Chetan Sharma's hat-trick, Gavaskar achieves a goal

While Chetan Sharma booked a place for himself in the record books, Sunil Gavaskar put in a small additional entry for himself by scoring his maiden century as India cantered into the more desirable semifinal of the Reliance Cup in 1987.

This image is from Sportstar's November 14, 1987 issue.   -  Sportstar

On a day of sensational cricket, the Indian team recaptured the tone of ringing authority with which it earned a one-day reputation. It was not a cricket match so much as slaughter. So mismatched did the teams look in the final verdict as Chetan Sharma booked a place for himself in the record books. Sunil Gavaskar put in a small additional entry for himself by scoring his maiden century as India cantered into the more desirable semifinal of the Reliance Cup. In all, it was an extraordinary day for one team.

It was the commuter versus the last train situation. There is nothing like it to get the adrenalin flowing. India was so geared up by the prospect of remaining at home that it beat New Zealand to pulp. It was one of those ineffable displays of batting prowess featuring an admirable and amazing adaptation to overs-specific cricket which was served up with typical Indian flourish.

Breathtaking onslaught

A breathtaking onslaught on the New Zealand attack, launched by the master and sustained by the pupil, blossomed to such an extent that the New Zealand bowling was being mocked at. Gavaskar and Srikkanth were associated in their highest ever opening stand. To say the least this was their most spectacular association in a job they have undertaken so often together.

Chetan Sharma's hat-trick — a unique one in that he bowled all the three batsmen Rutherford, Smith and Chatfield — had imposed a late order slide on New Zealand. Having begun well enough, the Kiwis just could not take wings, especially after Chetan made the match memorable for himself with such accuracy as to achieve an all too rare feat in limited-overs cricket.

India needed to meet the target by the end of the 42nd over if it was to play its semi-final in Bombay. As it transpired, India made it to the top of the group with such facility as to give itself a luxurious margin by way of overs. Smarting under the misplaced criticism of his captain, Gavaskar exhibited the true range and stunning capacity of his batsmanship as he set the tone and tenor of the run chase with an admixture of improvisation and orthodoxy.

Commentary on astuteness

A one-day hundred is not a rarity. So many batsmen have made centuries. But not Gavaskar. This has remained a personal riddle for a player of his calibre. That he cracked it at last is a commentary on the astuteness of the man and his ability to keep defining goals for himself and getting there. More than the bowling, so completely cracked in the first 15 overs itself, it was physical exhaustion that Gavaskar had to battle against. He made a run for each degree Fahrenheit raging in his viral-fever ridden body.

It was a pitiable sight as Gavaskar sat on his haunches between balls. All the more reason why it was a spectacle when he clipped Morrison past mid-wicket and the one last cherished ambition of his saga of a career was realised. Until today it had appeared as if destiny was bound to deny him his great moment in the sun. So often had he failed to measure up to the equation of power and innovativeness which governs one-day hundreds.

The batting signs were just right today. The seeming nearness of the screen at the pavilion end at the VGA stadium has always been an inspirational structure for Gavaskar .This knock of his was well and truly launched when he went after Ewen Chatfield, admittedly the best of the Kiwi bowlers. A patented pulldrive over deep mid-wicket for a six was for starters. The same shot, played off a shorter arc in picking the ball from around off peg to hit into the screen, followed immediately. A repeat shot not so well timed, was a four. A delectable drive through mid-wicket was a four too. All this off four balls in Chatfield's third over.

Srikkanth breaks loose

A more sedate looking Srikkanth had to goad himself into action to keep pace and he had his moments too as he lifted Watson crisply wide of long-off for six and then stood up to hook Morrison fiercely over square leg. Srikkanth edged out Gavaskar in the race to the half century. There was a symmetry of two 6s and five 4s in their 50's, though Gavaskar, by virtue of his burst of aggression against Chatfield, took a lesser number of balls.

The stand was progressing like a stately luxury liner when impishness took over Srikkanth leant far across to tap-sweep Snedden from way outside the off-stump and then reverse-swept Dipak Patel. Gavaskar smiled benignly at this extravaganza, more like a school teacher doting on his favourite pupil. Once lucky to see Horne put him down at deep mid-wicket. Srikkanth was stunned by the catch Rutherford took at short mid-wicket on throwing himself to his right which he completed while airborne. He made 75 with three 6s and nine 4s off 58 balls in the stand of 136 in 16.4 overs.

