January 10, 1985. It was on this day Ravi Shastri equaled Garry Sobers’s First-Class record of scoring six sixes in a six-ball over and went on to score the fastest-ever double century in First-Class cricket history. H Natarajan, who covered the match from the Press Box, brings an eye-witness account of the carnage.
January 8, 1985. The tension was palpable as two titans of Indian cricket clashed. It was on this day that Sunil Gavaskar, the Mumbai captain, took the strong decision to drop Dilip Vengsarkar for arriving late at the Wankhede Stadium for the Ranji Trophy match against Baroda.
Gavaskar was a disciplinarian. He had taken a similar step for a similar reason to drop Ravi Shastri and Raju Kulkarni in the previous game against Gujarat. Vengsarkar had arrived in the wee hours of January 8 after playing a benefit match for Ramesh Saxena, former India batsman, at Jamshedpur. He was livid when I approached him to find out what exactly transpired: “I had requested Sunil to allow me to come late for the match as I’m not used to late nights.”
Justifying his decision, Gavaskar explained when I approached the maestro for his side of the story: “Yes, Dilip did make the request, but I clearly remember telling him to be present at the ground before the toss.”
Vengsarkar refuted Gavaskar’s claims: “Sunil never mentioned anything about the toss.”
Gavaskar added in his defence: “If three other players (Shastri, Mohinder Amarnath and Gavaskar himself) who came on the same flight as Dilip can come on time, why not him? And don’t forget, he is a one-down batsman.”
Vengsarkar arrived on the ground when the first over of the match was in progress and did nothing to conceal his anger right through the day. The atmosphere was understandably tense with two of India’s seniormost players in a foul mood.
But it was the pyrotechnics out in the middle that remains etched in memory 28 years after it happened. That moment came on the third and final day of the match. Bombay opted to bat first and made merry through openers Lalchand Rajput (66), Ghulam Parkar (170) and one-drop Shishir Hattangadi (83), declaring their innings at 371 for four. Baroda gave a fitting reply, declaring their first innings at 330 for the loss of eight wickets — Mohinder Amarnath (88) and the hard-hitting Suresh Keshwala (100 not out) getting the bulk of the runs.
Baroda seamer Vinit Wadkar packed off Shishir Hattangadi, Chandrakant Pandit and Sandeep Patil cheaply, before Rajput (136) and Gavaskar (49) added 128 for the fourth wicket. But the real action was to come when Shastri came at the fall of the fourth wicket.
Shastri often invited the wrath of the crowd by batting defensively in his career. In fact, just 10 days earlier, he had crawled his way to score 111 against England at Calcutta, batting 455 minutes and 357 balls. But what one saw on this day was a Jekyll & Hyde-like transformation, so to say — a Polar opposite of the defensive Shastri. His belligerent intent left nobody in doubt as he brought up his first 50 in 38 minutes and 42 balls, with three sixes and four fours, and his hundred in 71 minutes and 80 balls with four sixes and nine fours.
Then came the carnage. He went after the left-arm spin of Tilak Raj like a hungry predator to plunder six sixes in an over to move from 147 to 183, targeting the arc between the straight field on the leg to wide long-on. Shastri equaled the feat of Sir Gary Sobers who, playing for Nottinghamshire against Glamorgan at Swansea in 1968, had savaged Malcolm Nash for six sixes in a six-ball over.
Watching the proceedings in the Press Box was eminent journalist Dicky Rutnagur, who became the only man to have witnessed the rarest of batting feats by Sobers and Shastri.
I asked Rutnagur which of the two 36-run plunder in an over he would rate higher. The veteran journalist said: “I would rank Sobers’s effort higher as his hits were cleaner and also because the run came off a frontline spinner, unlike Tilak Raj, who was a part-time bowler.”
Another former India player — now no more — who was also in the press enclosure dismissed Rutnagur’s opinion by saying that the English county grounds were much smaller and easy to clear. Shastri’s blows came in a Test venue and his hits were monstrous.
On completion of the feat, Shastri threw his hands in the air and egged the wildly ecstatic crowd to keep the prolonged applause going.
“I was a confused bowler,” Tilak Raj said about the over when talking after the match. He looked very shell-shocked and very upset and refused to pose with Shastri for the next day’s newspaper.
Shastri blitzed his way from 100 to 200 in just 43 balls, plundering nine sixes and four boundaries, to record the fastest-ever double century in the history of First-Class cricket. Shastri’s 113-minute double century antiquated the erstwhile fastest (120 minutes) jointly held by Gilbert Jessop and Clive Lloyd. Jessop had achieved his feat in 1903 at Hove against Sussex, while Lloyd equaled that effort at Swansea in 1976 while hitting 201 not out for West Indies against Glamorgan.
Shastri came close to another world record — the most sixes in an innings by a batsman. He needed just two more sixes to equal the record of 15 by New Zealander John Reid when scoring 296 in 1962-63 for Wellington against Northern District. Probably unaware of the record, Gavaskar declared the Bombay innings at 457 for five, with Shastri unconquered on 200.
Such was Shastri’s dominance in the unbeaten sixth wicket stand of 204 with Ghulam Parkar, that the latter’s contribution was just 33! Shastri hit two left-arm spinners Amar Peitwale and Tilak Raj for six sixes apiece, while leg-spinner Sanjay Hazare conceded the thirteenth. Shastri also hit 13 boundaries, which meant he scored 130 runs in 26 balls!
Set a target of 499, Baroda were 81 for seven — Shastri getting into the act again by scalping the top two scores in the Baroda first innings, Amarnath and Keshwala, to finish with 4-1-5-2 while Balwinder Singh Sandhu did the major damage with figures of four for 43.
Shastri enjoyed a great career, moving from No 10 on his Test debut to become a quality opening batsman who scored 11 hundreds against some of the finest pace attacks, with a double hundred in Australia as his highest. He was a quality all-rounder who bagged 280 international wickets. He was declared Champion of Champions in the mini-world Cup in Australia and was part of the 1983 World Cup team. But the feat of ranking alongside Sir Garry Sobers of hitting six sixes in a six-ball over will rank among his greatest moments in his career and Indian cricket.
(H Natarajan, formerly All India Deputy Sports Editor of the Indian Express and Senior Editor with Cricinfo/Wisden, is the Executive Editor of CricketCountry.com. A prolific writer, he has written for many of the biggest newspapers, magazines and websites all over the world. A great believer in the power of social media, he can be followed on Facebook at facebook.com/H.Natarajan and on Twitter at twitter/hnatarajan)