John Wright’s eventful Test started with a dropped catch © Getty Images (file photo)
John Wright’s eventful Test started with a dropped catch © Getty Images (file photo)

Seldom has a cricketer had a Test as eventful as John Wright, at Napier, one that ended on February 12, 1990. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back.

Mohammad Azharuddin did not have an auspicious start to his career as Test captain, at Christchurch. To be fair, it was a young team: Kapil Dev was the only tricenarian in the side (though Dilip Vengsarkar later replaced Navjot Sidhu).

India could not get New Zealand captain John Wright out for over 9 hours (he scored 185). Richard Hadlee and Danny Morrison then bowled them out for 164 and 296, though the Indians also contributed to the cause (“their commendably positive approach cost them the First Test when too many airy, imaginative shots were played,” reported Wisden).

New Zealand won by 10 wickets. Hadlee had Sanjay Manjrekar played on in the second innings to become the first cricketer to reach the 400-wicket mark in Tests (he was presented with four hundred roses at the ground).

New Zealand would claim the series after two draws. India had them down at 85 for 6 in the third Test at Auckland before Ian Smith got that whirlwind 136-ball 173 of his. Azhar himself scored a grand 192 in response, but Andrew Jones and Martin Crowe ensured the draw.

We, however, will focus on the second Test at Napier, where a wet outfield ensured no play on Day One and poor light cut Day Two to 52 overs. Hadlee got WV Raman with the first ball of the Test, but Manoj Prabhakar and Sanjay Manjrekar dug in. Azhar walked out after three excruciating hours of cricket.

Morrison immediately let one go to Azhar. They must have heard about his vulnerability against fast bowling a year back in West Indies. Almost predictably, Azhar edged one and the ball flew to leg gully.

Umpire John Woodward ruled Azhar not out. Woodward was ‘the other umpire’ at Christchurch a decade back, when Colin Croft had shoulder-barged Fred Goodall. When a furious Goodall insisted on having a word with West Indies captain Clive Lloyd, the latter made sure Goodall and Woodward had to walk to first slip for the conversation.

The New Zealand fielders were visibly furious, but carried on with the Test. Azhar, perhaps a bit ruffled by it all, tried to loft Martin Snedden over mid-on when he was on 5. The ball ballooned to Wright at mid-on. As Wright would later recall, “it was probably the easiest catch I’ve dropped in Test cricket.”

Azhar, batting on 19 overnight, was bowled by Morrison for 33 the next morning. Wright, finally free of guilt, ran to congratulate his fast bowler. He also sought out Woodward: “You and I are the most relieved men on the ground, mate.”

“Yes, Wrighty, but yours [miss] was easier than mine,” quipped Woodward.

The schoolboy

Vengsarkar fell 2 balls later before the much-talked-about prodigy arrived at the centre. Prabhakar hung on grimly for 95, and though Kapil fell cheaply, the teenager played some delightful strokes through the day to remain unbeaten on 80 at stumps.

“He looked considerably older than his sixteen years as, with strong driving and deft placements,” wrote Wisden of the wonder-kid in the white helmet.

At 17 years 78 days, Mushtaq Mohammad was the youngest cricketer to have scored a Test hundred till then (Mohammad Ashraful has pushed Mushtaq to second spot since). Sachin Tendulkar was not yet 17 at that point.

The geeks back home were put to test that night. Shortwave radios were conjured out of nowhere and tuned to the right wavelength: nobody wanted to miss the would-be superstar’s first Test hundred.

Tendulkar started the day with a four off Morrison. He drove for an all-run four in the next over. The two shots forced a sleepy-eyed India to wake up with a jolt.

Then, anticlimactically, he hit one tamely to Wright at mid-off, just like that.

Tendulkar walked back to the pavilion and India switched their transistor radios off. Who knew that Wright and Tendulkar would share a dressing-room for several years in the new millennium?

Getting it Wright, finally

But Wright’s Test was not over. Trevor Franklin and he started slowly under fading light after Azhar declared on 358 for 9. New Zealand took three hours to reach a hundred. Then Wright cut loose, and eventually scored a strokeful, unbeaten 113 out of a total of 178 for 1.

But the story did not end there. It rained on the fourth evening and water seeped under the covers, thus eliminating any chance of a fifth day’s play. And since everyone needed a target to criticise for no play, they had a go at Wright — a man who could have his individual score without anything to bother for.

And then, Wright, the only centurion of the Test, was also named Man of the Match. It might have been for his entire set of activities.

Brief scores:

India 358 for 9 decl. (Manoj Prabhakar 95, Sachin Tendulkar 88, Kiran More 73; Richard Hadlee 3 for 73, Danny Morrison 5 for 98) drew with New Zealand 178 for 1 (Trevor Franklin 50, John Wright 113*).

Man of the Match: John Wright.