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That match in 1987...

The last test match played between India and Pakistan in Bangalore might have produced a series win for Pakistan. But it also made Sunil Gavaskar a batting immortal

Photo: Getty Images

Sunil Gavaskar's knock on a minefield of a wicket is probably one of the most determined batting efforts ever made by any batsman in the history of test cricket.

SUNIL GAVASKAR has long faded as an active cricketer. But can his batting mastery be dislodged from the collective consciousness of Indian cricket? The beauty of cricket, Keith Miller once thundered, is that its future lies so much in its past.

There is this strange chemistry between a visiting Pakistan side, a test match at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, and Sunil Gavaskar.

Inzy himself was barely 17 when this epic of a test match was played here in Bangalore nearly 18 years ago. To this day the tantalising moments of that glorious final day is etched in the memories of all those who happened to take more than passing interest in that startling climax of a Pakistan victory and Gavaskar's unforgettable bow from test cricket. What a day, March 17, 1987!

As one Pakistan cricket official who accompanied Imran Khan's team on the tour of India so heartily recalled: "Somehow, Bangalore has been a place of great hope and comfort for Pakistani cricketers." It was in Bangalore that Imran Khan managed to break free from a 34-year jinx spread over 11 successive draws in five visits since its first triumph way back in 1952.

Pakistan's second series victory had seemed almost a pipe dream when on the opening day, the side had been shot out for its lowest ever test total of 116. Remember Maninder Singh of the tied test fame? He was in his element on the opening day of that memorable test. His 13-ball spell cost Pakistan four wickets and the side was, literally, on all fours.

Great test matches are always built around such adversities. Salim Malik sparkled for a while in that miserly Pakistan total. But little did India realise when taking its own first strike that two innocuous sounding and looking spinners would prove so deadly in tandem. Left arm spinner Iqbal Qasim and off spinner Tausif Ahmed tormented the Indian batting no end. India's response: a gingerly 145. Sheer grit and nothing else brought Vengsarkar his 50. The test had turned on its head.

Orthodoxy had never been Rameez Raja's hallmark. He had his own unconventional methods and a near half-century from him left the middle order breathing more freely. Down the line, Salim Malik came up with yet another polished innings. Imran, the bat, this time swung a couple of good ones over the line. Momentarily it broke the Indian bowling rhythm while netting some useful runs for Pakistan. Iqbal Qasim's dour 26 was another crucial contribution.

The victory target of 221 seemed well within India's means, provided the pitch stayed a friend and not a foe. Then Wasim Akram struck two lethal blows — Srikkanth and Mohinder Amarnath were out.

Imran Khan wisely kept himself out on a wicket crumbling fast; he deftly thrust in Iqbal Qasim and Tausif. For the rest of the way, the contest was purely Sunil Gavaskar vs. Pakistan.

Maninder Singh of the tied-test fame had a memorable first day, taking four wickets in the space of 13 balls.

With a treacherous wicket and the spin duo giving nothing away, fielders prancing around like a pack of hungry wolves, and partners betraying him at regular intervals, Gavaskar got down to play the Innings of his life. Perhaps this was easily one of the most determined batting efforts ever made by any batsman in the history of test cricket. Briefly, Azharuddin raised visions of an Indian victory before Qasim lured him into one of those half-hearted drives for an expected caught and bowled. Amid growing tension on the pitch and in the stands, Roger Binny walked in, worked the ball around to pick up a few quick runs and allowed his exuberance to get the better of him. What if Binny had showed more "restraint"? That remains forever a famous "if".

Gavaskar was no doubt the last frontier. Deservedly Qasim brought the great resistance to an end at 96. The next best on the score sheet: Mr. Extras at 27. Pakistan's winning margin a slender 16 runs.

What a way to go after 323 minutes of impeccable technique and a steely temperament on a minefield of a wicket, turn often vicious and bounce wicked.

When he hung out his bat in acknowledgement for a great ovation, Gavaskar had left behind an imperial batting legacy. Most matches (125), most consecutive matches (106), most innings (214), most runs (10,122), most hundreds (34), most scores of 50 or more (79), and most hundred partnerships (58).

Pakistan won the test and the series, but Gavaskar batting immortality.


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