A hapless Jeff Crowe had waved his white handkerchief in surrender long before the winning runs were made in the 33rd over. Gavaskar had to take many pills to keep himself afloat but he did not need anything save his cultured and appropriately placed strokes to keep advancing towards the not too-distant horizon of his century.

Customary style

Azharuddin was one among those fit to bat in a team racked by virus and he did his support role in customary style Gavaskar had the strength enough to permit another lofted drive into the screen off Patel. So much had he made in his planned assault early on that he could afford to lay off and work his way to the landmark. That he got there in just 85 balls with the three 6s and ten 4s is testimony to the brand of aggression he had brought to bear on this one crucial innings of India. He shared the man of the match award with Chetan Sharma.

Inexplicable

Jeff Crowe did the inexplicable in choosing to bat. The amount of dew that was being mopped away should have given him an indication that the best course for his side, which he had packed with seamers, was to bowl first. Still he had a bonus in an opening stand between Wright and Horne. However, uncertain the batting may have looked when the new ball seamed around early, it was effective enough to have settled the innings.

Wright’s certain touch in placing his cuts and in playing to leg represented some solidity while Horne played and missed often. Martin Crowe's cover drive on the rise against Manoj Prabhakar, to whose bowling Horne had played well over and across, was the most promising sign. He was sustaining the momentum well enough and India's medium pace seemed to have been completely conquered. Wright's overenthusiastic running between wickets was the only threat.

The innings changed course when Martin Crowe played an airy square cut at a short ball just outside the off stump by Azharuddin. Having played too early he got an inside edge, en route to Chandrakant Pandit. Pandit came in place of Kiran More whose pullout was caused by an injury to his right index finger, playing up this morning.

Wasted opportunity

India had this opportunity to run out either batsman as Wright set off on cutting Chetan Sharma into Gavaskar just behind point. Pandit managed to mess that up as both batsmen ran back to their respective creases. Wright's running style was however, only likely to end in a run out. He set off on cutting Maninder and seeing Azharuddin moving quickly. Rutherford wisely sent Wright back. Pandit gathered the throw of unerring accuracy and David Shepherd passed a splendid judgment of "out" when Wright C59 balls, four 4s) was only inches short "of his crease.

Jeff Crowe took the brave course in keeping at the bowlers. Two of his three 4s came off the edge, but he was certainly exposing Maninder's line of attack aimed around the off peg and beyond. It was a tribute to Maninder's tactical cleverness that he kept up with the cut trap. He finally foxed Jeff Crowe with the arm bail that beat the cut and going straight through on pitching to hit the base of the middle stump.

Not possessing the depth of batting to counter this slump from a very promising start. New Zealand did well to get down to batting more studiously as Dipak Patel and Rutherford did. The quality of batsmanship was not high. If survival and safe runs were achieved it was a pointer to how the conditions for batting had improved with the warmth of the sun. Ironically, the Kiwis had lost too much in their eagerness to strike out in the beginning and despite the fact that batsmen had succeeded partially.

Patel's desperately skied stroke was easily pouched by Kapil Dev running to mid off from his standard position at extra cover. Then came the sensational change in the complexion of the batting. Patel's 40 off 51 balls had featured the stand of 59 in 13.1 overs, in which Rutherford was quite content to play the anchor and simply rotate the strike with drives off the spinners into the straight field.

Start of the slide

Whatever ambitions Rutherford may have nurtured, he contributed to their being torn apart as he played across the line to Chetan Sharma. The off stump flew and the stumps continued to fly as Chetan Sharma went one better in beating Ian Smith all ends up with sheer pace, with a ball that was bang on target on the off stump from the moment it left the hand and past the time when Smith moved slowly across.

The Indians were not unduly fussy about the hat-trick bid as Chetan Sharma prepared to bowl to Chatfield. To his credit, Chetan Sharma ensured that he kept the ball on the wicket line by sacrificing pace. Chatfield was somewhat bemused as he attempted to turn the ball to leg, which went in to his leg stump.

Only two hat-tricks had been performed before in one-day cricket and none at all in a World Cup. Chetan Sharma joined Jalaluddin (Pakistan v Australia in Hyderabad, Sind in 82-83) and Bruce Reid (Australia v New Zealand in Sydney in 85-86) as the only performers of the hat-trick.

Watson who was hopping around in playing Chetan Sharma improved to assist Snedden in pepping up the score. But then Chetan Sharma suffering pain in the midriff, had slowed down visibly soon after the hat-trick. Long before that Chetan Sharma had justified his captain's faith in persisting with him when there was such a cloud over his fitness at the start of this championship.

(This article first appeared in The Hindu issue dated November 1, 1987)