Heaven for Ravi Shastri and hell for Shane Warne

Ravi Shastri (left) and Shane Warne © AFP & Getty Images

On January 5, 1992, a day when Shane Warne made his first Test appearance, India’s Ravi Shastri scripted a meticulously planned double-century to take India to the brink of victory. Karthik Parimal looks back at the knock that lighted up the Sydney Cricket Ground.

The Sydney Test of the 1992 series between India and Australia will be remembered for an ample number of reasons. Firstly, it marked the debut of Australia’s greatest leg-spinner in the form of Shane Warne. Sachin Tendulkar, who had just one international century to his name until that point, blasted his way to an unbeaten 148 batting at No 6, his first against Australia in any format. Also, it was the only Test in the series that India managed to save. While Tendulkar’s ton certainly was a factor, it was Ravi Shastri‘s 206 at the top of the order that helped India hold its fort.

The circumstances under which Shastri scripted the double-ton were trying. The Indians were ruthlessly exposed at Melbourne and Brisbane in the first two Tests. To stage a comeback at an intimidating venue like Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) was always going to be arduous. Moreover, Shastri walked out to the middle without his regular opening partner, Krishnamachari Srikkanth was discarded after scoring 24 runs from four innings. Shastri too wasn’t in pristine form; nevertheless, he got starts and looked more at ease than a few of the other top-order batsmen.

The Sydney pitch in those days was known for its sharp turn, and the hosts often played an extra spinner at this venue. However, Allan Border preferred to take field with just one specialist spinner this time around, and it was not Peter Taylor. Instead, it was newbie Warne who came in. On the other hand, the Indians uncharacteristically left out Venkatapathy Raju in favour of a seamer. Like Warne, Subroto Banerjee too was playing his first Test. He accounted for three out of four wickets on the first day, and contributed his bit in restricting the Australians to just 313. David Boon was the only batsman to get a ton.

Shastri walked out to bat on the second day alongside Navjot Singh Sidhu, who was playing his first match of the series after replacing Srikkanth. However, the move failed to pay dividends as Craig McDermott sent him back for a seven-ball duck. Sanjay Manjrekar too was dismissed before the end of day’s play, but not before trying to offer resistance. It was on the next day, when Shastri and Dilip Vengsarkar were looking to steady the ship, that the Australians grassed an opportunity to pin down the visitors. It was no dream start to Warne’s career, as he dropped Shastri off his own bowling when the latter was on 66.

After a shortened third day, McDermott dispensed Vengsarkar and Azharuddin in the same over the next morning, with the ball seaming about. Thereafter, Shastri and Tendulkar put on a partnership with an approach that took many by surprise. While the youngster attacked, Shastri meticulously piled on runs at the other end. He batted for over nine-and-a-half hours to help India gain an upper hand for the first time in the series. Mike Whitney, who was the 12th man in that game, reminisced about the Test years later- “I just remember chasing the ball from one end of the SCG to the other, and being very frustrated that I couldn’t bowl, couldn’t bat, couldn’t take any other part in the game than chasing leather.”

In what was a matter of consolation for Warne, he picked up the prized wicket of Shastri when the batsman played a rather tired-looking shot at 206. But by then, the Indians were already ahead with 84 and five wickets in hand. With that knock, Shastri became the first Indian to register a double-century against Australia in Australia. Rain played a spoilsport for most part of the Test match, and although the hosts were eight down for just 173 on the board in the second innings – thanks to Shastri’s left-arm orthodox spin accounting for four wickets – there was hardly any time for the Indians to romp home. The Test ended in a tame draw. Although they ran the Australians close in the next game at Adelaide, the Perth Test was lost by a margin of 300 runs. Tendulkar (368) and Shastri (300) were the leading run-getters for India in that series while the rest couldn’t measure up to the challenge.

While it was a Test to remember for Shastri, with both bat and ball, it was a nightmarish debut for Warne, who ended up with one for 150 in 45 overs.

Brief scores:

Australia 313 (David Boon 129*, Mark Taylor 56; Subroto Banerjee 3-47) and 173 for 8 (Allan Border 53; Ravi Shastri 4-45) drew with India 483 (Ravi Shastri 206, Sachin Tendulkar 148; Craig McDermott 4-147)

(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)