Chennai Diaries 1998: Twenty Years since the start of Sachin Tendulkar's domination of the Aussies
"It’s rare enough that in the middle of the fourth day a Test match is evenly poised. To then have one team’s champion facing his opposite number with the game hanging by a thread is heaven for a cricket fan. That’s the way it happened in Chennai in 1998," wrote Ian Chappell recalling the 1st Test match of the Mark Taylor led Australian team’s tour of India in 1998.
Well, the India-Australia encounter in the latter half of the 1990s was more often than not a contest between the two champions from each side - Sachin Tendulkar & Shane Warne. As expected there was a lot of build-up to this series with the focus on the two great players. Tendulkar had in fact roped in former Indian leg-spinner L Sivaramakrishnan and asked him to bowl outside the leg as a prep for facing Warne.
When the tour began, Sachin Tendulkar drew first blood even before the actual test series. Leading the Mumbai team, he had scripted a famous win for the giant of Indian domestic cricket over the Aussies. In the process, he had also brought up his maiden first-class double century and in contrast, Warne had returned wicketless going for 111 runs in 16 overs.
But when the two met for the second time on the tour in the first innings of the test match, Warne returned the favour by having Tendulkar caught for just four runs in the slips. Warne ran through the Indian middle-order picking wickets of Rahul Dravid, Tendulkar and skipper Mohammad Azharuddin. As a result, the Indians were bowled out for 257 runs despite a century opening partnership between Nayan Mongia & Navjot Singh Sidhu who top scored with 62 runs.
In response, the Aussies were all set to give the Indians a handsome lead when their 8th wicket fell at a score of 201 runs. But the gritty wicket-keeper Ian Healy had other plans and he put together close to hundred runs for the 9th wicket with debutant off-spinner Gavin Robertson, taking the Australian total to 328 runs. He missed his century by a whisker, falling for 90 runs to the bowling of Venkatpathy Raju.
Tendulkar vs Warne was tied at 1-1 when the second innings began
Much like the first innings, the Indians began confidently and ended day three at the score of 100 runs for the loss of 1 wicket. The game was evenly poised and an exciting day’s play awaited the fans on the fourth day. Now, a major part of the 1990s for Indian cricket was about, “Sachin crease par hai kya?” (Is Sachin at the crease?) The moment that the fans of the Chidambaram stadium and the whole of India had been waiting for arrived when the second wicket fell at the score of 115 runs.
“You must find an attacking method to combat Warne when he comes round the wicket”
In walked Tendulkar, very well knowing that his wicket could be the deciding factor in the match. His personal dual with Warne was tied at 1-1 in the tour. He got off the mark with a couple on the leg side off his hips and did not take much time to get into the grove. When he hit a six off Gavin Robertson, Harsha Bhogle who was on air had said, “Tendulkar is opening out here at the Chidambaram Stadium”. He was not only opening out, he was hurting the Australians badly. It looked as though he had followed the advice of Ravi Shastri who had told him, “You must find an attacking method to combat Warne when he comes round the wicket”.
Such was the barrage of his attack, that Warne was forced to abort the tactics of going around the wicket. He was ruthless to any loose delivery and used his feet to great effect for the deliveries which were flighted to him. He brought up his 15th test century with a glance to the bowling of Michael Kasprowicz. And he didn’t stop at just that. He went on to score an unbeaten 155 runs with the help of 14 fours and 4 sixes at a strike rate of above 80. India declared their second innings at the score of 418 runs, setting the Aussies a challenging target of 348 runs.
The spin trio of Anil Kumble, Venkatapathy Raju and Rajesh Chauhan did the rest. Between them, they took 9 wickets and bundled out the Aussies for 168 runs and giving the Indians a victory by a margin of 179 runs. Ironically, Warne who was touted to destroy the Indian batting was the highest scorer of the Australian innings with a score of 35 runs.
Innings was just the beginning of Sachin’s domination over the Aussies in 1998
Not surprisingly, Tendulkar was adjudged as the man of the match. And this was just the beginning of the decimation of the Australian attack at the hands of Tendulkar in the tour. With a total of 446 runs, he emerged as the leading scorer of the three-match Border-Gavaskar trophy. He continued his domination in the two tri-series which followed, forcing Warne to say that he would get nightmares of Tendulkar hitting him.
Twenty years have passed since that epic match at Chennai and I am sure Warne would not be getting nightmares now. But Sachin’s heroics from that match and the entire season of 1998 has been etched forever in the memories of every cricket lover.