When I was witness to two 'perfect 10s'

When I was witness to two 'perfect 10s'
© Provided by The Times of India

MUMBAI: Sport offers you the unique opportunity to proclaim loudly at times: ‘I was there.’ For example, in cricket, those who’ve witnessed a masterly 96 by Sunil Gavaskar on a turning track at Bangalore, or Sachin Tendulkar smashing a stroke-filled 98 against Pakistan at Centurion in the 2003 World Cup, or Brian Lara’s unbeaten 153 at Bridgetown in 1998, when he single-handedly downed a mighty Australia, or those who’ve seen India script a memorable fightback at the Eden Gardens in 2001 can say that.

As a cricket nut, I must thank two high-quality spinners who’ve given me my bragging rights to scream: ‘I was there.’ The moment Rachin Ravindra caught Mohammed Siraj at mid-on, and Ajaz Patel achieved his ‘perfect 10’ on Day 2 of the just-concluded India versus New Zealand Test at the Wankhede Stadium, I was ecstatic. Sitting in the press box while covering the match for the Times of India, I was part of something unique too. A ‘perfect 10’ has been achieved only thrice in 2438 Tests that have been played since 1877, and twice I was in the stadium to witness it live.

My mind raced back to the morning of February 7, 1999, and the memories of that day at the Ferozeshah Kotla in New Delhi, when leg spin great Anil Kumble destroyed Pakistan with a magical haul of 10 for 74, began to flow like water. Pakistan had won the first Test in thrilling fashion at Chennai by 12 runs despite Tendulkar’s fighting hundred.

With the idea of enjoying the fourth day’s play between India and Pakistan, my best friend and I decided to bunk college and head to the ‘Kotla’. While the security was tight, it was amusing to see a few snake charmers in the crowd, who had been summoned by the DDCA after political party Shiv Sena threatened to leave snakes on the ground if India played Pakistan at Kotla.

Resuming at 324 for seven, India folded up for 339, leaving Pakistan with 420 to get. An India win seemed within sniffing distance.

However, for the first 98 minutes, we were all silenced by Pakistan openers Saeed Anwar and Shahid Afridi, who raced away to a 101-run stand. Our lunch, I remember, wasn’t particularly pleasant. And then, Kumble happened.

The first to go was Shahid Afridi – the man who undid India at Chennai with a brilliant hundred was finally stopped by the ace leggie, caught by Mongia. Afridi didn’t seem happy with the decision, and walked off disgruntled. At last, we found something to cheer for. Within seconds, our joy was doubled as Ijaz Ahmed was trapped lbw for a first-ball duck. The procession had begun. Inzamam ul Haq, Mohammad Yousuf, names that evoked fear in our hearts, perished for little.

Within 27 runs, Pakistan lost six wickets, with Saeed Anwar, along with Afridi the scourge of India’s bowling in those days, also perishing to a rampaging Kumble, thriving on the bounce on the Kotla pitch for him, caught by VVS Laxman. Every batsman was either getting caught close to the wicket, being lbw or bowled by a rampaging Kumble. The noise-level in the stadium reached a crescendo. My view from behind the deep square leg boundary wasn’t great, but that didn’t matter, what with Tendulkar, fielding on our side of the fence, asking us to cheer for Kumble louder and louder.

In the end, we saw something else that was amusing too -to support his best friend Kumble bag all 10 wickets in an innings, India pacer Javagal Srinath was bowling wide outside the off-stump to last man Waqar Younis! The ‘tactic’ worked as Kumble dismissed Pakistan captain Wasim Akram to complete his rare, rare feat. India had won by 212 runs, but it was Kumble who had beaten everyone.

An elated Kumble and the Indian team went around the stadium, acknowledging the support of the crowd. If social media had arrived by then, it would have gone crazy. Aided by his magnificence, a crumbling pitch prepared for his art by curator Radhey Shyam, and a ‘trigger-happy’ umpire in AC Jayaprakash, Kumble had created history. As we walked off the ground, we didn’t mind the ‘rush hour’ or the pollution setting in. we had been witness to something special.

Almost 22 years later, I saw Ajaz’s 10 for 119 from a different seat in the stadium. Just like in the Pakistan’s case that day, India’s batsmen had no clue how to stop Ajaz, who, like most left-arm spinners do at Wankhede, reaped the rewards of flighting the ball well, and making it turn and jump menacingly. It’s futile to compare both the once-in-lifetime- performances. Kumble did it on Day 4, while Ajaz worked his magic on days 1 & 2 of the Test. Kumble’s spell won India the game, Ajaz’s effort couldn’t prevent a humiliating 372-run defeat for New Zealand.

I’m glad to think that amongst the few common things, besides the ‘perfect 10,’ in these monumental feats is me. I’m still pinching myself that I was there on both the occasions to see something as rare as a comet, in cricket. Well done, me!

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