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On January 18, 1994, Navjot Singh Sidhu smashed 124 against a Sri Lankan spin-attack led by Muttiah Muralitharan. During that innings, he smashed eight sixes, falling short of Wally Hammond’s record of ten. Nishad Pai Vaidya looks back at the knock at Lucknow.
In 1983, a young Navjot Singh Sidhu was branded the “strokeless wonder” after a difficult international debut. It was a remark that spurned Sidhu and he shot back into international cricket in 1987 with a range of shots and a penchant to dance down the ground and smash it for six off the spinners. Sidhu was now one of the most feared hitters of the spinners and could charge gears at his own will. Sri Lanka found that out on January 18, 1994, when he bludgeoned eight sixes in the course of his Test ton at Lucknow.
Mohammad Azharuddin won the toss and elected to bat first at the KD Singh Babu Stadium in Lucknow. It was the first Test of the series and one expected a battle of spin from both sides. Sri Lanka had Muttiah Muralitharan, Ruwan Kalpage and Don Arunasiri.
Manoj Prabhakar and Sidhu opened the batting and set the tone for a good stand. Pramodya Wickramasinghe troubled them early and gave them a few nervous moments. They reached 63 before Dulip Liyange trapped Prabhakar leg-before the wicket. Vinod Kambli joined Sidhu in the middle with the latter taking control of things. With the score on 84, Kambli was dismissed as he was run-out for five. In walked Sachin Tendulkar, the 20-year-old star and it was a dangerous proposition for the spinner as they had top-class batsmen at both ends.
Sidhu knew that he had to mainly contend with Muralitharan, the wily off-spinner, who was gradually making a name in international cricket. Back then, Muralitharan did not have the doosra as a weapon. He only bowled his off-spin and could become predictable at times. If you are a spinner and that too predictable, Sidhu would pounce on you big time. Once Muralitharan became a force to reckon with, the magazine Frontline had done a feature which said, “Although he was successful in his early career, facile players of spin such as Navjot Singh Sidhu and Mohammed Azharuddin punished his predictability. In his new avatar as an ESPN expert commentator, Sidhu argued that the key to playing Muralitharan was to move one’s feet down the pitch as late as possible because he releases the ball at the last moment.
It was that very approach that Sidhu took and smashed his sixes at will by charging towards the ball. Tendulkar and Sidhu built a good stand, but it was the latter who dominated. As the Indian innings progressed, Sidhu took the Sri Lankan bowlers for a total of eight sixes. Six of those big hits had come off Muralitharan and one could see the domination. It was before Muralitharan became a world great, but this was something surreal. Sidhu came within two sixes of beating Wally Hammond’s record of ten.
Harsha Bhogle wrote in his column for the Indian Express when Muralitharan retired, “I remember him bowling in a Test match in Lucknow in 1994 and almost looking helpless as India’s batsmen, led by Navjot Singh Sidhu and Sachin Tendulkar kept coming down the wicket to him.”
By the time, Sidhu was dismissed for 124, India were on 205 for three with Tendulkar going strong. The fact that he had scored nearly 60 percent of the team’s total till then shows how he had been in control of proceedings. For his 124, Sidhu had faced 223 balls and had hit nine fours and eight sixes. That helped lay a solid platform as Tendulkar led India to 511. Muralitharan picked up a five-wicket haul, but conceded 162 runs in his 41.5 overs.
- Sri Lanka were bowled out for 218, courtesy Anil Kumble’s four-for.
- Azharuddin imposed the follow-on and Sri Lanka were now bundled out for 174 with Kumble recording figures of seven for 59. India won the Test match by an innings and 119 runs.
- India went on to win the next two Tests by an innings as well and registered a 3-0 triumph in the series.
India 511 (Navjot Singh Sidhu 124, Sachin Tendulkar 142; Muttiah Muralitharan 5 for 162) beat Sri Lanka 218 (Roshan Mahanama 73; Anil Kumble 4 for 69) and 174 (Roshan Mahanama 45, Hashan Tillakaratne 47; Anil Kumble 7 for 59) by an innings and 119 runs.
Man of the Match: Anil Kumble.
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