Saqlain Mushtaq celebrates the dismissal of the final Indian batsman - Javagal Srinath

All over bar the standing ovation: Saqlain gets the final wicket, Srinath

© AFP

Feature

India. Pakistan. Chennai. 1999

Twenty years on, a look back at an extraordinary day of India-Pakistan cricket

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan |

On the morning of January 31, 1999, about half an hour before the fourth day's play at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai, in the first Test between India and Pakistan in nine years, with a police cordon surrounding the pitch and another set of cops shushing a group that chanted "harega bhai harega, Pakistan harega" (Will lose, will lose, Pakistan will lose) - their use of Hindi in Tamil Nadu perhaps as provocative as the jeering itself - AC Vijay and Sooria J took in the scenes from a concrete stand square of the wicket.

It was a warm Sunday morning, as Vijay remembers it. A soothing breeze may have sneaked into the ground, he says, likely carrying the distinctive "perfume" from the adjoining Buckingham Canal. Their group of four - "or maybe five" - waved scarf-sized India flags. Vijay, 23, had recently moved from Madurai to Chennai. He had just landed his first job and was now watching his first international cricket match in a stadium. Three years earlier, Vijay had told his friends of his decision to name his son Sachin - an event still 13 years into the future. On television he had seen how the crowd in Mumbai throbbed with pride when they chorused "Saa-chiiin Sa-chin" during the World Cup game against Australia in 1996. "Ian Chappell had described the chant on air." Now he and his friends tried to set off the same reverb in Chennai. This, after all, was the ground where Tendulkar's three Tests had brought 376 runs. He had dismantled England in 1993, when the city was Madras. He had dismantled Australia in 1998 - notably slog-sweeping Shane Warne, bowling around the stumps, into the crowd at midwicket. Chappell was on air again. He would later say the shot turned the series.

Tendulkar was now playing his fifth Test against Pakistan, and his first as an adult. On day two he shimmied down the ground and sliced a doosra from Saqlain Mushtaq, the progenitor of the delivery, in an attempt to clear the long-on boundary. The ball ballooned to backward point. Out for a third-ball duck. Vijay missed the shot but saw the catch. "There was no giant screen then. If you missed it, you missed it."

G Krishnan, a bank employee, had faked illness to be at the game. "How can a batsman of the stature of Tendulkar play a stupid shot like that so early?" he asked the Mid-Day correspondent, Clayton Murzello. In the stands, a man behind a snack stall declared: "Tendulkar had no business to play such a shot."

Late on the third evening, with India 6 for 2 and needing 265 more, a helmeted Tendulkar walked to the middle once more. VVS Laxman was barely ten paces into his walk back, his mind perhaps replaying the Waqar Younis in-ducker that trapped him lbw, when the crowd stood as one to usher in the No. 4. In that delirium some spectators sensed both adoration and dread. An outpouring of hope but also a wail of desperation. Score if you can, the crowd seemed to be saying, but please, for heaven's sake, don't get out.

Tendulkar was dismissed for a duck on day two

Tendulkar was dismissed for a duck on day two John MacDougall / © AFP

Tendulkar took strike and played out two dots. Years later, he would write about those two balls in Playing It My Way: My Autobiography.

Waqar welcomed me to the crease with a couple of bouncers and even walked up to me on one occasion to say, 'Ball nazar aayi?' (Did you see the ball?) I didn't say a thing, but my eye contact was enough to give him the message. I hardly moved and he was soon walking back to his bowling mark. I remember muttering to myself, 'You are not bowling that quick, my friend.'

A surge of electricity greeted Tendulkar's first scoring shot, for two. Four dot balls steadied the breaths… until out came a cover drive off Waqar: the right leg back and across… the left leg just off the ground… a crisp crack of bat on ball… the red blur singeing the grass… the left leg back on the turf … soon to be propelled, along with his other foot, into a dainty sideways hop. A knight prancing across the diagonal. Ball nazar aayi?

"What a shot," said Harsha Bhogle on air, the awe in his voice filling a million living rooms.

India ended the day at 40 for 2, still 231 to get.

