When a tie produced winners
The first and the most important step towards rescuing a country or a team from crisis is to appoint the right man on the top. When a tearful Kim Hughes abducted the captaincy throne in 1984-85, Australian cricket needed a leader who could pull the disintegrated team together and reignite the winning fire in them. Luckily they had Allan Robert Border around – a no-nonsense man, passionate about Australian cricket and a proud cricketer well liked and respected by his team-mates.
When Border led a young and unfancied Australian team to India in 1986, Australian cricket found back its charisma. The series also heralded the staunch on-field rivalry between two of the most passionate cricketing nations. Under the blazing sun of Chennai India and Australia rewrote history by giving cricket its second tied Test match. Hence the first foundation stone for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy was laid.
As he watched India and Australia battle it out in the first Test of the series at Chepauk, Border took us 27 years back in time when he and his boys were part of something very special at the very venue. The cricket legend turned a delightful raconteur as he gave a vivid account of the tied Test to bcci.tv.
You were leading a very young team to a tough place like India. What were your thoughts on the flight to India?
I liked our chances because I thought those young lads were very good cricketers even though they were quite inexperienced. I’d been to India once before that, in 1979 and I knew the conditions, I knew how hard it was going to be. We had to be at our absolute best to do well in India. But I was quietly confident that the young fellows we had in the squad would do well.
Was the team taken aback by the extreme weather conditions in Chennai?
It caught us a little bit by surprise. I’d been in Chennai before but it might have been at a different time of the year. But the conditions in which we played that tied Test match were so oppressive. When people ask me back home how it was like playing cricket there, I say it was like playing in a sauna bath. That’s what it felt like. Also, we weren’t really up to the mark with hydration apart from having a bottle of water around. We did a lot of things wrong by not hydrating ourselves as much as we should have throughout the day.
Ahead of that first Test, you had to pick between Dean Jones and Mike Velleta for the No.3 batting position. What made you go with Jones?
I liked Deano. I knew he could play different styles of game. He was a naturally aggressive player, used his feet against the spinners and he had a resolute defence as well against the turning ball. I just thought that he would be better suited to batting high in the order in the Indian conditions compared to Michael Velleta. It was quite an easy call for me to make. We had the conversation in my room and he was very excited to have the opportunity. And as we all know, he did okay.
When Jones was batting on 170, he wanted to go off. He was vomiting, urinating involuntarily and was very sick. But you taunted him for being a weak Victorian and made him bat on?
He was quite distressed at that time and he’d been very sick for an hour or so. But he kept batting and then he was having trouble keeping moisture down. Every time he took some water in, it came back up and he vomited. I was batting with him for a long period of time. He was batting so well, I just didn’t want him to go off. I didn’t really understand dehydration myself at that time so I didn’t understand how ill he actually was.
I knew that Greg Ritchie was the next man in and he was a Queenslander. And I knew which buttons to push with Deano. So I told him, ‘Look Deano, you can go off, it’s fine. We’ll get someone tough out here. We’ll get a Queenslander’. I can’t repeat the words that Deano said back to me but he got all fired up again. He started to throw the bat on ball and hit a lot of boundaries. But he was still very distressed. When he finally got dismissed for 210, he could barely walk off the field. Once you’re out, your body starts to get a bit relaxed, the adrenaline goes down and you start cramping. And he was completely down. The team members had to remove his pads and get him in for ice-bath.
I started to panic a bit as I had caused that condition of his. But thankfully all was fine. He was admitted to the hospital, was kept there overnight for observation and was okay the next day.
Where would you rate that knock from Dean Jones among the top-five played by an Australian batsman?
There have been higher scores by many Australian batsmen, big double hundreds and triple centuries made in quicker time. But from my observation – I can’t talk about Sir Don Bradman’s knocks because I haven’t watched them – it was right up there because of the conditions it came in. It was also against a very good Indian side with many stars in it. It was a heroic to do what he did there in those conditions especially because he was physically ill for most part of the second half of the innings. If you put all those ingredients in it was one of the better knocks I’ve seen. And he tells everyone about it from that day to now. We’ve all heard it a hundred times.
