participants, often aided by an actual change in the playing conditions. Thus, when Sri Lanka are dismissed for 393 early on the second day of a Test, only to find themselves 50 runs behind 80 overs later, thats an astonishing Test Match. When two bowlers add close to 80 runs in a run chase and take their side within 5 runs of victory, thats a tremendous Test, because there again, the contest between bat and ball is defying the odds. For this to happen, sides need to first possess enough quality to actually take advantage of favorable conditions and find themselves in a position of strength. In great Test Match contests, this happens regularly. It makes individual greatness possible.

Tests can be tied or be won by a very small margin, and still be ordinary contests between bat and ball. I suggest that the tied Test of 1986, despite the controversy and despite the aggressive play from both camps, does not find itself in the ranks of the great Test Match contests because it was a fairly ordinary contest between bat and ball. As a contest between bat and bat, and bat and the clock, and man against man, and team against team, and man against the conditions, it was phenomenal. While these are important to cricket, there are not sufficient in my view. The only essential contest is the one between bat and ball. Close decisions may change the result in the end, but they account for only one decision out of 40, and their significance has been established even before they occur. It has been established through a spellbinding, fluctuating contest between bat and ball.

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