Now, at the start of day four, Vijay said to Soori: India had a chance "as long as Sachin was there".

Soori: "If not, we'll say, 'Well played Pakistan.'"

Vijay was stumped.

Can't stand it, can't sit: the Bharat Petroleum stand on day four

Can't stand it, can't sit: the Bharat Petroleum stand on day four © AFP

"I said, 'Hang on, defeat is not an option. Where is this 'well played, Pakistan' coming from?"

At shouting distance from Vijay and Soori, in the same concrete stand - popularly called the Bharat Petroleum Stand - was 13-year-old Nitin Sundar, also at his first international match in a stadium. "Chubby, dimpled, wide-eyed and crew-cut", Nitin was spellbound by the sights and sounds. The grass so much greener live, the gradient from the pitch to the boundary making the ground look like an upturned saucer. Wasim and Waqar: towering in the flesh, their bowling indecipherable when viewed from side-on.

Nitin was part of a group of "12 or 13" boys, all under the care of a "cricket-crazy grandfather from Triplicane". On the first day of the Test, the schoolboys had come armed with lunchboxes that held curd-rice and sandwiches… only to have much of the food confiscated at entry. Thankfully none of them wore black clothing - for, didn't you know, anyone can strip off their black shirt or pants or socks and wave them as flags of protest? "I am the first cricket fan in my family," says Nitin, "and everyone at home was sceptical about me going for this game, what with all the threats."

Two stands to Nitin's right, in the Indian Oil Stand, somewhere in the vicinity of fine leg, were four engineering students from Anna University in Chennai. They had reserved bucket seats. Three of them were in their final year: a time when the body is still making trips to college but the mind has moved on. One, P Anandakumar, had suffered a lathi blow to his calf on the first day from an irate policeman - among 3200 security personnel around the stadium, some atop horses, some toting rifles, some screaming orders. In that group was also H Venkitasubban, who, six days earlier, on a visit to the Taj Coramandel Hotel to meet relatives visiting from the US, had frozen on seeing Tendulkar in the lobby. "I couldn't even walk up for an autograph. I was dazed, couldn't think straight."

On the fourth morning, they awaited another college-mate, NT Karthikeyan. "I was so irritated that morning," Karthikeyan remembers. "I had missed the first three days and wanted to catch the whole of day four. And my father asks me to drop off my uncle at the Central Railway Station. By the time I reached the stadium, there was a massive queue outside. I still remember the noise that came from inside. I've never heard anything that loud and excited. Immediately I knew: Sachin was still batting."

A short summary of the lead-up to the Test: Three weeks before the series was to begin, about 25 supporters of the Shiv Sena, a right-wing party jointly in power in Maharashtra, dug up the pitch at Delhi's Ferozeshah Kotla Stadium, the original venue for the first Test.

Fans queue for tickets the day before the game

Fans queue for tickets the day before the game © AFP

Twelve days on, another group of vandals broke into the BCCI headquarters in Mumbai and damaged, among other property, India's 1983 World Cup trophy. "I cried all night," said Kirti Azad, a member of that victorious side.

The venues for the first and second Test were swapped. The Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray proclaimed that he had sent one of his party members to Chennai "to make an assessment about the arrangements to prevent the match". There was talk of deploying suicide squads. If need be, they would release poisonous snakes into the ground.

On January 24, four days before the match, the Times of India in Chennai reported: "A 40-year-old autorickshaw driver, Palani, who had set himself ablaze to protest against Pakistan playing cricket here, succumbed to his burns…"

Journalists were not allowed entry into the stadium until late in the afternoon on match eve. Photographers were on a tight leash. The parking areas in and around the stadium were heavily monitored. "For the first time, every car that was parked in the stadium had to have a pass with the police commissioner's seal," remembers Keshav Sriraman, then an executive committee member of the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association. "And police were guarding the pitch day and night before the game."

In the open press arena above the Anna Pavilion, cordoned off from the crowd by iron railings, sat 30-year-old K Balakumar, the cricket correspondent for the local eveninger News Today. On his mind was the lunch report - "around 600 words" - to be filed by 12.15pm. His stationery: a set of black Reynolds ballpoints, a ream of unruled foolscap paper, and a writing pad "which I borrowed from my four-year-old daughter". When done writing, he would walk up to the BSNL stall at the press enclosure's entrance and fax his copy to the office.

