Troubled Kolkata Test of 1999 revisited

Published: Friday, February 4, 2005, 23:53 [IST]
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Islamabad:With 100,000 Indian cricket fans agitated over Sachin Tendulkar being declared run out in the third Test against Pakistan at Kolkata's Eden Gardens in 1999, a concerned Sunil Gavaskar went to the Pakistani dressing room to plead that the Indian batting maestro should be called back by Pakistani skipper Wasim Akram who "would become a hero in India for the rest of his life".

But Akram was not persuaded, Tendulkar was not called back to the wicket, rioting erupted in the packed stadium leading to the day's play being called off and the match completed the next day before an empty stadium.

The story of Gavaskar's pleadings for the sake of Indo-Pak harmony is disclosed by Pakistan Cricket Board chief Shaharyar Khan in a just-released book focussing on his team's tour of India in 1999. He was the manager of the team then.

"I remember Sunil Gavaskar coming over and pleading that for the sake of inter-State harmony, (skipper) Wasim Akram should call Tendulkar back. He (Akram) would become a hero in India for the rest of his life," Shaharyar writes in 'Cricket -- A Bridge of Peace'.

Besides Gavaskar, his "British cricketing friend" Mark Williams sent a note saying Tendulkar should be called back in the interest of inter-State relations while "neutral cricket professionals" like Ian Chappell and Michael Holding felt that the decision should be left to Match-referee Cammie Smith.

A piquant situation arose when Tendulkar, who had started off well against Shoaib, played a wristy stroke to the mid-wicket boundary. He completed two runs and scrambled to the crease for the third but stumbled after colliding with Shoaib when a throw from the deep hit the stumps.

Tendulkar was given out by umpires after watching replays, a decision which irked the Eden Gardens crowd immensely.

Even as the crowd erupted in anger, the Pakistani dressing room was "inundated" with commentators, officials and journalists offering advice on as to how to meet the crisis.

"What made the issue even more poignant was that Indian Prime Minister A B Vajpayee was in Lahore for the historic meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif. It was as much a cricketing incident as a diplomatic one and everyone seemed to turn to me to save the situation in a diplomatic way," writes the PCB chief who was accompanying the team as manager then.

As the tension mounted, PCB Chief Khalid Mahmood held a quick meeting with coach Javed Miandad, Akram, Board Secretary Waqar Akram and Shaharyar.

"I realised this was one the most diplomatic decisions I had ever been required to take," Shaharyar writes adding he advised the Board to stick to the decision of the neutral umpires which was accepted.

After reviewing the footage, the three umpires were unanimous that though "highly regrettable", Shoaib's colliding with Tendulkar was an accident and in no way deliberate.

Following the umpires' decision, a "reluctant" Tendulkar was persuaded by BCCI Chief Jagmohan Dalmiya to go round the ground to plead with the crowd to let the game continue.

Shaharyar says after analysing the video footage, he also felt that the collision between Shoaib and Tendulkar was accidental. Gavaskar, however, contended that Tendulkar had actually grounded his bat before the ball hit the stumps and therefore had made his ground, before he was knocked back.

"The TV replays did not confirm this view and indicated the ball had hit the stumps while Tedulkar's bat was still in the air. Purely in cricketing terms, he was out," he writes.

"It was simply a bizarre incident and the collision totally accidental. It was even more singular that it should happen to India's best batsman who had probably set on winning this Test for India with the memory of nearly failing to do so in Chennai."

"Amazingly the incident took place at a critical stage of the game when it could have happened to any other, less crucial batsman or at less important stage of the game."

Writing about the same Test, Shaharyar says on the fifth day trouble erupted again when India lost all the main wickets with only the last pair left to stave off defeat. The umpires had to interrupt play after crowd started throwing missiles.

"As the disconsolate players trooped back to the pavilion, Wasim and the team wanted the match to be declared a win for Pakistan. I went to Cammie Smith who said he had no authority to declare a win and could only abandon the match.

At this point, Dalmiya courageously stepped in and offered to clear the ground to resume play without spectators. Subsequently the crowd was cleared, "surprisingly" without much resistance and Pakistan won the match by 46 runs.

Reflecting on this incident later in the book, Shaharyar wonders whether crowd trouble had anything to do with betting.

He says probably some people had "bet on heavily" on an Indian victory as they allowed play to continue smoothly till after Tendulkar's run out incident because 57 runs with 4 wickets in hand was a gettable target. They only erupted with missiles and bottles when the last pair was in and victory virtually out of sight.

"Better a no result than betting loss over a defeat? Why did the notoriously volatile Calcutta crowd so meekly file out the stadium at police instance? Was it because of its anger at the run out was not the real issue but the loss of a bet which could have been salvaged with an abandoned tie," Shaharyar wonders.

On the same tour, Shaharyar says some still maintain that the last one-day match played at Mohali was fixed "but when the bet became common knowledge, the betting mafia decided to reverse the result at the eleventh hour."

However, he writes that the Pakistan tour of India was overall free from match fixing. "I sill maintain that the Pakistan team touring India was free on that tour of any suggestion of match fixing because national honour was at stake".

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