Winning a Test series as a visitor to India is tough. Possibly one of the most difficult sporting challenges on the planet.
It’s so tough that Australia have only managed to complete the task once in the last 45 years.
1986 wasn’t when it happened.
But 1986 brought something else that is just as difficult to achieve.
A tied Test.
As you read this, India is playing its 500th Test. It is the 2221st Test in cricket’s history. My calculator tells me that means the chance of a tied Test is 0.09%. Less than one tenth of one percent.
You have a better chance of seeing Salim Malik present a Spirit of Cricket speech than witnessing one of these.
A great Test match resembles a Tarantino movie. The story is never perfect. Actually, it’s quite sloppy. But every page turn brings another element. Another layer. The pace picks up. A mini climax. Then another. Then another. Then……. OMG.
The Madras tied Test wasn’t that. It wasn’t a great match. It had some moments, but if it wasn’t for the ending, no one would remember it.
It wasn’t fun. The open sewer next to the ground stank a putrid stench. Like Madras’ most infamous citizen, it was “nauseating”.
Dean Jones threw up on the pitch. These days, that would probably see him fined for unsportsmanlike conduct. Jones had to be treated for heat exhaustion. He lost 8kg. He couldn’t run. He could only hit boundaries. He stood and swung the bat. He scored his second hundred off only 66 balls.
At 170, he wanted to come off. Allan Border called him a “weak Victorian” and told him to stay out there.
Australian coach Bob Simpson said it was the “greatest innings ever played for Australia”. Team-mate Greg Matthews said it wasn’t even in the best 50 innings he had witnessed.
Boon and Border also made tons. No one remembers those. Australia declared at 574.
India replied with 397. Gavaskar became the first player to appear in 100 consecutive Test matches. Kapil Dev made a ton with the bat. Greg Matthews took five poles. He did it while wearing a sweater. It was 40 degrees and 80% humidity. He then helped his team smash out 170 in 49 overs. It was relatively quick by the standards of the day.
348 were required for the win. Why does no one ever quote how many runs for the tie?
In his previous 1200 Test deliveries, Ray Bright had taken only five wickets. Just five. He only played one more match for Australia after this tied Test. His career average of 41 at a strike rate over 100 was probably why. But somehow, he took five wickets from his 25 overs in India’s final innings. It was his finest moment. But that story is not found anywhere. It’s not very exciting. No child ever grew up wanting to be Ray Bright.
The final innings only became interesting at the end. India lost 4-17 from a winning position. It was their version of a South African style choke. The final wicket fell LBW to that man Matthews. An Indian umpire in India gave it out. How does that happen? Back in 1986, no Indian was being given out LBW at home.
The aura of a tied Test is one of romance. But this one was not that. Australia declared twice. They dominated with the bat. But what we did have was 22 men doing what they could to survive the conditions. It just so happens that the scores were even at the end.