Balakumar was among the rare breed of cricket reporters who take the unserious very seriously. "I had recently got to know about [the English sportswriter] Martin Johnson. I was trying to write in his lighthearted style. When Saeed Anwar got a dicey decision on the first day, I said something like: Anwar let out a wry smile, but it would have hardly comforted him to know that umpire VK Ramaswamy shares his name with a comedian in Tamil cinema."

The Delhi pitch was dug up by vandals about a month before the Test there, which was scheduled to be the first match of the series

The Delhi pitch was dug up by vandals about a month before the Test there, which was scheduled to be the first match of the series © AFP

What of the fourth morning, then? When Wasim Akram snaked a ball past Dravid's defences - zigging to leg, zagging to off, a snake so vicious that Thackeray would have approved its release. What of Mohammad Azharuddin, who was adjudged leg-before when not offering a shot? And what of Sourav Ganguly, whose square drive struck the man at silly mid-off, bounced on the ground, popped up, bounced on the pitch, and was scooped up by the wicketkeeper. A double-pitch catch, in gully cricket parlance. Umpire Steve Dunne consulted umpire Ramaswamy. And Ganguly had to go. In the concrete stands, some hollered: "Ramaswamy down down, Steve Dunne up up". Azhar Mahmood - the substitute fielder who turned his back when the ball hit his shin-pad - saw the replay that evening and went: "What the heck happened!"

Balakumar saw much of all this. He may have also missed much. "A journalist who has a copy to file during the game usually sees the least amount of action. You are hunched over your copy, trying to settle on a lede paragraph. There was no TV in the press arena then. So unlike nowadays, when you can watch multiple replays and write with a lot of authority, saying the ball swung in the last moment and so on, we were far away from the action. The Ganguly wicket was a talking point, yes. Today, it would have blown up."

Through it all Saleem Malik was bantering with the crowd in the concrete stands. "When we were cheering for boundaries, he would put his fingers on his lips," remembers Nitin. "When one of the wickets fell, he turned around to us, even as he ran towards the middle, and wildly gesticulated. And we went 'Oooooo.'"

A television crew from Channel 4 in England followed the Pakistan team through the series. The resulting documentary, Bat and Ball War, has footage from the Pakistan dressing room before and after play, and during the breaks. At lunch on day four, a topless, manscaped Akram chews on a raw onion ring and tells a team-mate: "Aisa kar, paagal khana jaa." (Do this, go to a mental asylum.) A player or two chuckle with him. "Always be humble in victory," Shahryar Khan, the former foreign secretary of Pakistan, now the team manager, tells Akram. "It brings you right up." The captain now assumes the air of a frontbencher. "Oh ya," he says. "Right up."

There is no footage from the Indian dressing room. One shot shows a helmeted Tendulkar sitting on a lizard-green chair in the pavilion. He gestures to volunteers to clear out of his view.

Rahul Dravid during his first-innings 53; in the second, a Wasim Akram special took care of him

Rahul Dravid during his first-innings 53; in the second, a Wasim Akram special took care of him © AFP

India's wicketkeeper Nayan Mongia recalls a quiet lunch. On his mind, a technical tip.

"Saqlain Mushtaq had created havoc in the first innings. Most of us hadn't read the ball going away. I remember Mohinder Amarnath had written an article somewhere, probably after the second day, where he had said: the ball that Saqlain bowls from close to the stumps, it will go away from the right-hander. The ball bowled from wide of the crease will turn in. Once we learnt this, it was easier."

Saqlain was at the peak of his powers. His first three Test wickets in India: Tendulkar (doosra), Azharuddin (offbreak, caught bat-pad) and Dravid (playing for the turn, missing a doosra) - as accomplished a trio against spin as any.

At the end of day two, having picked five wickets to even up the game, Saqlain lent some perspective to this personal triumph. He was yet to move on from his father's death. His brother had recently been in a road accident that had resulted in the death of his niece. Questions were raised about his effectiveness. "People thought I was no good for Tests," he said. "Wasim brings out the best in me."

