For a decade, India had won no series at home, except against New Zealand and Sri Lanka, both not the best touring sides at the time. Without considering a solitary Test against the latter, India had gone 25 Tests without a win. Recently, they had been thrashed by Australia and beaten by a post-Apartheid South African team in their respective backyards.
The captain Md Azharuddin was struggling -both as batsman and captain, the first major crisis in his career. The home series against England was seen widely as his last chance to salvage matters.
England had been struggling too though an away series win in New Zealand had promised a revival of sorts. It was reported in the Indian media that the English coach Keith Fletcher had been despatched to South Africa to examine the Indian attack; his infamous reassurance ‘England have nothing to fear’ the source of much mirth a few weeks later.
There was controversy about English selection too. David Gower had been dropped for being too old (his replacement Dermot Reeve would not play a single Test) but peers Mike Gatting and John Emburey were included. More bizarrely, on an Eden Gardens pitch where India included three spinners, England selected three pacers, with Tufnell and Emburey bizarrely watching from the sidelines.
Yet, on January 29, 1993, when Azharuddin walked out to bat with the score at 93 for 3 after almost three hours into the Test series, it was all on a razor’s edge. He began quietly, and then, as the attack comprising Malcolm, Jarvis, Lewis, Taylor and Salisbury began to feed him loose balls, he teed-off in spectacular fashion on his favourite cricket ground, his famous touch-play never more lethal. After Tendulkar was dismissed at 216 for 4 (for 50), only two batsmen barely crossed double figures. Those who watched Azharuddin bat on those two days may never forget it but they were also cursed somewhat, as nothing would have looked quite as glorious after that ever again.
Azharuddin’s 182 off 197 balls in a team total of 371 was the highest impact Indian batting performance that decade. And remains the second-highest impact batting performance in Indian Test history till date.
Not only did he absorb pressure at 93 for 3, his strike rate on the match was more than twice as much as anyone who crossed double figures.
The drastic change of momentum had far-reaching effects. A shell-shocked England managed 163 and 286, as India cruised home by 8 wickets. Thereafter, a suspicious prawn curry that laid captain Gooch low, a spin-trio-attack led by Anil Kumble and solid Indian batting led by Tendulkar and Kambli KO’d England in the next two Tests by an innings each, as India picked up their biggest Test series triumph in history till then.
Post this series, India became giants in their backyard for a long time, as they rarely lost in home series. Besides their spin attack, led by Kumble, and later Harbhajan Singh, Md Azharuddin played a big part in this.
Along with this (a series momentum-changing performance), Azharuddin produced another
Those who talk about Tendulkar being Indian batting’s mainstay in that decade might want to chew on this -Azharuddin was actually a better big match player than Tendulkar even in that decade.
Those five-and-a-half hours of batting in end-January 1993 by Azharuddin turned the tide and laid the foundation for something very significant in Indian cricket history.
Art- Gokul Chakravarthy
NOTE: Impact Index has undergone an upgradation in November 2015, and though 95% of its findings remain the same, there have been some minor shifts. This piece was updated post that, and is up-to-date as of August 2016.