Shane Warne, the perfect sport, applauds Virender Sehwag: it was an even stevens © Getty Images
Shane Warne, the perfect sport, applauds Virender Sehwag: it was even stevens © Getty Images

October 15, 2004. Following a thumping defeat at Chinnaswamy, Anil Kumble restricted Australia to 235 on Day One of the Chepauk Test. Shane Warne, aiming the world record for most Test wickets, was at his aggressive best. Then he found himself against Virender Sehwag. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at one of the greatest duels of modern cricket.

This is not a tale of two knights taking on each other, no. This is not a saga of bravado and glory. This is not a fairytale where princes fight ogres to rescue their beloved or peasants take up weapons against the evil Duke.

This story starts with a wizard — perhaps the greatest the world has ever seen. He was the wisest, the wiliest, the most capable of them all, set out to prove a point, to instate his supremacy on another of his kind. He had been thwarted once in a land far, far away, only to come back more equipped than ever.

And then, when the bravest of warriors failed to stand up to them, the most innocuous of them emerged to the forefront. There was no fury in his eyes: there was the calm, the tranquillity of the ocean; and just like the oceans, the waves absorbed the camouflaged fireballs the great sorcerer conjured.

It was a battle matched by few. It was a battle the Gods descended to watch.

It was Virender Sehwag versus Shane Warne.

Prologue

They had conquered all, the mighty Australians of the 2000s. Only the Final Frontier — India — lay ahead of them. Steve Waugh had one hand on the Border-Gavaskar Trophy of 2000-01 before VVS Laxman and Harbhajan Singh decided to intervene.

Ricky Ponting was ruled out of three Tests in 2004-05. Michael Clarke announced his debut at Chinnaswamy with a dazzling 151. Adam Gilchrist responded with 104. And though Harbhajan Singh claimed 11 wickets, India conceded a 228-run lead and lost by 217 runs. READ: Michael Clarke’s 151 on debut rips India apart at Bangalore

Things seemed to take a similar course at Chepauk, when Australia reached 136 without loss, and later 189 for 2. But Anil Kumble, The Atlas of Indian attack for a decade and a half, took 7 for 48 (the wickets were on a trot); Australia were bowled out for 235.

India had left out Aakash Chopra after the Chinnaswamy debacle. With Sachin Tendulkar unavailable, India included both Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif. The management decided to send the former to open with Virender Sehwag.

It did not go well: Yuvraj edged one off Glenn McGrath to Clarke and second slip, who grassed the opportunity. Sehwag smashed McGrath past backward-point for four. Gilchrist introduced Warne in the 11th over. Yuvraj had a go after an hour’s misery. The ball took the inside edge and nestled in Gilchrist’s groin; it counted as a catch, and Yuvraj fell for a 40-ball 8. In the process Warne equalled Muttiah Muralitharan’s world record of 532 Test wickets.

It was the last over of the day. Sourav Ganguly promoted Irfan Pathan as night-watchman, and at stumps India were 28 for 1, trailing by 207. The stage was set.

The battle

Sehwag and Irfan started cautiously against McGrath and Jason Gillespie. On came Warne; Irfan slog-swept him for six. Sehwag was uncharacteristically vigilant to begin with; he crawled to 31 off 78 balls; India reached 48 in 26 overs; but Sehwag and Irfan were still there.

Gilchrist looked for desperate measures. McGrath came on round the wicket. It was wide of off, and Sehwag’s eyes lit up; he banished McGrath through cover. Three balls later McGrath bowled short again, this time on the stumps; it was pulled to the mid-wicket fence.

Chepauk came alive. This was the Sehwag they knew.

The onus fell on Warne. He came on, over the wicket, and tossed one up on off. Sehwag went down on one knee, and slog-swept him, cross-batted, against Warne’s turn (a la Tendulkar at the same ground, 1997-98).

Warne pitched up. It was the one that drifted away towards leg and moved across many a batsman in history, making them look like fools. Sehwag took it on the full and drove past mid-wicket.

Warne tossed up, and went astray; Sehwag slog-swept him to the fence. He reached 53 from 91 balls. The last 22 had taken him 13 balls. Then came the massive leg-break, to beat the outside-edge; the rest of the over was played out cautiously.

Slowly, surely, Sehwag was winning the battle, but Warne still had tricks up his sleeve. Irfan bore the wrath: the ball drifted away and ripped back, and Irfan ended up edging to Matthew Hayden at slip. Sehwag would probably have gone after it. He had scored 14 in a 55-run stand. Murali was overhauled. It was all Warne.