Saqlain and Wasim bowled in tandem after lunch. Facing them, Tendulkar and Mongia.

Akram later admitted to taking "six to seven" painkillers to alleviate a pain in his groin. Mongia had his own worries. "I was running a high temperature - 102 degrees. I took a saline, took an injection, took a tablet. It was so hot. I was batting with a sweater on in Chennai!"

Over my dead body: Nayan Mongia bats, sweater and all. His 52 was India's second highest score in the chase

Over my dead body: Nayan Mongia bats, sweater and all. His 52 was India's second highest score in the chase © AFP

During the second session, Tendulkar frequently walked towards square leg and held his back. His condition gradually worsened as tea approached, and he began to wince in pain every over, and sometimes between deliveries.

Vijay and Soori noted Tendulkar's distress. They discussed Steve Waugh's innings in Melbourne a month earlier, where he was slammed for exposing the tail in a tense chase.

Nitin tuned out, especially when eight overs brought ten runs. "We had had heavy lunches. It was very hot. Some of us dozed off."

Siva KG, a final-year college student at Vivekananda College in Chennai, was in the D stand, "behind one of those giant pillars". He had a seat but remembers standing for most of the day. With Tendulkar and Mongia steadying the innings, Siva found himself in a bind.

"I was a huge Brian Lara fanboy back then. My single biggest worry was that Sachin is going to win this game for India. Sachin was always the anti-Lara for me. Remember: the Lara 153 game hadn't yet happened. Now there was a guy called Balamurugan in my college. A giant of a fellow. Six feet five types. He was a massive Sachin fanboy. And we used argue about Sachin and Lara. So during the middle session, all I am thinking is: 'How am I going to face Bala tomorrow? He is going to literally thrash me.'"

India didn't lose a wicket between lunch and tea, whittling down the target from 185 to 126. Here's Tendulkar on that partnership with Mongia.

[I] had gone into a zone where I was praying before each ball was bowled. Even when Nayan was on strike I was rehearsing in my mind how I'd have played the balls bowled to him. In effect, I was trying to bat at both ends. As I concentrated really hard, everything else around me seemed a blur…

Saqlain Mushtaq took 10 for 187 in the match

Saqlain Mushtaq took 10 for 187 in the match © AFP

Azhar Mahmood remembers a sombre dressing room at tea. The Channel 4 documentary shows Akram sitting by himself, uncertain, running his fingers through his sleek hair. Someone says, "Joh ho gaya woh ho gaya" (Whatever has happened has happened) - perhaps in reference to one of the many vociferous appeals that were denied.

"We had so much respect for Sachin," says Mahmood. "He wasn't someone you could restrict. I remember thinking, 'How is he playing Saqlain and Wasim so well?' They were magical that day. New ball, old ball, reverse swing, bounce, turn... still he got a hundred."

As Pakistan fretted, Tendulkar lay "flat on a towel in the dressing room with cold towels spread all over me to bring down my body temperature". He was cramping up. "[I]t was going to be really difficult to bat for two more hours."

In the third over after tea, bowled by Saqlain, Tendulkar erupted. The first ball, he pulled to midwicket. The next, he paddle-swept for four more. On air, Sunil Gavaskar gushed: "Even as he played that shot, my fellow commentator [Ramiz Raja] had his hands up in applause."

The next ball, Tendulkar charged. He wasn't to the pitch but he tried to launch the ball over long-on anyway. The bottom edge ricocheted to the wicketkeeper. Moin Khan could have caught him, stumped him and sung him a lullaby. Saqlain was set to celebrate, raising his hands - when he saw that Moin had dropped the ball. Saqlain collapsed, squatting on the turf, and turned to Akram in disbelief. Moin, the vice-captain, hands on his hips, was lost for words. The drifty doosra that outdid Tendulkar called for a hearty "Shabash Saqi" but even a cricketer as intrepid as Moin didn't dare.

