Pakistan’s tour of India in 1998-99, more so the second Test match at Delhi, is remembered for just one reason. No, it isn’t because it was India’s first Test win over Pakistan in almost a decade. No, it wasn’t because Wasim Akram went past Imran Khan’s tally of 362 Test victims. It was because an engineer-turned cricketer had just become the second person to scalp all 10 wickets in an innings.
It was the Anil Kumble Test, which drew India level in the two-match series after Pakistan were cruising along at one stage chasing 420. But hidden under the heaps of scroll inked with songs of Kumble’s accomplishment lies the performance of an Indian batsman in that Test that definitely had some impact on the game and the series.
Sadagoppan Ramesh had scored a solid 43 on debut in Chennai in the first Test – an innings he later went on to describe as his most satisfying. But his two knocks in the second Test at the Feroze Shah Kotla probably had much more of an impact on India’s fortunes in that series. After coming so, so, close in Chennai after Sachin Tendulkar’s fourth innings heroics at Chennai and losing by just 12 runs, India were determined to pull things back and captain Mohammad Azharuddin made no hesitation in batting first on a pitch that had been dug up by right-wing extremists just days earlier.
Ramesh and VVS Laxman provided India a steady and solid start before being bowled by Saqlain Mushtaq and Akram, respectively. Ramesh scored 60 – his highest score so far in three innings and second highest in India’s total of 252 (Azharuddin scored 67).
However, it was Ramesh’s stint in the second innings that really caught everyone’s attention (or did it?). Playing in his typical French cricket style of batting – with his feet glued to the pitch and hands swaying around hitting the ball – Ramesh calmly went about building India’s lead. He lost Laxman early, but went on to forge useful stands of 85 and 68 with Rahul Dravid and Tendulkar.
In fact, Ramesh featured in three of the six highest partnerships recorded in that match. He batted four-and-a-half hours in only his fourth Test innings, scoring 96 off 227 balls, before giving an easy return catch to spinner Mushtaq Ahmed.
The future looked bright for India’s new opening batsman, then only 23. However, Ramesh played just 17 more Tests after Delhi, scoring two hundreds and eight fifties. His last four Test innings scores read 47, 31, 46 and 55.
Perhaps it was his inability to convert the forties and fifties into big ones that ended his career prematurely. Perhaps it was because he didn’t bother to change his style of play as his career progressed – with his non-existent footwork and loose strokes. But there have been others who have gotten a far longer leash.
Ramesh is definitely one of the more unfortunate stories of Indian cricket in the last two decades. He never quite cemented his place in the One-Day International squad (played just 24 of them), possibly due to the presence of Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly at the top. And in Tests, after the arrival of Virender Sehwag, Ramesh was lost in the wilderness.
From a player who made his Ranji debut at the age of 19 and scored a hundred, from a player who averaged just under forty in Tests, you expected more.
(JaideepVaidya is a multiple sports buff and a writer at CricketCountry. He has a B.E. in Electronics Engineering, but that isn't fooling anybody. He started writing on sports during his engineering course and fell in love with it. The best day of his life came on April 24, 1998, when he witnessed birthday boy Sachin Tendulkar pummel a Shane Warne-speared Aussie attack from the stands during the Sharjah Cup Final. A diehard Manchester United fan, you can follow him on Twitter @jaideepvaidya. He also writes a sports blog - The Mullygrubber )
First Published: February 6, 2013, 11:23 am