Team tunes out echoes of 1975, 1999 and 2011 to come out clutch in a brand-new classic
Bavuma: ‘The chase could have been more clinical’
The South Africa captain also lauds Marco Jansen and his evolution over the years
There’s history all around you at the MA Chidambaram Stadium. There are murals memorialising everything from the Tied Test of 1986 to Karun Nair’s triple-hundred against England in 2016. There’s a three-storey triptych of Thala Dhoni as wicketkeeper, batter and captain splashed over the entrance to the C, D and E stands, located strategically to catch the eye of passengers riding the elevated train line running next to the stadium.
The walls of the press-conference room are full of history too, recorded in framed newspaper pages. “Visvanath (sic) alone Tames Roberts’ Pace”, reads one headline.
This, of course, is an account of GR Viswanath’s 97 not out, out of a first-day total of 190, against West Indies in January 1975. To the Chepauk aficionado, all other information other than the number 97 is superfluous.
That innings came at a time when Chepauk had a reputation for pitches with pace and bounce. “That reputation is to be as near the ‘ideal cricket wicket’ as it is possible to come,” Scyld Berry wrote in Cricket Wallah, his book chronicling England’s 1981-82 tour of India. “It has the bounce appreciated by batsmen, bowlers and wicketkeepers too, and it is regular bounce; it is fast, agreed to be the fastest in Test cricket since the Perth pitches slowed down in the late seventies; and in the latter half of the game it responds increasingly to spin bowling.”
On Friday evening, on a springy pitch redolent of those heady days, Aiden Markram plays a shot off a fast, rising short ball from Haris Rauf that Viswanath may have been proud to pull off – though he may have needed to be a foot taller to do so. This isn’t merely a ramp over fine third that harnesses Rauf’s express pace; it’s an uppercut of twisting wristwork that gives the ball extra impetus; both of Markram’s feet are off the ground when his bat connects with the ball when it is already almost past him.
For much of South Africa’s chase of 271, it is 1975 that your mind goes back to – or manufactures ways of going back to, because, let’s face facts, you probably weren’t actually around then. There is pace and bounce – some of it scattergun, some of it thrillingly well-directed – and Markram counters in breathtaking fashion, punching through cover point, clubbing over mid-on, cutting past a futilely diving backward point.
This is, however, a chase of 271, against Pakistan, in Chennai, so other ghosts are at work too, and at one point they seem to have Markram in their grip. Until South Africa lose their third wicket – Rassie van der Dussen lbw following a widely debated DRS glitch – Markram bats with serenity, scoring 40 at a control percentage of 88. Thereafter he runs into turbulence, his last 51 runs coming at a control percentage of 73.
Most of this is down to a Pakistan attack that’s rediscovered its verve after taking a pounding from South Africa’s top order. In the space of three balls, the bustling Mohammad Wasim beats Markram’s bat and has him inside-edging past his stumps; the in-between ball is thumped back over the bowler’s head for four.
Crucial bits of luck seem to be going Markram’s way, South Africa’s way. Your mind goes back to 1999 again, to Sachin Tendulkar stepping out to Saqlain Mushtaq, losing his shape through an attempted hit over long-on, and inside-edging – only for Moin Khan to drop the ball and miss the stumping.
Your mind, of course, jumps immediately to how it ended for Tendulkar, on 136, with India 17 runs from their target.
It ends for Markram on 91, with South Africa 21 runs from their target. The echoes are still loud, if a little garbled. Markram is out to an Usama Mir legbreak in much the same way Tendulkar was out to Saqlain’s doosra, but he isn’t caught at mid-off as on that fateful final day but off a loopy slice to backward point like Tendulkar in the first innings of the same Test match.
India were seven down in that chase, South Africa are seven down in this one. Ghosts. “Tendulkar’s brilliance just not enough” is the headline on the newspaper page framed in the press-conference room.
On that day the Chennai faithful had given Pakistan a standing ovation when all they’d wanted to do, probably, was curl up and weep. This ovation is still present at Chepauk in mural form, but it also lingers implicitly. On this day there’s much less at stake, of course, and no downsides to a Pakistan win here.
There are green shirts everywhere. Some have MILLER 10 on their backs, Some DE COCK (sic) 12, some BABAR 56. All of them sway in unison, arms in the air, as the DJ plays ‘Mustafa, Mustafa, don’t worry Mustafa’, that 90s ode to college friendships.
Then Shaheen Shah Afridi has Gerald Coetzee caught behind to leave South Africa eight down with 21 to get, and anticipation fills the air. The crowd goes clap-clap-clap as Shaheen runs in, the frequency rising as he nears the crease. Then a gasp, as another ball from left-arm around straightens past the edge. This crowd has watched Wasim Akram do this, or heard stories about Wasim Akram doing this.
Shaheen does this five times in the space of two overs, and sees an edge sneak past slip and down to deep third. With this he is done for the day. Keshav Maharaj and Lungi Ngidi have survived Pakistan’s biggest threat.
An irresistible force seems to swirl around Chepauk, however, and Ngidi is soon gone, the victim of a miraculous, sprawling return catch from Rauf. It is a catch fuelled almost entirely by Pakistan’s desperation to win this, somehow, and stay in this World Cup.
South Africa are 11 away from victory now, with one wicket in hand.
Ghosts are everywhere, populating the ground so thickly that you can barely see what’s actually happening. While your mind’s eye plays back the horror reel that is Javagal Srinath’s slow-motion dismissal off Saqlain – back-foot defensive bouncing backwards off the pitch, between his legs, and into the stumps – a raucous appeal wrenches you back to the present. Rauf has struck Tabraiz Shamsi, South Africa’s No. 11, on the front pad, and Alex Wharf has turned down his appeal for lbw. Pakistan review, and groan as the cartoon ball on the ball-tracking graphic clips the outside of leg stump.
Umpire’s call. This game would be over if the umpire had called differently.
The game isn’t over. What is, though, is Rauf’s 10-over quota. And an over later, Wasim’s too, his 10th negotiated resolutely, with no great alarms, by Maharaj and Shamsi.
It is down, then, to 18 balls, five runs, and one wicket, with all of Pakistan’s quicks bowled out. There are ghosts as far as the eye can see: of 1999, yes, but also of 1986 – “are there Super Overs in the league phase?” someone in the press box asks – and 2011. That was a World Cup game too, and South Africa lost it by six runs, collapsing from 124 for 3 to 165 all out.
Ghosts of Chepauk’s past, everywhere.
The present is a different place, though, pregnant with possibility. Maharaj sees all this possibility, and seizes it, when Mohammad Nawaz, a man shadowed by ghosts from elsewhere, drops short.
Maharaj’s shuffling paddle-pull is a shot of tranquility in a sea of spectres. The ball rolls away through backward square leg, and as your eyes follow it you realise there is no one impeding its path. No fielders, and no ghosts either. This is no longer 1975 or 1999. This is October 27, 2023, and you have been privileged to witness a brand-new Chepauk classic.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
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