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Ghosts of Chinnaswami Stadium by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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29th March 2005
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Ghosts of Chinnaswami Stadium

All he needed was 4 runs. In a career that saw shattering of the old records and creating of new ones, all he needed was 4 runs to end it on a very very high note. It happened previously too, a few decades ago, with another legend, who redefined the art of batting. Don Bradman had a humanly impossible average of 99.94 and all he needed was 4 runs in the last test he was playing, to achieve the perfect average of 100. He walked in to take strike, score a boundary, achieve that magical average and walk back into the sunset, with the head held high. There is something with fate and four runs that just wouldn't quit. As history would have it, he was out for a duck in his last test match and his average stranded at 99.94. They say, history repeats itself in a cruel fashion. Here was another legend, who marked his retirement for the end of the series playing his last test match. The ball was spinning like a crazy top on the surface that day and he took strike to end the series, clinch it for his country and walk into the sunset with his head held high. The bowler, Iqbal Qasim took aim and delivered the ball. Pitched on the middle and off and spinning rapidly away towards the first slip, the ball found a faint edge (which he denied in his autobiography later) and moved comfortably into the eager hands of the slip cordon. The fielders rejoiced, the captain of the opposing team giddy with delight as he walked back to the pavilion, head held down, probably cursing fate and those four runs. Gavaskar's memorable exit from the international arena, stranded at 96, is as much remembered for his heroics that day fighting valiantly in what ultimately turned out for a losing cause, as one would remember the ghosts of the Chinnaswamy stadium, Bangalore, where India never had the luck of winning close contests.

There is that cruelty factor of history repeating all over again. What was considered to be a dead pitch during the first few days, with the double century scoring batsmen feeling really bad for their bowling counterparts, raised its ugly spinning head, remaining quite true and faithful to its past, making the best of the best looking mediocre at best. 358 runs on the last day to end the series on a winning note, which had been delayed and denied for the Indians at Kolakata, courtesy rain, a dead pitch, lackluster bowling of the Indians and some great fight back by the Pakistanis at Mohali. 570 was replied with a 449, which wasn't bad by any stretch of imagination and calculations. The blitzkreig by Afridi and the steadying act thereafter by Younis set up for a perfect finale. 358 in around 90 overs with a comfortable runrate of 4 (that number again!!). India tried such totals before on closing days, and the closest they came to chasing such scores on last days, was creating history, not by winning the test, but by tying it. With the swashbucklers, master blasters, walls, and many such world record/title holders in the team, scoring at 4 an over for the entire day didn't seem too much to ask. But the pitch had different ideas altogether. Holding up well for the batsmen to play their scoring shots freely with scant respect to the ones running down from 50 yards across the line, the pitch suddenly had a change of mind and started to side with the tweakers. The first hint of such vicious spin was evident when Sachin was spinning his leg breaks from way outside the rough on the legside to whizz towards the middle and off. Right after Sehwag lost his wicket, the mission became a rescue act than a chasing/winning effort. If history is any yardstick to go by, playing defensively against the spinners on an uneven track never paid rich dividends for the hosts and it was certainly painful to go through the same lessons over and over again, without getting anything from them in the past.

Spin, chase, series victory, last day, Chinnaswamy, Pakistan and the number 4 - these few phrases would continue to haunt the Indian team in days to come, as much as these phrases - last ball, six, Chetan sharma, Miandad, Sharjah and Pakistan did during much of the late 80s and most of the 90s in the one day arena. As we comfort in the fact that cricket was the ultimate winner of the just concluded series, the nagging feeling, that the series could be had for a little trying but was ultimately lost when Pakistan's tail wagged the Indian dog at Mohali, will continue to taunt the Indians for long times to come.

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