On this day, 1985: Green Park glows in Azhar's mastery

Historic achievements can only be made by men of rare talent. At Kanpur's Green Park, a 21-year-old Azharuddin reach his third century in as many Tests.

Great Shot! The young master, Azharuddin, sends Cowans scudding to the fence. Azhar wrote a new chapter in Test cricket history with that hundred.   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Historic achievements can only be made by men of rare talent. At Kanpur's Green Park as the 21-year-old Hyderabadi Mohammed Azharuddin turned Neil Foster to the on side to reach his third century in as many Tests played by him, the cricketing globe lay at his feet.

The 40,000 spectators gave him the longest ever ovation in Test history as I did along with the sporting England fielders led by their always smiling captain David Gower. The rest of the Indian squad jubilated with a "Bhangra". The Kanpur Test belonged to Azharuddin which, despite his magical 122, petered into a draw to leave England 2-1 victor in the series.

No one ever before has thundered on the international cricket scene like Azharuddin. The batting genius of the youngster was soon evident when he came in one down instead of the out of form Vengsarkar after India had lost Gavaskar early. Into his elegant strokes went Azharuddin straightway having assessed while waiting his turn that the slowness of the pitch would require him to play back and late even more than he normally does.

Favours on-side play: Like just about all great batsmen Azharuddin favours on side play. The hits between mid-on and square leg, off the medium fast bowlers, left even the brilliant England fielders dazed and bewildered as the ball screamed past them for fours. And when the speedsters dropped the ball short outside the off-stump out came Azharuddin's right leg for ferocious square cuts.

All the qualities which combine to make a great batsman are in him: calmness, determination, patience in picking the right ball to strike, quickness of the eye and playing back and late. Above all the lad is loaded with such modesty and humility that he seldom raises his eyes to meet yours. Those eyes set in his baby face are meant for balls coming at him to be smacked away. Before tong Azharuddin may well be called the emperor among batsmen.

Spinners take over

Azharuddin's second-wicket partnership of 150 runs with Srikkanth was made at almost at run-a-minute when a check was put to it through some of the most accurate spin bowling I have seen on an unhelpful pitch by Edmonds and Pocock: both using the age-old principle of bowling to their field and dropping the ball a shade short for the drive and yet not short enough to allow the batsmen to rock back and make use of the width of the crease. Such was their control, that along with Cowans they allowed just 63 runs in the last 150 minutes on the first day with Vengsarkar struggling.

Srikkanth slams a four in typical fashion during that two-paced knock in the first innings. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES


Through sheer tenacity, Vengsarkar hung on, the slowness of the pitch not suited for his front foot play. His slow scoring as that of Ravi Shastri taking 150 minutes over 59 were primarily the causes of India not reaching a big enough total to declare on the second day.

Kapil's blast

It was only after Vengsarkar had reached 70 that he showed his old form through some attacking strokes which took him to his ninth Test century. Only the fury of Kapil Dev's 42 increased India's rate of scoring. England batsmen went after India's 553 methodically: their first target being 354 to save the follow-on. Leading the run chase was the dogged effort by the reliable opener Tim Robinson whose stay of 365 minutes while making 96 was mainly responsible for a solid foundation to save the match.

With the brave left-hander Fowler coming out of a sickbed to stroke 69 the openers saw England to a start of 156. Mike Gatting made a solid 62. David Gower, at last, came good, giving a skilful exhibition of defensive batting as he made use of the gaps in the field to compile 78. All the England batsmen played to the plan of just staying at the wicket and strike firmly the loose deliveries which were aplenty.

Sudden slump

While England was slowly heading towards safety on the fourth day debutant Gopal Sharma gave visions of having England followon. Going to lunch on a comfortable 232 for three England slumped to 286 for six as Sharma's off-spin removed Gatting, Cowdrey and Downton. But Edmonds stopped the slide as he helped Gower in a stand of 100 runs with a plucky 49.

Once past the 70-run mark, Vengsarkar found his timing. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES


Once the follow-on was saved the competitive interest drained out of the game. Azharuddin's hammerjack 54 not out in 40 minutes in the second innings produced the shot of the match when he straight drove Cowans at blinding speed for a four.

If pitches like the one for this Test are provided any more they could prove to be the graveyard of Indian cricket: assisting neither the bowlers nor the batsmen to play shots. Such pitches are the surest way of discouraging youngsters from taking to cricket.

India outplayed

After dropping the first Test in Bombay, England bounced back to outplay India in all departments of the game, taking full advantage of an attack that lacked penetration, fielding that was slack throughout and batting that sunk to low levels particularly in Delhi and Madras. While looking menacing at times Sivaramakrishnan tended to often waver in line and length. The youngster needs to put in long hours of hard work to gain greater control. The fact that India tried two off-spinners in the series is a clear indication of not having an outstanding bowler of this type. Kapil Dev still remains our main source of breaking through the opposition.

Find of the tour

For England Mike Gatting dominated the batting. The find of the tour for it has been Tim Robinson. From what I saw of him I rate him high although he is yet to be tested against hostile pace on bouncy and fast pitches. But to me he looks to have all the qualities of becoming another Geoff Boycott.

Edmonds and Pocock brought their long experience into use to trouble Indian batsmen after England's ordinary opening attack had used the new ball. England's magnificent fielding made their rather unhostile attack look better than it was. The series was played in a remarkably sporting spirit, no flaring of tempers on the field and no questioning of umpiring decisions. For this the credit must go to the two captains Sunil Gavaskar and David Gower.

This story was first published in Sportstar on February 2, 1985

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