While there is a huge hue and cry right now about Sachin’s 100th hundred, I have decided to recollect one of my favorite memories as a young cricket fan. This was in 1999 when Pakistan and India met in bilateral series after a hiatus of 12 years. There was a lot of hype around the series and the first test was held in my hometown, Chennai. As a young cricket fan I had two wishes, one to watch my idol Sachin Tendulkar score a hundred live and the other to watch team India win a test match.
The Chennai test was an incredible one, completely worth of all the hype surrounding its start. Pakistan team was filled with great bowlers and incredible batting line up and India prior to this series were unbeatable at home. The battle of Sachin with Waqar, Wasim and Saqlain was much talked about prior to the series. The game began and both teams were neck and neck after the first innings. India gained a slender lead of 16 after the first innings and Saqlain Mushtaq enhanced his reputation of being the best young spinner in the world at that time with a 5 wicket haul.
Pakistan began their second innings on a positive note and in spite of losing wickets at regular intervals, it seemed like they would set India a huge total to chase. Afridi was great with a brilliant hundred and with useful contributions from Ijaz and Inzamam, Pakistan was well on course for a huge total. At 275/4, already leading by 259 India’s chances seemed glum when Venkatesh Prasad probably bowled one of the best spells of his career. He took 6/33 as Pakistan collapsed to 286 as their last 6 wickets fell for just 11 runs. India began their second inning needing 271 to win with more than 2 days to go.
Indian second innings did not get to an ideal start as Waqar dismissed both the Indian openers with just 6 runs on the board as Sachin Tendulkar joined Rahul Dravid in the middle. Both these players took India to safety without further loss and it was all set for a brilliant 4th day at the MA Chidambaram stadium. This was when I got a chance to go to the stadium. I had watched the first 3 days on television and my uncle who could not go to the ground on the 4th day, offered me the ticket and along with my cousins I headed to the ground with lots of expectations.
We reached the ground early and watched the players practice. This was my first visit to any international match and it was really exciting to see the players warm up ahead of a great game of cricket. The crowd cheered as Sachin and Dravid walked out to bat, to continue India’s chase. Wasim Akram’s peach on the fourth morning went through the wall’s defenses as India was in early trouble at 50/3. Azhar and Ganguly got out to poor decisions to leave India tottering at 82/5 when Nayan Mongia walked out to join Sachin Tendulkar.
Both these players saw India through to lunch and in a sedate partnership took India to tea with 5 wickets still in hand. The match was in balance and we in the crowd knew that a wicket at that point will mean that India had no chance. After tea though the mood changed, Sachin and Mongia had decided to attack and the runs flowed quickly and India were racing towards the target. It was exhilarating to watch the proceedings as the bowling attack of Pakistan was brilliant and the world’s best player was involved in a fierce battle to win the game for his country. It was a privilege to watch Sachin counter Saqlain on a wicket which was turning square. He was battling back spasm too in the middle of all this which made this innings even greater. Sachin reached one of his best hundreds and I was in the stands applauding. This was one of the best moments for me as a cricket fan.
India was 218/5 with just 53 to get and we could see Pakistan losing hope. They had taken the new ball to no avail as Mongia and Sachin were scoring runs at a fair clip. This is when Mongia decided to display one of the biggest brain freezes of his career. Trying to loft Wasim over the top, got himself caught at mid-off leaving a struggling Sachin to take India to victory along with the tail. Sachin got out to Saqlain trying finishing the game with only 13 needed and the Indian tail collapsed in a hurry as India fell short of the Pakistan total. It was a heartbreaking loss and a very hard one to take as an Indian fan. It was so near yet so far for the Indian team.
When the game was over unlike all the other grounds in India, in spite of an Indian loss the crowd stuck around. Then one of the most brilliant thing happened when even now when I think back makes me proud of being an Indian. The Chennai crowd rose in appreciation of the Pakistan team as the victorious neighbors took a victory lap in India. Who would have thought that it was even possible? It was a brilliant moment as the fans clapped till the end and it was a victory for the game. Chennai is considered as one of the most knowledgeable crowds in India and I saw it with my own eyes for the first time. Even though there was a disappointment of an Indian loss that evening, I was proud as a cricket fan. Cricket is a sport and it’s beyond borders and the crowd that day proved the same. I got one of my wish granted that day but had to wait for another 3 years to watch India win a test match but that memory will forever be etched in my mind.