On October 5, 1988, Tamil Nadu’s VB Chandrasekhar bludgeoned the Rest of India bowling to move to his 100 off only 56 balls. His innings of 119 helped set up an unlikely run-chase of 340 in the last innings, which won Tamil Nadu the competition. Nishad Pai Vaidya revisits that day at the MA Chidambaram Stadium, Chennai.
The Irani Trophy was the most awaited game at the start of the Indian domestic season as the best faced the rest. The Ranji Trophy champions take on a selection of the best domestic performers of the previous season and battle for the trophy. Over the years, the contest may have lost its charm owing to certain external factors, but in the older days, it was a huge opportunity for the India hopefuls to make an impression. Remember Sachin Tendulkar sealing his India selection with the great hundred against Delhi in 1989?
But, our story is set in the previous year i.e. 1988 when Tamil Nadu were up against Rest of India (ROI) at Chennai and a certain VB Chandrasekhar used it to announce his arrival. Tamil Nadu had a host of good cricketers. Krishnamachari Srikkanth led a side comprising Chandrasekhar, WV Raman, Robin Singh, M Senthilnathan, Laxman Sivaramakrishnan, Bharat Arun and M Venkatramana to name a few. On the other hand, ROI also had their own fair share of strength. Arun Lal was the captain of a side featuring Navjot Singh Sidhu, Gopal Sharma, Sanjeev Sharma, Rashid Patel and Narendra Hirwani. The game began on October 1 with Lal winning the toss and electing to bat first.
Shrikant Kalyani (93) and Navjot Singh Sidhu (86) led the way for ROI as collective team effort saw them post 433. In reply, Tamil Nadu crumbled under the pressure and were bowled out for 226, conceding a lead of 207. Srikkanth was the top scorer with 57, whereas Gopal Sharma had done the damage with six for 69. Chandrasekhar had recorded a blob.
Surprisingly, Lal decided against enforcing the follow on. It appears the decision was not entirely his. Lal told ESPNcricinfo, “I wanted to enforce the follow-on, but the selectors wanted to watch some of our batsmen batting. Obviously the team had another plan, but we had to go against our wishes.” It was important to note that the Indian selectors were about to announce the India squad for the series against New Zealand. They perhaps needed more options.
However, that move backfired with terrible consequences. On a track that is known to wear out as the match progresses, this decision was nearly hara-kiri. ROI were bowled out for 132 with Santhanaraman Vasudevan taking four wickets and Srikkanth chipping in with three. Sidhu was absent during this innings. That left Tamil Nadu with 340 to get in the fourth innings in less than a normal full day’s play. The run-chase began on October 5, which was the last day, and Srikkanth was positive about his team’s chances despite the fact that ROI had batted a few overs in the morning. He motivated his men to deliver and raised their spirits. Chandrasekhar was specifically inspired as he wasn’t considered by the selectors for the Indian team. This was his chance to make a statement.
That determination converted into performance. If the bowlers pitched it short, he went after it with full force. There was one occasion when he top-edged a ball and it flew over the slips and went for four. Still unfazed by it all, he tried a similar shot the next time the bowler dug it in and smashed it through square-leg for another. In Rashid Patel (left-arm) and Sanjeev Sharma (right-arm), ROI had a good pace combination. Yet, Chandrasekhar countered them with similar ferocity. Sanjeev Sharma tried to bowl the bouncers, but Chandrasekhar was in the zone. One particular delivery was pulled into the stands with great power. There was a fine-leg and a man square in the deep, but it sailed over their heads and crossed the ropes.
Although, it looked like he mainly targeted the leg-side, when it was outside the off-stump, he did give it everything. Sanjeev Sharma found that out when he was bludgeoned for four through the covers. Once, the spinners came on, Chandrasekhar put the dancing shoes on. Even when he wanted to push for the singles, he walked down and placed it into the deep. However, when he saw the opportunity, he lofted Hirwani over mid-wicket for four. Kartik Jeshwant, the left-arm spinner, now bore the brunt of Chandrasekhar’s attacking batting. He reached the pitch of the ball and lofted it over long-on for a six. Then, he went inside-out to dispatch it wide over long-off for four. With that stroke, he reached his half-century. There was no bowler who could stop him that day. Such was the effort that the usually belligerent Srikkanth was eclipsed at the other end.
Soon after reaching his fifty, Chandrasekhar charged to Hirwani and hit him for a six over long-on. He was getting to the pitch of almost every other delivery bowled by the spinner. When he pitched it short, Chandrasekhar rocked on to the back-foot and pulled it through mid-wicket for a four. The agony for the young Hirwani did not stop there as Chandrasekhar hit him for another maximum over long-on. Tamil Nadu had moved safely past 100. Reverting to his favourite tactic, Chandrasekhar charged again and smashed one over long-off for another six.
The footwork was fascinating. The Indian batsmen play spin well, but this was sheer dominance. Even if the spinners wanted to change their tactics by pitching it shorter, perhaps expecting him to dance down the track, was not working. Once a batsman is in that zone, he watches it perfectly off the hand. Sensing that a few would pitch short, Chandrasekhar had no problems in transferring his weight back and waiting on the crease. Attack was perhaps his only option and he would pull it or place it through the off-side.
As he approached his hundred, he merely knocked the ball around to get to the milestone. He got there by placing one through long-off for a single and raised his bat to acknowledge those present. It had taken him only 56 balls to get to the mark. And, that innings contained eight fours and eight sixes until then; which means he scored 80 in boundaries alone.
Soon after Tamil Nadu got past 150, Srikkanth holed out to Sanjeev Sharma off Gopal Sharma. There was still a long way to go as Tamil Nadu still needed 186 on a trick surface with Gopal Sharma in a mood to exploit the conditions. It was due to Chandrasekhar’s effort that Tamil Nadu had scored over 160 in the first 25 overs alone as they went into lunch. After the break, he warmed up by pulling Hirwani through mid-wicket to collect four and then a mis-timed flick went to fine-leg boundary. However, Hirwani got his revenge when he had Chandrasekhar hit one high into the air. Rashid Patel ran in to pouch it safely and end Chandrasekhar’s exhilarating display.
Chandrasekhar’s knock of 119 came off only 78 deliveries with 11 fours and eight sixes. By the time he was dismissed, Tamil Nadu were 178 for two. It was an innings that set up the game perfectly and handed it to the middle-order to finish the job. Due to his whirlwind knock, Tamil Nadu maintained a healthy run-rate. With Raman, Robin Singh and the two Sivaramakrishnan’s in the middle, Tamil Nadu could knock it around and play sensible cricket to overhaul the target of 340.
Rest of India 433 (Shrikant Kalyani 93, Navjot Singh Sidhu 86; Santhanaraman Vasudevan 5 for 116) and 132 (Sadanand Vishwanath 32; Santhanaraman Vasudevan 4 for 42) lost to Tamil Nadu 226 (Krishnamachari Srikkanth 57; Gopal Sharma 6 for 69) and 345 for 7 (VB Chandrasekhar 119, Krishnamachari Srikkanth 52; Gopal Sharma 6 for 135) by 3 wickets.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)