Rahul Dravid’s appearance brought a sense of calm. Anything pitched on leg was dispatched with ease, but that was about it. His role was not to get on top.

Runs dried up. Several times it seemed Sehwag would go over the top, but he decided to keep his head down. The outside edge was beaten. The contest got intense. Then Warne erred, pitching outside leg, and once the paddle-sweep was executed to perfection, Sehwag looked at Warne with disdain. He had broken the shackles, and celebrated with consecutive boundaries.

He reached 92, and tried one shot too much off McGrath. The ball took the outside edge and eluded a diving Simon Katich at extra-cover. The hundred came up in 147 balls when he drove Michael Kasprowicz past cover-point.

Chepauk exploded. Dravid hugged him. Warne applauded. Sehwag was 103; India, 160 for 2. Shortly afterwards, Kasprowicz knocked Dravid’s off-stump out of the ground. He had scored 26 in a 95-run stand.

But how to stop Sehwag? Gilchrist introduced Darren Lehmann, but to no avail. He was taken off three boundaries later. Meanwhile, Ganguly, having been caught at slip off a Kasprowicz no-ball, was eventually caught-behind off Gillespie. Laxman was bowled by one that kept low. India were 213 for 5. They still trailed by 22.

Back came Warne. Sehwag held the upper-hand. Warne had not managed to dismiss him, but he did not let him get away with it either. He beat others on numerous occasions, found the edge, bamboozled them, leading to oohs and aahs from close-in fielders. Soon after Laxman’s dismissal he had Mohammad Kaif dropped by Hayden.

But Sehwag, though restrained, was at ease. He cover-drove Kasprowicz with ease. Warne tossed one up. Sehwag stepped out. It spun away from Sehwag. Mortals would have been happy to defend. Sehwag bludgeoned it in the air, over Warne, and mid-off dropped a difficult chance. And Warne threw up his hands in despair.

Virender Sehwag en route 155 at Chepauk © AFP
Virender Sehwag en route 155 at Chepauk © AFP

Sehwag brought up his 150 the following ball, flicking Warne against the turn through mid-wicket. It had taken him 211 balls. India were on a mere 228.

Then Warne bowled a flatter one. The turn was not big, but the rip made it hurry on to the bat. It was outside off, but Sehwag, who should probably have opted for the cut, decided to pull. The ball hit the top of the bat and flew towards deep mid-wicket; Clarke ran in and dived forward to take an extraordinary catch.

He had scored 155 (Tendulkar had scored the same against the same team seven seasons earlier) in 221 balls. India were 233 for 6, which meant Sehwag’s partners had managed 61 in 258. Sehwag had faced 60 balls from Warne, scoring 53 — but Warne eventually had his revenge.

Epilogue

Kaif (64) and Parthiv Patel (54) batted grittily, stretching the lead to 141. Warne had his share of glory with 6 for 125, his only five-wicket haul in India.

Australia were reduced to 145 for 4, but Damien Martyn (104) grinded along, batting out 56 overs and four hours in the company of the dour Gillespie. There were crucial contributions from Clarke and Lehmann as well, and Australia set India 229. Kumble took 6 for 133. His match figures read 13 for 181.

The scene was set for a special finish, especially when Yuvraj and Sehwag went after McGrath on the fourth afternoon. India were 19 without loss at stumps. They needed another 210.

Unfortunately, Nature turned out to be a spoilsport. Not a single ball could be bowled in the infamous Chennai rain the following day, and the spoils were shared.

What followed?

–  Australia sealed the series (after 35 years) with an emphatic 342-run victory on a green Nagpur track. Murali Kartik more than made up for the injured Harbhajan, and while Ganguly opted out, Tendulkar returned from his injuries. Unfortunately, Martyn’s 114 and 97 and Gillespie’s 5 for 56 and 4 for 24 turned out to be too much for India.

–  The last Test was played on a Wankhede dustbowl, and though India conceded a 99-run lead, Laxman and Tendulkar got them back into the match before Clarke claimed a ridiculous 6 for 9 on a track where Australia missed Warne. A target of 107 should not have been too big for Australia, but Harbhajan and Kartik bowled them out for 93.

Brief scores:

Australia 235 (Justin Langer 71, Matthew Hayden 58; Anil Kumble 7 for 48) and 369 (Adam Gilchrist 49, Damien Martyn 104; Harbhajan Singh 3 for 108, Anil Kumble 6 for 133) drew with India 376 (Virender Sehwag 155, Mohammad Kaif 64, Parthiv Patel 54; Shane Warne 6 for 125) and 19 for no loss.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)