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Mohammad Azharuddin scores century on debut, lights up drab Test

Mohammad Azharuddin scored three consecutive centuries in his first three Test matches © Getty Images
Mohammad Azharuddin scored three consecutive centuries in his first three Test matches © Getty Images

Mohammad Azharuddin scored a hundred on Test debut on January 3, 1985. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at a day that triggered a world record that stands till today.

 

When England had arrived in India in 1984-85, they were utterly bamboozled by the mystique of the prodigious teenage leg-spinner Laxman Sivaramakrishnan. England, however, hit back at Ferozshah Kotla with Tim Robinson scoring 160 and all their bowlers coming good.

 

It was not just another series-leveller: with India fighting hard to save the Test, Kapil Dev walked out and hit a six, and was caught by Allan Lamb off Pat Pocock at long-off when he tried an encore. Nobody other than Shivlal Yadav put up a fight, and India lost the Test by eight wickets.

 

As a result, Kapil was dropped from the third Test at Eden Gardens. NKP Salve, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) Chairman, had intervened to change the decision, but the selectors, led by Chandu Borde, were unanimously adamant. “[Sunil] Gavaskar, who had no vote, was said to be in favour of it [the axing of Kapil] following the all-rounder’s repentance for the stroke that helped England win the second Test in Delhi.”

 

Sandeep Patil, who had played another irresponsible stroke, was dropped as well. Chetan Sharma was brought in for Kapil, while Patil was replaced by a debutant from Hyderabad: he went by the name of Mohammad Azharuddin. Gavaskar won the toss and elected to bat.

 

Day One: Drab, dreary batting

 

One would have expected India, being the host team, to take the initiative: true, Gavaskar had wanted to build a foundation first; true, he needed to post a big score given that he did not have the services of Kapil (which was, once again, his own decision). The first hour-and-a-half saw both openers, Gavaskar and Anshuman Gaekwad, being dismissed for 35: there were only two boundaries.

 

Mohinder Amarnath joined Dilip Vengsarkar, but the scoring rate simply did not improve. The opening pair had added 27 in 68 minutes; the third wicket added 91 in 140. Amarnath’s yawnathon ended when he was caught by Chris Cowdrey off Phil Edmonds for a 107-ball 42.

 

At the other end, Vengsarkar was not really keen on bothering the scorers. His 48 had taken 157 balls; so used was he in occupying the crease that when Edmonds bowled him round the legs, he had refused to leave: only when the square-leg umpire nodded in acknowledgement did he start the long walk back to the pavilion.

 

Ravi Shastri now walked out to join Azhar. An elegant back-foot cover-drive opened Azhar’s account in Test cricket, but thereafter neither batsman refused to accelerate on a slow, low pitch. Paul Downton missed a stumping of Azhar off Pat Pocock early in his innings. It was a blemish that would probably shape Indian cricket in the 1990s.

 

Non-seasonal Calcutta rain brought play to an early close soon afterwards with India on 168 for four with Azhar on 13 and Shastri on 26.

 

 

Day Two: Eight runs. Period.

 

Rain and smog allowed only twenty minutes of play. India could add only eight runs on the entire day, all the runs coming off Azhar’s bat (including a casual flick that would capture eyes of cricket connoisseurs over the world for the next decade-and-a-half). With India on 176 for four after two days, they had to accelerate if they wanted to have a serious go at taking the lead.

 

 

Day Three: A genius arrives

 

Azhar batted on the next day with Shastri for company. They were surprisingly in no kind of hurry: though Azhar played a few wristy strokes that captured the imagination of the partisan Eden Gardens crowd. He took his time, but every now and then he played a stroke that brought the 90,000-strong crowd to its feet. He batted on, as Mudar Patherya had recalled in Mid-Day, “in a white Fred Perry t-shirt (presented by his captain [Gavaskar]) and in a helmet a few sizes larger than its contents.”

 

Shastri, of course, was a different story. He simply drove the Eden Gardens crowd to near-insanity: he blocked and blocked and blocked despite the barracks and boos from the huge crowd. Nothing seemed to work on Shastri. Gavaskar’s tactics were unfathomable: for whatever reason he refused to enforce a result.

 

The pair added a hundred over a period of time that seemed like ages. The crowd had perhaps broken out of a deep siesta as the landmarks went by. Even the boos had gone feeble as the day progressed. When a ball hit Shastri on the pad and went to short-leg the fielder threw the stumps down: the stadium suddenly woke up in tumultuous cheer – only to realise that he was not out; an audible groan spread across the field and they went back to their siestas.

 

Azhar finally reached his hundred and was universally applauded on reaching three figures. Wisden whole-heartedly applauded Azhar’s “placid temperament, sound technique and flawless application”; Shastri reached the three-figure mark soon, but Gavaskar, and the two batsmen, did not seem to declare anytime soon.

Mohammad Azharuddin followed his ton ton on debut, with a century in the second and third Tests of the series as well © Getty Images
Mohammad Azharuddin followed his ton on debut, with a century in the second and third Tests of the series as well © Getty Images

Finally Norman Cowans broke the partnership when he had Azhar caught by David Gower at gully for a 322-ball 110 just before stumps. The partnership had added 214 at less than two an over, and had batted for over seven hours. “The tempo of [Mohammad] Azharuddin’s stand with [Ravi] Shastri, which was India’s record in all Tests for the fifth wicket, killed the match,” wrote Wisden.