"But Akram immediately started clapping," remembers Moin's brother Nadeem Khan, a left-arm spinner playing his second Test. "I was halfway to the boundary at square leg. And the ground had quite a slope. All the shots Sachin was hitting to me seemed to be coming from a great height. And if the ball landed on the practice pitches, there was uneven bounce to deal it. It was scary. And the way he was batting, some of us thought the game was gone. But Wasim was so positive. He kept saying: 'One wicket and this game is ours.' It was like he knew something we did not know."

Two balls later: another paddle-sweep. Four. The next ball: a smack across the line. Four. Sixteen off the over. The target down to 103.

Pakistan 42 for 2: Anil Kumble and Co celebrate the wicket of Ijaz Ahmed on day three

Pakistan 42 for 2: Anil Kumble and Co celebrate the wicket of Ijaz Ahmed on day three © AFP

The college students in the Indian Oil Stand were high-fiving so hard their palms hurt. Their throats were sore. "The atmosphere in the stadium: oh man," remembers Venkitasubban. "Whenever the ball went up in the air, whenever Sachin came down the track, whenever they took a risky single, my heart would stop. You want him to score but you don't want him to get out. Every ball: like a rollercoaster ride. We kept screaming instructions to Mongia. 'Just calm down.' 'Relax.' 'Take it easy.' If there was a risky single, we would go, 'Don't, don't, don't.' We were worried Mongia will get Sachin run-out. Or do something very silly. We kept shouting: 'Sodappadhe!' [Don't mess it up]."

Pakistan took the new ball with 95 needed. Tendulkar's back had "all but given up" on him. "We decided to take some calculated risks," says Mongia. "The field was up, so it was a chance to get closer to the target. I had opened the innings before, so I was more comfortable with the new ball than with reverse swing."

The next five overs brought 33. Tendulkar classical: driving straight and through the covers. Mongia audacious: whipping, swatting and chipping over the infield. One Akram bouncer flew over his head, and Moin's, to the boundary. A flighted ball from Saqlain flew over midwicket.

"The thing with that Pakistan team," says Mahmood, "was, we had so many options. Wasim and Waqar were so good with the new ball and so good with reverse swing. Saqlain could bowl with both the old and new ball. With such a lethal attack, you always had hope."

With 53 needed, Mongia slogged Akram across the line. The top edge swirled towards the covers. The ball hovered, urged on by frantic screams… only for Waqar to pouch the catch and pull the plug from a thousand speakers.

Siva, the Lara fan, recalls his brother, Dinesh, five years his junior and a huge Tendulkar fan, exclaiming then: 'Idhu gaali' (This is finished).

In walked Sunil Joshi, greeted by a nervy crowd and an anguished batting partner. "He said, 'Jo, mera back is getting stiffer and stiffer,'" remembers Joshi. "'I am going to swing. I can't take it anymore.' I told him: 'You just stay here, I will score.' And I took on Saqlain - hitting him for a six over long-on. I always felt I could read Saqlain."

Tendulkar's body, though, was unwilling.

I was finding it difficult to stand up straight. Every movement was hurting and every shot increased the pain. I soon realized that all-out attack was my only option. Unable to bear the pain any longer, I tried to hit a Saqlain doosra… over mid off… The ball bounced more than expected and I ended up top-edging the ball…

Tendulkar, the Man of the Match, also took three wickets in the game, including Inzamam-ul-Haq in the second innings

Tendulkar, the Man of the Match, also took three wickets in the game, including Inzamam-ul-Haq in the second innings John MacDougall / © AFP

Before the game, Balakumar remembers Akram telling the press: even if India need 50 runs with four wickets left, you would back Pakistan. Earlier that morning, in the on-field huddle, Akram had told his team-mates: "Pachaas mein unke saat out kar sakte hai" (Even if they only need 50 runs, we can still get seven of them out.) Mahmood recalls Akram saying at some point: "If we get Sachin, the match is ours."

Now Akram settled under the Tendulkar skier.

Bhogle called it on air:

"Oh dear… he's got the leading edge… man's under it… it's taken… what have we got here… Sachin Tendulkar's knocked on the door… it's still closed…"

The silence was brief. Soon they stood to salute a monumental innings. Tendulkar had fallen, but as Balakumar put it poetically, the Chennai crowd had laid out a bed of cotton for him.

