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June 22, 2000


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Captains Courageous - A tale of two great innings

Ananth Narayanan

The first ever Test match played in 1876 ended in a win for Australia by 45 runs. Exactly 100 years later, the Centenary Test match played in the same place ended in a win for Australia by 45 runs. Cricket has a nice way of throwing out such glorious coincidences. In today's murky climate, some people might nod their heads in a knowing manner when they read about such a coincidence, but the die-hard cricket enthusiast only marvels at such a wonderful exposition of the uncertainties of a great game.

On to the present. Two beleagured captains, two great teams opposing them, average support from team-mates and two great wins fashioned from nowhere. These two Test matches represent, at least to the writer, a pair of the most amazing coincident events in the history of the game.

First, a refresher.

Circa 1999

West Indies v Australia
Kensington Oval, Bridgetown, Barbados. 26-30 March 1999
Australia 490 (Steve Waugh 199, Ponting 104)
West Indies 329 (Campbell 105, Jacobs 68, McGrath 4-128)
Australia 146 (Walsh 5-39)
West Indies (Target 308)
Campbell lbw b McGrath 33
Griffith lbw b Gillespie 35
Joseph lbw b MacGill 1
Collins lbw b McGrath 0
Lara not out (355 mins, 256 balls) 153
Hooper c Healy b Gillespie 6
Adams b McGrath 38
Jacobs lbw b McGrath 5
Perry lbw b McGrath 0
Ambrose c Elliott b Gillespie 12
Walsh not out 0
Extras (b 8, lb 13, w 2, nb 5) 28
Total (in 120.1 overs) 311 for 9

FoW: 1-72, 2-77,3-78, 4-91, 5-105, 6-238, 7-248, 8-248, 9-302.

McGrath 44- 13- 92- 5
Gillespie 26.1- 8- 62- 3
Warne 24- 4- 69- 0
MacGill 21- 6- 48- 1
S R Waugh 5- 0- 19- 0

West Indies won by 1 wicket.

Circa 2000

West Indies v Pakistan
St John's, Antigua. 25-29 May 2000
Pakistan 269 (Youhana 103, Inzamam 55, Walsh 5-83)
West Indies 273 (Chanderpaul 89, Adams 60, Wasim Akram 6-61)
Pakistan 219 (Inzamam 68, Youhana 42, King 4-48)
West Indies (Target 216)
Campbell c Yousuf Youhana b Wasim Akram 6
Griffith c Waqar Younis b Wasim Akram 23
Hinds b Wasim Akram 63
Chanderpaul lbw b Abdur Razzaq 31
Adams not out (310 mins, 212 balls) 48
Sarwan lbw b Wasim Akram 6
Jacobs run out 5
Rose c Wasim Akram b Mushtaq Ahmed 4
Ambrose lbw b Saqlain Mushtaq 8
King b Wasim Akram 0
Walsh not out 4
Extras (b 8, lb 7, nb 3) 18
Total (in 91 overs) 216 for 9

FoW: 1-16, 2-31, 3-84, 4-144, 5-161, 6-169, 7-177, 8-194, 9-197.

Wasim Akram 30- 12- 49- 5
Waqar Younis 11- 0- 39- 0
Mushtaq Ahmed 17- 3- 61- 1
Abdur Razzaq 11- 3- 14- 1
Saqlain Mushtaq 22- 7- 38- 1

West Indies won by 1 wicket.

First, some similarities.

- Both captains were leading teams showing signs of coming up. A loss would have set them back quite a bit. Lara drew against Australia 2-2, possibly more than a win against a lesser team. Adams won 1-0 against Pakistan, continuing the resurgence shown against Zimbabwe.

- The opposition was very strong in both cases. This was not the case of winning against Zimbabwe or a touring Indian team. This was against Australia and Pakistan, possibly the top two teams in the world.

- The bowling was very good quality. McGrath, Gillespie, Warne and MacGill on the one hand and Wasim Akram, Younis and the two Mushtaqs on the other. One cannot but feel sorry for Wasim Akram, possibly the greatest all-round bowler the world has ever seen.

- The losing team provided some great batting performances. Steve Waugh and Ponting on the one hand and Inzamam and Youhana on the other.

- In both innings, there was one retreiving middle order partnership in the middle. Lara and Adams in Bridgetown, and Adams and Hinds in St.Johns's.

- Ambrose provided some support to both captains, more in the match against Australia, but fell when victory was near.

- Walsh participated in two crucial last wicket partnerships. He contributed more in the St.John's match, compensating for the lesser contribution of Ambrose.

- The captains hit the winning runs. This was in keeping with their attitude and mental makeup. Lara's was a square drive for 4, taking his score to 153. Adams', no less valuable, was a pushed single.

Where are the differences.

