Saeed Anwar’s sublime savagery at Chennai
21st May, 1997 , MA Chidambaram Stadium, Chepauk, Chennai
“I broke the record of my idol Sir Vivan Richards. I hope he doesn’t mind it.”- Saeed Anwar
There are few better sights in the game of cricket than Saeed Anwar in imperious flow. Waxing eleoquent over this cricketer, the former Pakistani skipper and Anwar’s contemporary, Ramiz Raja once painted this exaggerated albeit deserved picture– “He used an eclectic approach to batting – classical betrothed to unorthodox, footwork against spin as quick as a hiccup supple yet powerful to brush the field like a Picasso”.
Beginning his illustrious international career with a shorter version of the game at Perth in the year 1989 during the Benson & Hedges World Series, Saeed Anwar scored a non decrepit 3,before spooning a catch to Carl Hooper off Malcom Marshall. However from such modest and unassuming beginnings, the classy Anwar proceeded to reach exotic and ecclesiastical heights, both metaphorically and literally. Having bagged 31 international hundreds in all forms of the game, he turned to religion for succour in the year 2001 when his daughter calamitously ended her earthly sojourn after a protracted bout of illness.
One of the most flamboyant lefthanders ever to have wielded the willow for his country, this Wisden 1997 Cricketer of the Year’s affinity towards Indian bowling was well known. He has the distinction of being the first Pakistani batsman to score a century on Indian soil in the 50-over format of the game. He clocked up a total tally of 2002 runs with 4 hundreds at an impressive average of 43.52 against the ‘old-enemy’ before he was finally finished.
On the 21st of May 1997, he choose a barmy afternoon of Chennai to play, what arguably was the greatest innings of his illustrious one day career. In the 6th match of the Pepsi Independence Cup, Rameez Raja won the spin of the coin and had no hesitation in electing to bat. A mindless heave by Shahid Afridi off Abey Kuruvilla resulting in a skier for Ganguly at mid-off ensured that Pakistan were on the back foot quite early in the game at 8-1. Saeed Anwar after a tentative beginning showed signs of getting into his usual portentous groove by slashing a wide one off Venkatesh Prasad to the point boundary. Confirmation of a growing confidence arrived in the form of a stunning and magical flick of the wrists which despatched Kuruvilla high and handsome over the mid-wicket boundary for the first six of the game and for Anwar. The benign and placid track baked by the famed and ferocious Chennai heat proved an able ally as the southpaw employed his blade like a rapier, producing rasping cuts, delectable flicks and divine drives. The man in a mordant mood was turning out to be the fulcrum of India’s woes. The understandable ineffectuality of the fast men (if India’s pace bowling pack of Prasad, Kuruvilla and Srinath could be termed as such), ineluctably led to the introduction of spin in the form of the premier spinner in the country Anil Kumble. The trenchant blade of Saeed Anwar however was in no mood to discriminate between deliveries coming on to the bat a little slower than the ones speeding towards it. Admirable footwork, twinkle toes and dancing shoes all combined to hoist seemingly good deliveries to the boundary ropes and beyond. Bludgeoning Sunil Joshi (the second spinner) over mid-on for a one bounce four bought up Anwar’s half-century off just 44 balls. Afridi’s absence was hardly felt as an extended celebration of the half-century came in the form of Sunil Joshi being firmly and forcefully deposited into the upper tiers over the top of mid-on. Mild hopes stirred in Indian hearts as Ramiz Raja played a Robin Singh delivery onto his stumps and Pakistan were 97/2.
In the 19th over, a visibly fatigued Anwar developed an injury of sorts and Shahid Afridi was bought on to don his running shoes for the cause of his distressed comrade. He need not have bothered much about the speed of his running or the depth of his stamina as an injured Saeed Anwar proved to be more treacherous and hazardous than a fit one! His timing seemed to take on extraordinarily dangerous proportions as Robin Singh was merely feathered to the point boundary. The scoreboard did not show any semblance of stagnation and in the 27th over of the innings, an assured flick resulted in Anwar reaching his 12th ODI century. As he acknowledged his team mates and an appreciating crowd with a raised bat and a calming nod, he presented a picture of poise and purpose. Unrelenting and undaunted, the opener continued to harass his opposition with clinical precision as a stream of boundaries bisected the gaps in both sides of the field.
A sumptuous boundary square off the wicket took Anwar past Javed Miandad’s 119 at Lahore – the highest score by a Pakistan batsman against India. With the score at 213, Ijaz Ahmed was trapped plumb in front by Anil Kumble to give India a brief respite. A reprieve for Anwar when an attempted swing over long on just brushed the grasping hands of a fielder to land over the boundary ropes provided incentive enough to step on the accelerator. Carting Kumble for 2 huge sixes, the belligerent opener looked set to score the first ever double century in the history of one-day international cricket. One Kumble over fetched a humongous 24 runs as Anwar ran riot. An astute and deliberate sweep off Tendulkar despatching the ball to the square leg boundary ensured that Anwar became the highest run getter in an innings in the history of ODI cricket coasting past the peerless Sir Vivian Richards. An exhausted but exalted Anwar raised his bat and took a moment to savour the precocious moment. A slash behind point left the class act just 6 runs short of an unthinkable double hundred. However when it just seemed that nothing could come in the way of this unstoppable force, the force itself self destructed in the form of a thoroughly miscued sweep. A superbly judged tumbling catch by the unlikely Ganguly finally terminated an innings of panache and power that was studded with 22 hits to the fence and 5 beyond. Pakistan finished with a match winning effort of 327 for 5 in their 50 overs. The highest score apart from Anwar’s monumental effort was a joint 39 by Ijaz and Inzamam-Ul-Haq.
India never recovered from this brutal collaring of their bowling attack and fell short of the target by 35 runs, in spite of a heroic and valiant maiden 107 by Rahul Dravid, who incidentally also used a runner in the form of Sachin Tendulkar. Saeed Anwar had single handedly played an epic reeking of class, calibre and courage that floored India. Surely Viv Richards would not have felt bad at his imperious record being broken by an adoring fan of his. Or rather he should not have!
Result: Pakistan won by 35 runs
(Next: Flowing locks and a lashing willow as M S Dhoni ‘arrives’ at Vizag )