A generous portion of the magic that resides within storied sporting encounters is churned out by the venues that host them. Like The Championships at Wimbledon, for instance. The unique character of each venue -- its look and feel -- and the varied influence it has on sportsmen adds to the multi-layered narrative of a contest.
It’s been quite sometime since Chennai has experienced the frenzy associated with India-Pakistan games (the last time it did was during the 1999 Test match). So, it was a given that the team’s second ODI appearance against India in the city on Sunday would leave the crowds delirious. It didn’t matter that rain almost marred the match. Neither did it matter that India lost despite skipper M.S. Dhoni’s brilliant century.
An India-Pakistan clash has always had a dazzling, chaotic aura about it. Chennai and, by extension, the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium, has provided two memorable games between these sides – the Independence Cup One-Dayer remembered primarily for Saeed Anwar’s record-breaking 194 in 1997 and, two years later, the crackerjack of a Test that Pakistan seized with its last gasp.
‘Sporting crowd’ reputation
These were the contests, the 1999 Test in particular, that firmly established Chennai’s ‘sporting crowd’ reputation. Venkatesh Prasad remembers vividly details of the match that had many a heart-pounding moment. “We were initially in the driver’s set. I picked up five wickets without conceding a run in the second innings [his innings haul read six for 33]. It was unfortunate we lost [by 12 runs] but it was a very, very close game. Sachin’s [Tendulkar] knock was unforgettable.”
The former India seamer is effusive in praise of the crowd that witnessed the action. “The Chennai crowd was absolutely fantastic. They have a very good knowledge of the game and appreciated both the sides. When Pakistan won and took a lap of honour, the crowd just stood up and applauded.”
Did the Indian team feel bad about the ovation accorded to Pakistan? “Not at all. We were, in fact, happy the crowd acted with such grace.”
Sadagopan Ramesh, who made his debut in the game with a thrill-a-minute 43, recalls the tense backdrop against which the contest unfolded. “The first Test was supposed to be held in Delhi but it was moved to Chennai after the Kotla pitch was dug up. The atmosphere was also charged with emotions. With my debut taking place at home, wherever I went, I was literally ordered to score a century,” he laughs.
Ramesh’s first day as a Test cricketer was immensely satisfying. “When I remained unbeaten at the end of the day, Mohammad Azharuddin [then captain] hugged me and praised me. He also gifted me a pair of shoes. The great man, Sachin, had nice words to say too.”
On Sachin’s mood after his dismissal for 136 in the second innings, the former Tamil Nadu opener says: “He was very annoyed with himself and the way we lost. We left him alone for a while. We were happy though that the crowd showed respect for the opponent. I was proud to be a part of Chennai then. Wasim himself was completely surprised and delighted by the crowd’s response.”
Prasad’s memories of the Independence Cup match revolve around Chennai’s sapping heat. “We played in May and it was extremely humid. It was a beautiful track to bat on but I don’t want to take anything away from Anwar. To score 180-190 back then was extraordinary and our own Rahul Dravid scored a hundred.”