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Vol. XXX No. 20, February 16-28, 2021
K. Srikkanth. (Pictures Courtesy: The Hindu.)
Thirty four years have passed but the memory lingers. Pakistan captain Imran Khan having his hands on his head in a gesture of despair and shaking his head in disbelief wondering what to bowl next, what to do next. The protagonist responsible for the great man’s unusual response was Krishnamachari Srikkanth who had treated him with disdain hitting 18 runs in an over including two fours and a six in succession at Chepauk on February 6, 1987 on his way to a rollicking 123 out of a first wicket partnership of exactly 200 runs with Sunil Gavaskar.
It was the first Test between India and Pakistan. Over the first two days Pakistan thanks mainly to centuries from Shoaib Mohammed and Imran had run up an imposing total of 487 for nine declared. In the few overs available before stumps on the second day, Gavaskar and Srikkanth scored 15 runs without being separated.
With the pitch still good for batting, the stage was set for a suitable Indian reply and after a very long time a jam-packed crowd of 50,000 was present at the MA Chidambaram stadium on the third day. The Indian batting line-up with the likes of the two opening batsmen, Mohinder Amarnath, Dilip Vengsarkar, Md Azharuddin, Ravi Shastri and Kapil Dev was star-studded but there was little doubt that a sizeable number of that record crowd had come to see Srikkanth in action. For one thing he was very much the local hero; secondly he had established himself as the entertainer par excellence thanks to his swashbuckling batting.
These days it is common for teams to have an opening batsman who goes for the bowling from the very start. But in the early 80s the concept was something quite new. Opening batsmen were generally in the Gavaskar mould – technically very efficient but taking their time making runs by wearing down the bowling. From the time he came on the scene in the early 80s, Srikkanth altered the image of the opening batsman. He attacked the new ball bowlers from the word go with the result that opposing captains found it difficult to place a field for him. Naturally his game was more suited to ODIs and he was an integral part of the Indian team that won the World Cup in England in 1983 and the World Championship of Cricket title in Australia in 1985. He took some time to establish himself in the Test side but once he had tightened up his defence to a degree to go with his buccaneering batting approach he was indispensable to the Test team too. Gavaskar though the antithesis of Srikkanth’s batting style encouraged him for he realized that the Madras Mauler was a match winner thanks to his ability to score quickly and at the same time demoralize the opposition.
Srikkanth had made his place secure in the side in Australia in 1985-96 when he shared the Man Of the Series award with Kapil Dev and finished second to Gavaskar in the run aggregate in the three-Test series notching up his first hundred in the process. A year later he came up with arguably the best innings of his 43-Test career with that electrifying hundred against Pakistan. The attack besides Imran included Wasim Akram, Abdul Qadir and Tauseef Ahmed but Srikkanth was never one to bother about reputations.
It was Gavaskar who started the plunder in real earnest being the first to his half century. But midway through the afternoon Srikkanth struck a purple patch. He overtook Gavaskar and then surged ahead and when he reached his hundred his partner had not even crossed 70. It was during this phase that Srikkanth drove Imran to desperation with that onslaught in one over. He also treated Qadir and Tauseef with little respect. The scoring rate reached such a crescendo that his second fifty required only 32 balls. His hundred came up of 118 balls and his 123 came up off only 149 balls with 18 fours and two sixes. By the time he was out Gavaskar had just got into his 70s and the first wicket partnership of 200 runs was the record for either side in India – Pakistan Tests.
The spectators who had largely come to see Srikkanth bat had got more than their money’s worth. Not unexpectedly he received a standing ovation and the cheering was loud and long. At the end of the day’s play as he made his way to the team bus he was mobbed by a large group of cricket fans who just wanted to say “thank you” for the rousing entertainment he had provided. The match itself was a high scoring draw with India replying with 527 for nine. But the overriding memory will always be Srikkanth’s pyrotechnics – and Imran’s gesture of despair.