Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Test Cricket returns to Chepauk !! .......... sans spectators

Can you identify this Cricketer, who shot to glory in a Chepauk test ? – post on England’s tour of India.



Making debut, playing for the Nation is a great dream – that way both T Natarajan and Washington Sundar have achieved greatness as they debuted in the Gabba test which would be remembered for posterity for that famous win (Test and the Series).  While Washington is a Chennaite - Natarajan, grew up in Chinnappampatti, a village about 370kms away from Chennai, cricket was escapism from poverty.  Every cricket fan would be familiar with his backstory by now. Natarajan and his protégé G Periyaswamy, who is playing for Tamil Nadu in the ongoing Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament, would hop into share autos to the neighbouring towns and villages, yorking oppositions !

In late 1970s Indians had not exactly learnt the art of playing ODI and for the WC – Abid Ali was pulled up from nowhere to open.  When India were to tour Down under in 1980-81, talk was about the lean aggressor Krishnamachari Srikkanth.  Remember a huge team of ours had pooled money to buy tickets and watch the Deodhar Trophy match between West Zone and South Zone  at Chepauk (a premier one day match – a rarity those days).  West had always been a strong team having the likes of Gavaskar, Vengsarkar, Sandip Patil, Ghulam Parkar and more.

Almost the whole crowd had come to watch Srikkanth succeeding and getting selected for the tour down under.    In the first few overs, when Cheeka was denied the strike, the crowds were even heckling Thirumalai Echambadi Srinivasan, a stylish batsman.  Things were to change later – all of us saw an innings of a life time – a brilliant 129 by TE carting all the bowlers with disdain and with great cricketing strokes.  He was powerful on leg and caressed shots on the off.  It was a total of around 270 + which in those days was a match winning one.  TE was indeed selected for the 1981 Tour.   On 6th Dec 1980 at Melbourne half of Indian side were new faces with Kirti Azad, Binny, Dilip Doshi, Sandip Patil and TE making their debuts.  TE opened with Sunny and outsurvived him against the likes of Dennis Lilllee, Lenny Pascoe, Graf and Lawson. He scored only 6.    Patil made 64, India mustered  208 and could bowl the mighty Aussies all out for 142.   His next chance came on 10th Jan 1981 against New zealand when he scored 4 getting out to Jeremy Coney this time.   On a juicy track, Richard Hadlee went wicketless but Indians were  totalled poor 112.  Sadly, TE was denied opportunities !

Both the South African and Australian Test squads will quarantine ahead of their yet-to-be-confirmed three-Test series in March, in what will be the strictest bio-secure bubble yet in South Africa. Unlike for the England and Sri Lanka series, where training could begin after the squads had taken their first Covid-19 tests - though social interaction was not allowed until after the third test - for the Australia series, players on both sides will be confined to their rooms for a longer period of time. For that reason, South Africa's Test squad will leave Pakistan on February 9 to begin their quarantine period at home. A separate squad will play the three T20Is in Pakistan on February 11, 13, and 14 in what CSA director of cricket Graeme Smith sees as an inevitable consequence of the times and something member boards will have to work together to ensure the cricket calendar is as unaffected as possible.

Chepauk has hosted matches since 1934 !  .. the first of that was Test no. 232, a 4 day Test  .. .. there was a time when Pongal Tests were so famous ! .. .. now Chepauk would host 2 Tests against England b u t .. ..  the  prospect of them being played behind closed doors has grown stronger after the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association informed its members that no crowds would be allowed at the MA Chidambaram stadium. The TNCA took the decision despite the Indian government recently ruling that outdoor sport could be conducted with spectators at 50% capacity. Chennai will host the first two matches of the four-Test series with the first Test scheduled to be held from February 5 to 9 and the second from February 13 to 17. Both teams will then travel to Ahmedabad for the last two Tests, to be played at Motera stadium. The third Test, to be played under lights, is scheduled from February 24 to 28 and final Test from March 4 to 8.

England's tour of India, which also includes five T20Is (to be played in Ahmedabad) and three ODIs (in Pune), is the first international cricket that India will host since the sport went on a global hiatus last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  On January 20 the TNCA secretary R Ramaswamy sent a circular to the association's members saying the decision to bar crowds was taken in unison with the BCCI as a "preventive measure". "In view of the prevailing Covid pandemic, BCCI has decided not to take any kind of risk with the safety of the players during the forthcoming India-England Test series," Ramaswamy said. "As per BCCI directive, the first two Test matches will take place behind closed doors (No Spectators/Guests/Sub-Committee Members) as a preventive measure." 

Despite the TNCA decision, a senior official at the Gujarat Cricket Association, which runs the Motera ground, remained optimistic of having some section of the ground open to crowds. In 2020 the refurbished Motera was inaugurated by former US president Donald Trump. With a capacity of 110,000 Motera is the biggest-capacity ground in world cricket. The GCA official said that subject to the permission of both the Indian and Gujarat state governments, if not half, at least tickets could be sold to fill the stadium to at least 20-30% capacity. Both squads are scheduled to land in Chennai by January 27 and will straightaway enter a biosecure bubble, which has become the norm in all cricket. After an initial three-day quarantine, teams would start their training while undergoing regular testing.

In Dec 2016  - Not many would have fancied Karun Nair (the man at the start)  –   – he had failed in the 1st two tests … at close of play on day 3 Karun Nair was unbeaten on  somewhat ordinary 71 off 136 balls but next day was to add  232 more in 245 balls.. the triple coming much faster as Kohli declared immediately on his reaching the great landmark.  Nair rocked on to the backfoot and thumped Adil Rashid’s delivery of the 191st over  to  become only the third player in Test history to turn his maiden hundred into a triple.   Thanks to Karun Nair’s triple century, India amassed 759 for seven – their highest ever Test score.  Earlier KL Rahul missed out his double ton by a solitary run.   

With all that glory – Karun Nair  is only 29 years of age now.  He has played 6 tests making 374 runs with 303* as highest.  His scores read :  4; 13; 303*; 26 & 0; 23; and 5.  He last played against Australia in Dharamsala in Test no. 2258 in Mar 2017.  Will he get another chance to bat for the Nation ?? 

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
22.01.2021 

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