There were some other fine performances in that match that got lost behind Jones’s colossal innings. Was there any one you thought proved to be crucial in the end?
There were a lot of them which get overshadowed by Deano’s double. Kapil Dev made a brilliant hundred in India’s first innings. Sunny Gavaskar made a masterful 90 which got the second innings going for India. Chasing 348 for victory on the last day in Chennai was a very tough ask and it was Gavaskar’s innings that gave India the opportunity to win it. It was a day-five track so we fancied our chances and had attacking fields. But he played a counter-attacking knock and took the attack on our pacers from the word go.
Greg Matthews from our side produced two heroic performances with 10 wickets in the match. For his five-wicket haul in the second innings, he basically bowled whole day in such oppressive conditions. A lot of those performances get overshadowed because of the result of the match and Deano’s knock.
You didn’t mention your 106 in the first innings?
I was more than happy to play second fiddle to Deano. He was the dominant player and I was happy to support him. Doing that, I ended up making a hundred which was great.
Could you talk us through the tension and the excitement of the last half-an-hour or so?
The last 20 minutes were full of tension. I was warned by the umpires for slow over rate as I was taking forever to get the field right. Ravi Shastri just whacked one over the fence and was a real thorn in our throat. I was probably thankful to Ravi for taking a single and putting Maninder on strike. I’ve talked to Ravi often about that and he just felt it was the right decision to tie the scores up.
What was your first reaction when Matthews trapped Maninder Singh lbw to take the final Indian wicket?
It sounds crazy. I was standing at bat-pad. The tension was such that it was all happening so quickly yet so slowly. The last over took forever. After the second last ball, there was so much going on in my mind. I was thinking what we could do next, wondering if we could execute a run-out if they hit the ball and decide to run.
When the last ball was bowled, there was a huge shout for lbw. But I didn’t appeal. I was more interested in diving at the cricket ball and making sure they don’g get the single they needed to win the game. And all of a sudden chaos breaks loose, the crowd goes berserk, the players are running around. My initial reaction was, ‘we’ve won!’. But that moment passed very quickly and we all realised, ‘hello, we’ve just played out a tied Test match! Who would’ve ever thought?’.
What was the feeling like after it all sunk in?
My first feeling was that of relief. We’d done a lot of running around in the game, making declarations and setting a huge target. As the target got closer, I thought there will be no justice if we lose this match. I was very proud with our performance because we lost only 12 wickets while we got 20 Indian wickets. So, even though the scores were tied, I thought we should hold our heads high. From the Indian point of view, they thought they should’ve won the game and they were a bit more disappointed than us. But all said and done, it was a very fair result because it was such a great game of cricket.
How were the celebrations that night?
We were all drained. But I must admit it was almost like winning. We really savoured the moment. Nothing was overdone as it wasn’t like it was the end of the series and we could let our hair down. We had another match coming up soon and so it wasn’t an over-the-top party. But we certainly enjoyed the fruits of our labour.
Is it fair to say that the tied Test was the cornerstone for the India-Austraia cricketing rivalry?
I think the rivalry between India and Australia was born that day. We hadn’t played a lot of cricket against each other – our previous series in against India was in 1979. But after that Test mutual respect was gained. The friendships that were formed then last till date. That rivalry and those friendships that were forged during that time have permeated to the other Australian and Indian teams since then.
Having come to India as underdogs, you went back undefeated. Was that the turning point for Australian cricket?
Most definitely. India is a very hard country to tour. Sides have come here with high expectations and gone back with a towel between their legs. India was a great education for a lot of our younger players. Everyone grew in stature and some of the young players went on to have very good careers. We had a few years before that when results weren’t coming. But I think that 1986 tour led to the 1987 World Cup. We were ready. We knew what the conditions were going to be and we had started to play better and better cricket particularly in the one-day arena. I think I can trace Australia’s revival back to that tour of 1986.