Lara's innings typified Lara. The charismatic, aggressive genius played the innings as befitting this image. An attacking innings studded with 20 boundaries, in which he scored nearly 50 per cent of the team score, taking only 33 per cent of the balls bowled. He probably told others: "Just stay on, I will take care of the runs."

Adam's innings, no less valuable, typified Adams. The self-effacing, defensive journeyman cricketer played a innings in sync. A totally defensive innings, with no boundary hits, in which he scored 22% of the team score, taking nearly 40% of the balls bowled. He probably told others "I am not going to get out. If we lose the match, all you guys have lost your wickets".

Another major difference was that Lara made no special effort to protect the tail-enders, especially during the crucial 18 over partnership with Ambrose who took more than a third of the strike. Probably Lara could not afford to do this since Perry fell when they were over 60 runs short.

Adams made all efforts to protect the tail. He probably refused between 10 and 15 singles. He had a game plan, and stuck to it. There were times when I personally thought that he was making a mistake. I am truly happy that he proved me wrong.

Looking at the total innings, one would say that Lara received lesser support than Adams, especially as the target was 50% higher.

The other difference lay with the opposing team. Australia had only one half chance to Warne and another difficult chance in the closing stages to Healy. Pakistan, on the other hand, had two run-out possibilities, both would probably have been taken by a team of blind cricketers, operating through sound. They muffed both. The umpiring decision to give Walsh the benefit of doubt, can only be taken as a normal judgement decision. To his ever-lasting credit, Moin Khan accepted it as such and rose in the esteem of millions. It must be said that the Pakistanis were more sportsman-like than the Australians. McGrath indulged in some needless slanging with Lara.

Moin Khan made only one tactical error. Correctly, he rested Akram for a while. Then, after a few overs, suddenly there was chance of a full over at Walsh. Instead of bringing on Wasim Akram, he continued with Razzaq. And another perplexing point. Had Waqar Younis' bowling gone to such a level that he could not be given a single over on the last day, even at the end.

Taking only the two fourth innings, one should not forget the contributions of Adams in the Australia match and Wavell Hinds in the St.John's match. The performance of Hinds is probably more valuable since he scored his runs at a good pace. Chanderpaul also played a good cameo in the same match.

What is the perspective on the two innings.

Lara's innings would be included in the "All-time great 25 Test innings" of any discerning cricket follower. It was a masterpiece of attacking and defensive cricket at its best. His concentration never wavered. But this innings was expected from a player of his caliber. He is certainly no "Flawed Genius", as is made out by writers. Maybe he is a "Confused Genius".

Adams's innings will not adorn anybody's list of great innings. But it will figure in lists of courageous innings or tactical innings. He read the game perfectly. He knew that one full over of Wasim Akram at a tail-ender was enough to finish the match. He did not let it happen.

Between the two, I personally see Lara's as the greater achievement, not just because he is one of my all-time favourites and not because of the size of the innings. It is because Lara had a lot more to lose than Adams. A failure by Adams would have been acceptable. If Lara had failed, even the monumental 213 in the previous Test would have gone into the background and Australia would have won 3-1.

West Indian cricket, down at the lowest point, could very well see a revival thanks to the two vastly different monumental efforts.

Let us not forget, the revival started on 30 March, 1999 at Bridgetown.

How I wish I was able to write "A tale of three great innings" instead of "A tale of two great innings". If only Tendulkar had not faltered at the last hurdle at Chennai against Pakistan. But then, however, good the quality of music is, "The unfinished symphony" does not have many takers.

One final point. Harsha Bhogle, corporate world's loss and cricket world's gain, has mentioned in his Sportstar article that he watched the recent Test match and slept peacefully, since in the midst of such gloom, Test cricket was throwing up such great moments. I couldn't agree with him more since I saw the complete last day's cricket in both cases. Where else in Test cricket can you see such drama, intensity or display of tactics. If this result had happened in an ODI, fingers would have been pointed at the losing captain. Not here. Everyone knew that Moin Khan tried his best. On the day, Jimmy Adams's simple never-give-up attitude won the game.

About the author: A connoisseur of cricketing facts and stats, Ananth Narayanan is best known as the man who started Hallmark Software in 1989, and went on to develop ODI and Test simulations and batting games spread over various platforms, the base codes of which are still in use in today's simulation engines.

In 1996, he teamed up with Dinesh Kumble to found Stump Vision, the company that today pioneers cricket simulation games, analyses packages, databases and other cricket-related products. Ananth Narayanan's involvement continues, in all key areas of the simulation games, the V20 Match Recording and Analysis system (which is in use on Rediff among other places), One Day Encyclopedia and Test Encyclopedia.

He will write a regular statistics-driven column for Rediff.

Anant Narayanan

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