I was there (and Tavare put me to sleep)

There is a buzz in the air whenever there is a Test match at the M A Chidambaram stadium. This time around, when India and England are fighting it out, air is in the buzz, as cyclone Vardah has turned things upside down in these parts.

Ahead of the match, England sweated it out on whether Stuart Broad will be fit or not, while Indians, on their part, were kept on tenterhooks over the fitness of, well, the M A Chidamabaram stadium.

The pitch, which was pretty damp, was sought to be dried by having burning charcoal over it in containers. But that is still not the most bizarre thing done to the wicket at the M A Chidambaram Stadium. That record still has to stay with Reuben Paul, the Tamil Nadu wicket-keeper, who was banned for a year for kicking and tampering the pitch during a Ranji tie against Delhi in 1998.

During the match, when Delhi was batting, the pitch had suddenly turned from a highway into, I don’t know, Linghi Chetty Street, pockmarked as it was with holes and dents. Altering the ball’s condition is one thing, but scuffing the pitch deliberately is totally something else, and Paul was held culpable and he gave up cricket in these parts, and naturally went on to become the mentor of Afridi and Akmal brothers.

Okay, that was just a tasteless joke on Pak cricketers. Aside from the pitch, the MAC stadium has perhaps not seen anything like the Vardah cyclone before, except perhaps the Sehwag knock in the second innings of the last Test between the same two teams here in 2008. The major difference between cyclone and Sehwag, of course, is the cyclone is more predictable.

Sehwag’s innings that day gave the thrust to India’s chase of over 380 runs in the fourth innings, and those who were witness to that special show will probably remember every shot of his and, doubtless, bore the pants off their friends and acquaintances by endlessly droning about it at most dinners and drinking sessions.

I too was there, but as a journo, which means I didn’t watch much. You may want to write this down: If you want to watch cricket, don’t become a cricket reporter. Cricket reporters catch the least amount of play in the match they are reporting on. Seriously, while rest of the crowd is following Kohli or Root’s exploits, we journos are busy wondering, peering into our match reports, whether we should be using, say, ‘pulverized’ or ‘pummelled‘ in some damn sentence, which anyway most of the public will not even read.

I was there too, as a young boy, when India and England faced each other in the same stadium, back in 1982, and then too I didn’t watch much. But that is because I dozed off. And that is because Chris Tavare was at the crease.

Tavare, for those who have not heard of him, was the England opening batsman who played most of his Test innings at the pace of larva becoming a butterfly, in agonising slow-motion at that. In a ground that also had Ravi Shastri, Tavare was the most boring batsman. He was the anti-thesis of Vardah. Tavare had almost demonetised all attacking strokes from his play. And in that particular Test, he opened with Graham Gooch, who on his day could also be counted to be equally stolid. But alongside Tavare, Gooch looked like Senna on a F-1 track.

In the opening stand of 155, Tavare’s contribution was 0.07. Well, almost, Gooch scored 127 of that 155. Tavare after staying at the crease for nearly a day and facing 240 balls, made 35. But it could also be a case that since by that time all had slept off in the stadium and the score could have been just made up by someone who had managed to remain awake by not watching the proceedings.

India’s Gundappa Viswanath (222) and Yashpal Sharma (140) put on over 350 runs for the third wicket, and I am sure they were motivated by the fact that if they got out they would soon have had to watch Tavare bat. Vengsarkar got injured in the head to a Willis’ bouncer and, lucky him, spent the most of the match in hospital. (Doctor: Your scans are clear. We will discharge you, Mr. Vengsarkar. Vengsarkar: (startled voice). NO, doctor. Please keep me in the ICU till Tavare gets out).

Looking back on that Test match, If only burning charcoal were available to the TNCA authorities then, they could have actually put it under…never mind.