On February 4, 1991, Martin Crowe known for his technical brilliance and peerless stroke-making ability, and Andrew Jones, with an ungainly yet effective technique, played with pluck, imagination and infinite patience to essay a monumental partnership of 467 against Sri Lanka at Basin Reserve, Wellington. It was an all-time record then for any partnership, breaking the 451-run stand between Bill Ponsford and Don Bradman in 1934 against England at Oval, and Javed Miandad and Mudassar Nazar’s monstrous stand of 451 against India at Hyderabad (Pakistan) in 1982-83. Bharath Ramaraj looks back at the timeless composition by two New Zealand greats.
By the time New Zealand played the first Test against Sri Lanka at the windy Wellington in 1991, their primal force in the bowling attack, Richard Hadlee had retired from the game. It meant that New Zealand had to make most of their limited resources and punch above their weight. The Sri Lankan setup was a lightweight in Test cricket in the 1980s and early 1990s. Yet, they had couple of handy swing bowlers in the experienced albeit an injury prone Rumesh Ratnayake and the 27-year old, Graeme Labrooy.
After Sri Lanka won the toss and elected to field on a track with a bit of juice in it, both Ratnayake and Labrooy proceeded to land blows and cause misery and agony in New Zealand camp. Only Martin Crowe was able to withstand the trials and tribulations of a seaming track and make a good fist of it. However, even he couldn’t haul New Zealand out of dire-straits, as they were bowled out for 174. Ratnayake and Labrooy took four wickets apiece.
Sri Lanka replied with the diminutive Aravinda De Silva leading the way. With his flashing blade, he transfixed the crowd and sent New Zealand bowlers on a virtual leather hunt. Asanka Gurusinha and captain Arjuna Ranatunga essayed fine knocks, but Sri Lanka took a sizeable lead of 323 runs built largely on the back of De Silva’s audacious stroke-play.
With New Zealand needing someone to stand up and build a large edifice to escape with a draw, both openers Trevor Franklin and John Wright played with utmost caution. The conditions had flattened out considerably, and Sri Lankan bowlers who relied more on swing, seam and cut found it difficult to make early inroads. However, when Wright, after showcasing single-minded purpose and shrewd judgment outside his off-stump, finally lost the plot by edging a delivery from wily swing bowler Ramanayake to wicketkeeper, Hashan Tillakaratne, they had a mountain to climb.
Now, that brought to the crease Andrew Jones and Crowe. Both playing with contrasting styles looked all at ease in favourable conditions for batting. If Jones was adept at playing square off the wicket shots, then Crowe took his time before neatly essaying shots through the on-side with filigree precision. Crowe simply was toying with Sri Lanka’s bowling, especially when Ramanayake bowled his brand of medium-pace. Crowe soon crossed the three figure-mark and then even completed his double ton.
A tired and weary looking Sri Lankan seam attack started to bowl all over the shop. With Crowe nearing Glenn Turner’s mark of 259 for highest individual score by a New Zealander, everyone waited in bated breath. The champion batsman crossed that coveted landmark within no time.
The duo going past the long standing record of stitching the highest partnership for any wicket (451) seemed like a foregone conclusion. With an unflinching desire to succeed and a reservoir of patience, even that monstrous record was broken.
In fact, such was Crowe’s breathtaking fluency that he looked all set to cross the 300-run mark. He was oozing class and his pristine grace was glowing brightly in the sunshine. With him batting on 299, camera lens were focused on Crowe for him to essay a triple hundred. But on 299, his mesmerising magic ended as he chased a wide delivery to be dismissed by Ranatunga’s dibbly dobblers.
Crowe on his own website martincrowe.com said, “On Feb 5, 1991 the scoreboard at the Basin Reserve shows the moment I was caught off the 3rd last ball of the test match for 299. I had worked hard to save the match, along with Andrew Jones during a partnership of 467 for the 3rd wicket, a world record, when I fell to a random thought in my mind. After 10 hours of holding my concentration, I stood at the wicket and the thought entered my mind for the first time ever, ‘wow I will be the first ever to score 300 for NZ’. It stole my focus. As the bowler, Arjuna Ranatunga, ran in I forgot my mantra ‘watch the ball, watch the ball’. The ball was delivered and I never saw it, it became a blur, and at the last second I thrust out my bat and the ball took the edge. It flew low and hard to Hashan Tillerkaratne and he held it inches from the ground. As the reality of what happened struck me, I began to storm off the field, striking a sign as I departed through the gates. I was in shock. At that moment I knew I had blown the very moment I waited my whole cricketing life for.”
Poor Jones, as his sterling effort was overshadowed by Crowe. But one shouldn’t forget his heroics either. He finished on 186 not out as New Zealand declared on 671 for four. It was a Houdini act enacted by two batsmen who had burgeoning self-belief and unwavering confidence. As records also tumbled both batsmen won a tidal wave of appreciation.
New Zealand drew the Test match. A little more than six years later, Sanath Jayasuriya and Roshan Mahanama broke the record with their record-breaking partnership of 576 at Colombo RPS against India.
New Zealand 174 (Martin Crowe 30; Rumesh Ratnayake 4 for 45, Graeme Labrooy 4 for 68) and 671 for 4 (Andrew Jones 186*, Martin Crowe 299) drew with Sri Lanka 497 (Aravinda De Silva 267; Danny Morrison 5 for 153).
(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)
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