 

The day finally ended with Shastri on 109 and Kirmani on nought. India were 348 for five. Perhaps Gavaskar would declare the next day…

 

 

Day Four: A not-so-Sunny-day

 

Shastri fell soon the next morning amidst huge cheer, scoring 111 in 357 balls when India should ideally have tried to set a target. Kirmani played a few strokes before falling for 35, giving the spectators a glimmer of hope: maybe Gavaskar would declare.

 

Alas, their hopes drowned after Sharma and Manoj Prabhakar batted on and Gavaskar, for whatever reason, still refused to declare and batted till lunch. Wisden went to the extent of calling the decision “perverse”. The crowd was so infuriated that even a riot might have broken out there.

 

At this stage, just before lunch, Gavaskar made a brief appearance outside the dressing-room: he was greeted with hoots of “Gavaskar down, Gavaskar out” from the nearest section of the crowd. But he still refused to declare, and Prabhakar and Sharma walked out to bat even after lunch.

 

It was probably Gower who got Gavaskar to declare the innings closed. Gower, who had bowled only 12 balls in Test cricket till then, came on to bowl three overs as Edmonds did a Warwick Armstrong by reading a newspaper that was hovering past him. A reluctant Gavaskar made a pointless discussion at 437 for seven.

 

India had scored at 2.18 runs an over, and there were less than five sessions left in the Test. The declaration might have been reluctant. Wisden reported: “[Sunil] Gavaskar subsequently denied that police had warned him there was a threat to law and order should he delay the declaration any longer, though it was broadcast as a fact by an Indian commentator on BBC radio.”

 

There was nothing of interest left in the Test, but the Eden Gardens crowd decided to take things in their own hands, pelting The Little Master with fruits as he led his team out to field. They had already been incensed by Kapil’s axing, resulting in NO KAPIL, NO TEST protests all over the city. Play was held up for eight minutes as the ground had to be cleared.

 

Graeme Fowler and Tim Robinson decided to play India at their own game. Poor Sharma bowled his heart out in vain, and though Robinson had to retire hurt for 17 he was back when Gower fell to Shivlal Yadav; Fowler was caught by Vengsarkar at bat-pad off Siva for a 133-ball 49, but Robinson and night-watchman Pocock played out time.

 

England finished on 99 for two, trailing by 338, with Robinson on 25 and Pocock yet to score. A decision was out of the question unless a miracle happened.

 

 

Day Five: Shastri’s record

 

India removed Pocock early, and Robinson’s dogged 36 took him 108 balls before Yadav ran through his defence. Mike Gatting, the first batsman who seemed like batting with any sort of purpose, scored a 48-ball 48 (out of 53 scored during his stay at the wicket) before Yadav cleaned him up.

 

Lamb, too, batted brilliantly, clearing the huge ground twice. Chris Cowdrey rose to the task, and the pair added a quickfire 66 in 77 minutes. With the follow-on yet to be saved, Downton shut shop while Lamb biffed his way to 67. Downton hung around for an almost irrelevant 51-ball six.

 

Sharma, with his tail up after having Lamb caught behind, bowled fast on an unresponsive surface and cleaned up the tail. Both Sharma and Yadav finished with four wickets apiece as England finished on 276.

 

India were left to bat just over an hour, and Gavaskar sent Prabhakar and Shastri to open batting. Shastri thus became the fifth batsman to bat on every day of a Test (it has been achieved thrice more subsequently). Gower used eight bowlers, of whom Lamb, the sixth, trapped Prabhakar leg-before with his military-medium. It remained his only Test wicket. Shastri, and for some reason, Yadav, played out time as India finished with 29 for one in 18 overs with zero willingness to entertain the crowd.

 

 

What followed?

 

- Kapil was recalled for the next Test at Cheapauk. Both Fowler and Gatting scored double-hundreds while Neil Foster picked up 11 wickets to help England to a nine-wicket victory. India’s only consolation came in the fact that Azhar scored a hundred in his second Test as well.

 

-  Azhar scored a hundred at Green Park as well (he still remains the only batsman to do so), but India’s three-pronged spin attack could not win the Test for India. England claimed the series 2-1, but Azhar was lauded by all and sundry. Sportsworld ran an issue that had the word Hazaruddin on its cover.

 

-  After the ignominy in the hands of the spectators, Gavaskar vowed not to play another Test on the ground. He did keep his word: he did not play the Pakistan Test in 1986-87.

 

 

Brief scores:

 

India 437 for 7 decl. (Ravi Shastri 111, Mohammad Azharuddin 110, Mohinder Amarnath 42; Phil Edmonds 3 for 72, Norman Cowans 3 for 103) and 29 for 1 drew with England 276 (Allan Lamb 67, Graeme Fowler 49, Mike Gatting 48; Chetan Sharma 4 for 38, Shivlal Yadav 4 for 86).

 

 

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)

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