Steve Waugh is one of the three batsmen to be dismissed handled the ball against India © Getty Images
Steve Waugh is one of the three batsmen to be dismissed handled the ball against India © Getty Images

On March 19, 2001, Steve Waugh became only the sixth batsman in Test history to be given out “handled the ball”. Abhijit Banare recalls the dismissal of the Australian skipper in the historic Chennai Test.

A bilateral series involving India and Australia has its fair share of interesting moments. The 2001 series was surely one of those. A victory after following on and a hat-trick at Kolkata, a nail- biting finish on the final day of the decisive Test match couldn’t have added more to the excitement of Test cricket. A thrilling victory at Chennai snatched Australia’s chances of scripting a series victory in India after three decades. The match also witnessed Australian skipper Steve Waugh getting dismissed handled the ball, a mode of dismissal which was witnessed after seven years in Test cricket.

The moment

Form and luck go hand in hand and Steve Waugh’s innings of 47 couldn’t have come to an unexpected halt without Harbhajan Singh’s golden run. Fresh from a hat-trick at the historic Eden Gardens Test, the “Turbanator” had just given a glimpse of his magic with two wickets on Day One of the third Test at Chennai. Australia looked poised to post a huge total with their score reading 326 for the loss of three wickets at the end of Day One, with Waugh unbeaten on 43 and Matthew Hayden on 147. During his innings on the first day, Waugh had surpassed Graham Gooch’s career total of 8900 runs. Little did he know that he would emulate another ‘feat’ of the Englishman recorded seven years earlier the following day.

In the sixth over of Day Two, Harbhajan rolled in a ball in line of the middle-stump drifting towards the leg. Waugh knelt and attempted a sweep. However, he missed the ball completely as it thudded onto his pads and looped in the air. While the enthusiastic Indians bellowed in appeal in search of a vital breakthrough, Hayden quickly indicated his skipper to watch the ball, which had by now landed outside off stump and was spinning backwards. Waugh lost his composure in the spur of the moment and quietly pushed the ball away with his palm. By now, the close-in fielders had noticed this unusual reaction from the Australian skipper and another appeal followed. This time the Umpire had no hesitation in ruling the batsman out handled the ball. Thus Waugh went down in history books as the sixth batsman to be dismissed in such a fashion.

Few months later in December, Law 33 was applied for England skipper Michael Vaughan as well in a much more controversial way.

Player Score Against Year
Russell Endean 3 England Jan 1, 1957
Andrew Hilditch 29 Pakistan Mar 24, 1979
Mohsin Khan 58 Australia Sept 22, 1982
Desmond Haynes 55 India Nov 24, 1983
Graham Gooch 133 Australia Jun 3, 1993
Steve Waugh 47 India Mar 19, 2001
Michael Vaughan 64 India Dec 19, 2001

Waugh’s dismissal though proved to be a turning point. With 340 on board after the skipper’s dismissal, wickets tumbled in no time as they managed to add just 51 runs eventually folding up for 391. The last six batsmen contributed just four runs, as all of them were dismissed by Harbhajan Singh.

In reply, India notched up a formidable score of 501 in their first innings. In their second essay, Australia could manage nothing more than 264 thereby setting a target of 155 runs. A target which had almost brought the Border-Gavaskar Trophy at India’s doorstep eventually culminated into a huge task with the home side barely managing to scrape through with a two wicket win. Without much doubt, the Midas touch of Harbhajan and a determined Sameer Dighe turned the series in favour of the home side. It is in this context of a narrow loss, cricketing pundits went back to Waugh’s dismissal on the second Day as the game-changing moment.

Waugh though refused to admit that his bizarre mode of dismissal took the match away from them. Speaking to The Daily Examiner, a leading Australian newspaper, Waugh said, “When survival beckons, instincts seem to take over before the brain has time to engage. Next time I will still help the short-leg out, but I will use my boot.”

(Like most Indians, Abhijit Banare has been obsessed with cricket since childhood. He is an avid follower, smitten by statistics and analysis. A journalism student in Mumbai, he considers himself lucky to have grown up watching batting legends like Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid. He also likes to keep a sharp eye on Indian politics, and can be followed on Twitter and blog)