Before he walked off the ground, with India needing 17 more, Tendulkar had a message for his partner: 'Jo, match finish kar ke aana' [Jo, finish the match and come back].'

Joshi was left to complete the task with three of his team-mates from Karnataka.

"I told Anil, avanu thirugsalla [he won't turn it], Saqlain is only bowling doosras, I will score off him. You play out Wasim at the other end."

Anil Kumble lbw Akram 1 (5).

"When [Javagal] Srinath came in, we felt he could take a chance against Saqlain," Joshi remembers. "I said - anything he pitches up, you swing. Anything which is short, you play it out. I wanted to take a single and give him the strike. But I gave a return catch to Saqlain. That dismissal is still stuck in my head. I wanted to be there in the end. I couldn't do it."

Joshi c & b Saqlain 8 (20).

In the stands, a state of shock. A car had blown its brakes. Soon it would be fully wrecked. The only question: how soon?

"The moment Sachin got out, you sensed the mood shift," says Venkitasubban. "The fielders were energised, as if convinced of victory."

Saqlain zipped through his overs. Akram appeared to be running in much quicker.

Akram had said it all along, hadn't he? Sachin would get out. Pakistan would win. It didn't matter that Joshi, who had made a 67-ball 25 in the first innings, was reading Saqlain. Or that Srinath had made 76 in the previous Test, in Hamilton. Or that Ventakesh Prasad had batted more than an hour in that same Test. Or that Srinath had hung around for a 100-minute 27 - and Prasad for an hour-long 15 - a Test prior to that, in Wellington. It didn't matter that since April 1997, Kumble averaged 21.57 with the bat in 13 Tests, Srinath 22.12 in eight, Prasad 12.50 in seven. Tendulkar perhaps recognised this: "I really did not expect us to lose the match […] with […] three wickets, including Srinath and Kumble, still left…"

Pinch me: Pakistan celebrate the win

Pinch me: Pakistan celebrate the win © AFP

Enveloping the stands, a blanket of defeat. Some interviewed for this piece spoke of memories from of the Bridgetown Test in 1997, when India were set 120 and razed for 81. The narrative had taken hold, the end was inevitable.

Srinath b Saqlain 1 (8).

Tendulkar out at 254.

India out for 258.

By the time the match ended, 13-year-old Nitin Sundar had made peace with the result. "I was happy to have seen this seesaw day. I cheered the wickets. People were shooting daggers at me. The final wicket was comical - Srinath defending, the ball spinning back between his legs, Srinath trying to kick it away… like a pantomime. I immediately started clapping."

Siva in the D stand has a vivid memory. "There were couple of guys throwing something - maybe plastic cups or plastic water packets - in the general direction of the Pakistan players. Then they realised they were the only ones doing that and stayed quiet. They got shouted at. It was the reverse of mob rage. Mob appreciation, maybe."

Vijay remembers Pakistan's victory lap starting in front of the Anna Pavilion. "A couple of girls in tank tops, or some trendy clothes, started to clap. By the time the players reached the next stand, everyone was clapping. It just caught on like that. I had tears. I didn't clap. I just couldn't clap for Pakistan then. The players were waving at us, Soori was clapping, and I was in tears.

"And even after they ran past our stand, and the next stand, nobody stopped clapping. This was not a normal victory lap, when spectators stop applauding when the players pass them. It was unique. They clapped for three, four minutes."

Prathiba S and Keerthana V, 14-year-old schoolgirls, were in tears too. "We were so emotional about cricket, emotional about India-Pakistan," says Prathiba. "I was crying when they did the victory lap but we clapped because we didn't want to ruin our city's reputation. The Chennai crowd was known for being a sporting crowd. My parents and brother went on and on about sportsmanship. I never believed in any of that then. But it was my city. I had to… "

Somewhere in the middle of the ovation - in a stand erected for TV cameramen - stood Bhogle, preparing himself for a "little post-game show" leading up to the presentation ceremony. The noise around him made it hard to hear the instructions through the earpiece.

