Tale of three thrillers

‘Man of the Moment’  R Ashwin

By Kersi Meher-Homji

 

In view of the fears thatTwenty20 cricket is throttling Tests and one-day internationals (ODIs) it is heartening to note that within the last fifteen days in November we have witnessed three thrillers — two Tests and an ODI.

I refer to the Tests in Johannesburg between Australia and South Africa and in Mumbai between India and West Indies, as also the ODI at Cuttack between India and West indies.

What pulsating moments each of these matches provided! They were heart-stoppers.

 

Let’s start with the Johannesburg Test which twisted and twirled on all five days with a climax on the final day on 21 November. It will be remembered as Australia’s18 year-old Pat Cummins sensational Test debut.

South Africa looked set for a big total with Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers and Ashwin Prince hitting 50s but was dismissed for 266. Likewise, Australia was given a magnificent start of 174 runs by openers Shane Watson (88) and Phil Hughes (88). But the rest failed to build on and the visitors had a narrow lead of 30.

The next day was a confrontation between South Africa’s experienced batsman Hashim Amla (105) and debutant fast bowler Cummins who captured 6-79.

Set 310 to win, the match swayed to and fro till Australia reached the target with only two wickets in hand and tied the series 1-1.

Usman Khawaja (65) and struggling former captain Ricky Ponting (62) added 122 for the third wicket. But the match was in balance when tail-ender and Man of the Match Cummins joined Mitchell Johnson and hit the winning runs.

More than anything else, the Test career of Ponting was extended by his timely 62. When I chatted with him a week later at the Sydney Cricket Ground, he told me that he was very much inspired by the good form shown by Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid who are older than him and scoring runs freely against the Windies.

 

Now to the Mumbai magic of last week.

With the Test series already won by India 2-0, the only interest in the third and final Test in Mumbai was whether Sachin Tendulkar will score his 100th international century in his city of birth. Unfortunately for his billion fans, he fell six runs short, being dismissed for 94 but there were many other highlights climaxed by a chilling last ball.

When West Indies totalled 590 (Darren Bravo 166 and fifties by five other batsmen and spinner Ravichandran Ashwin taking 5-156) only a draw appeared possible. And when India replied with 482 (Ashwin 103, Tendulkar 94, Rahul Dravid 82, Virat Kohli 52) a boring draw was on the cards.

Eventually, the Test did end in a draw but what an exciting, pulsating draw. Almost the third tied Test in the 134 year history of Test cricket.

The featherbed of Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai turned to a bowler’s dream as the Windies were bundled out for 134 in the second innings, spinners Pragyan Ojha capturing 6-47 and Ashwin 4-34.

Set 243 runs to win, India confidently reached 101 for the loss of only one wicket with slam-bang Virender Sehwag hitting out freely and ferociously without a care in the world. He reached 60 off 65 balls but then played a stupid shot.

From a comfortable1-101 India plunged to “oh-no” 4-113. The match was now in balance with any result possible — win for either side, a draw, even a tie! Kohli (63) appeared all set to take India to a victory but was dismissed when India was 19 runs short.

Ashwin and Test debutant Varun Aaron took India to 242. With only one run needed for a win, Ashwin was run out and the match ended with scores level.

It was not a tie because India had lost nine wickets and not all 10. But you can’t get closer.

Test cricket is alive and well although the crowd was poor throughout the series.

For his century and a 5 wicket haul in the first innings and 9 wickets in this fluctuating Test, Ashwin was made Man of the Match.

In this epic Test he became the third Indian after Vinoo Mankad at Lord’s in 1952 and Polly Umrigar at Port-of-Spain in 1961-62 to score a century and take 5 wickets in an innings in the same Test.

For his superlative performance in all three Tests Ashwin was adjudged Man of the Series as well.

His performances: 3-81 & 6-47 in Delhi in his Test debut; 2-49 & 2-137 in Kolkata and 5-156, 4-34 and a century as well in Mumbai. What all-round excellence from someone playing in his first Test series!

November belonged to him as he got married in between the first and second Tests. Busy month, eh?

 

The first one-dayer in Cuttack provided more dramas. In a low-scoring match, West Indies were bowled out for 211. An easy win for the home team was expected. But India (without MS Dhoni, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman) started disastrously and was five wickets down for 59 runs.

With defeat starring them in the face, Man of the Match Rohit Sharma (72) and Ravindra Jadav (38) put on 83 runs for the 6th wicket. But once they fell the match took a reverse turn for India. Amid deadly suspense the last pair Varun Aaron and Umesh Yadav came together with India needing 11 runs to win in 25 balls.

After many stop’s and go’s India reached the target with 7 balls in hand, winning by just one wicket.

This was India’s 10th successive wins in ODIs. The second ODI in the series starts tomorrow (2 December) at Visakhapatnam.

Will this be another chilling encounter?

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