India pulled it back in the Delhi Test, where Kumble famously took ten wickets in an innings, drawing the series 1-1

India pulled it back in the Delhi Test, where Kumble famously took ten wickets in an innings, drawing the series 1-1 © AFP

"I just heard the director say: 'Don't go off, I'm going to give you some pictures, just talk over them.' Then I saw this victory lap starting."

… this is the best sight you will see anywhere in the world…

… far away from their homeland…

… I've never seen a stronger statement in favour of sport…

The crowd noise gets louder and louder. Bhogle is being drowned out. Which makes it that much more stirring: as if he is broadcasting a watershed event from a far-off continent, maybe even from a distant past. A spectacle is turning to something momentous. A match is turning into a milestone. News is turning into history.

Balakumar spoke to some fans while walking out. "They were not very articulate. They were still numb. The mind had not parsed the result."

Siva remembers grown men cursing, crying. Two months later he would stay up to watch Lara's unbeaten 153 leading West Indies to a famous victory against Australia in Bridgetown. "It was in the death of the night in Chennai and I was hammering an empty plastic bottle against the furniture. I think I woke up my entire building when Lara hit the winning runs." Over the next few months, he would have the final say in many Sachin v Lara arguments in college.

The passage of time has offered a chance for reflection. "That Sachin innings: it was the coming together of everything about him in the '90s," Siva says. "It has all the Sachin arguments: poor finisher, no support from his team, great against great bowlers, took too many risks, was forced to take so many risks because he had a poor team, didn't score when it mattered… There is a reason people remember it. Anyone can bring it up to further any point of view."

The engineering students returned to their hostel at Anna University. "One guy has broken his back and made a hundred and the rest couldn't get 17 runs," Karthikeyan had uttered aloud. Anandakumar couldn't bear to hear anything. "Ippo onnum pesadhe, machi [Don't say anything now, bro]," he said in frustration.

Vijay fumed all through the bike journey home, then sat on a couch and cried. "It was a trauma. I had cried after India lost to Pakistan in Bangalore in 1987 but this was really tough."

Where they are now

AC Vijay now Vijay Arumugam, is an IT professional in Sydney

Sooria J is an IT professional in Atlanta

Nitin Sundar works in Bangalore; he used to be part of ESPNcricinfo's editorial team

P Anandakumar, now Anand Palanisamy, is a consultant in Dallas

H Venkitasubban, now Venkit Subramoni, is a product manager in Phoenix

NT Karthikeyan is a product manager in California

Keshav Sriraman is a member of the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association

K Balakumar, a former editor of News Today, is now a freelancer in Chennai

Siva KG is an IT consultant based in Dubai

Prathiba S is a finance professional in California

VVS Laxman, in his autobiography: "… I saw Sachin weep like a child […] And none of us knew how to comfort him."

Tendulkar: "My world seemed to collapse around me […] I just couldn't hold back the tears […] It was the only time […] I didn't go out to receive the Man of the Match [...] [BCCI president] Raj Singh Dungarpur tried to persuade me but I said to him that I was in no state, physically or mentally..."

In the Pakistani dressing room, high-pitched shrieks, squawks and unfettered joy. Some kneeled in prayer.

Akram told Channel 4: "We needed one wicket, we needed Sachin's wicket." Later, a visit to a mosque. A cake in the team hotel. A rendition of the national anthem. Some heading out for a meal. The next day Saqlain hitting the streets to buy a sari for his wife.

Nitin and his friends didn't stay for the presentation ceremony. It was happening too far away from their stand, and the grandfather wanted to get the kids home safe. On the way out, in between masses and masses of people, with buses and cars honking on Wallajah Road, one of the boys - maybe six or seven years old - got lost.

"We had just started walking towards Triplicane and now we all had to search for this kid. We formed search parties - groups of young boys, all 10, 11, 12 or thereabouts - and we went up and down Wallajah Road to look for him.

"Finally, he showed up, tugging on the grandfather's pants.

"He got a big slap on his face.

"And then we all went home."

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is a writer based in the USA

 

RELATED ARTICLES

Comments