Mark Waugh’s 110: The best I’ve seen at Chepauk
“When you are eight you watch cricket with a keener eye for detail than you shall ever summon again. Brief passages of play swell big and perfect in your head, almost as if you imagined them, maybe.”
This is Christian Ryan in reference to a David Gower half-century at Perth, which he reckons is the best he’s ever seen. I was ten when I watched the 1996 World Cup Quarter-Finals between New Zealand and Australia at Chepauk in Madras – the only World Cup game I’ve seen from the confines of a stadium – and my memories from it are abiding and particularly vivid. I watched the game, much like Ryan observed Gower, with almost pain-inducing intensity, with small pieces of action coming to represent weighty memories.
New Zealand’s Chris Harris, then a balding, dogged middle order batsman and bowler of dibbly-dobbly trash smashed Australia for 130 runs off just 124 balls, a once-in-a-lifetime innings that featured four big-ones. The last of his sixes – a slog over midwicket off Michael Bevan – I seem to remember, hit the roof of the stadium, a thought that I sought to reinforce when watching the highlights of the game for the first time, last week, only to realise that the cameras lost track of the ball midway through its trajectory. Perhaps, the distance of the strike is nothing more than a figment of my imagination, but it does make for a good tale, doesn’t it? Anyway Harris’s 168 run partnership with captain and wicketkeeper, Lee Germon helped New Zealand post 286, a total of considerable weight. Germon, a batsman of ungainly technique was nonetheless in inspired form, making 89 runs off just 96 balls, which like Harris’s 130, is his highest in one-day cricket.
The Madras crowd is known to be one of the most sporting in the country. On that day this facet was in full evidence. The crowd cheered boundaries and wickets by either team with equal gusto. As for me, I joined in the revelry, not quite sure even at the halfway juncture, which team I was supporting. I was, though, a big fan of the Waugh brothers – particularly of Steve – and I was hoping the pair would make enough runs to fulfil my ‘simple’ demands. And happily for me, make runs they did, in Mark’s case a sublime century and in Steve’s a tenacious half-century.
I have been lucky to watch several excellent knocks at Madras, including a few Sachin Tendulkar hundreds, Saeed Anwar’s 194, half centuries from Brian Lara and Mohammad Azharuddin in an ODI in late 1994 (innings’ which I wish I could remember more of) and an 83 from Neil Fairbrother, who is a favourite of mine, in a test-match in February 1993 of which my only enduring memory is Anil Kumble’s first-innings dismissal of Robin Smith. As it happens, this was Fairbrother’s only test-match half century – such a terrible pity that I remember diddly-squat about the knock. But I digress. The point is Mark Waugh’s 110 remains the most memorable innings I’ve seen at Chepauk, a magnificent treat to the eyes.
Australia’s target was imposing – only once had a higher total been successfully chased in World Cup history – but Waugh made light work of it, batting fiercely yet with an air of casual elegance. He square drove anything that was even a fraction wide of off-stump, and whipped through the on-side with typical grace when the bowlers straightened their lines. Off-spinners Shane Thompson and Dipak Patel were countered with consummate ease. Once he settled into a rhythm, Waugh didn’t hesitate to play the lofted strokes, clearing Patel for two huge sixes, one over wide long-on and another straight as an arrow over the sight-screen, landing a few seats wide of where I was seated. The one-day game may now be replete with centuries in successful chases, but considering the occasion and a pitch that was slowing by the over, Waugh’s innings must rank as one of the finest in its history.
The game was also notable for Shane Warne’s pinch-hitting pyrotechnics. Promoted to number four, Warne hammered 24 off just 14 balls, including two slog-swept sixes, before being trapped LBW by Nathan Astle. That, though, brought Mark Waugh’s elder twin, Steve into the middle, who nicknamed ‘Iceman’ for his ability to hold his nerve when bowling at the death, showed similar imperturbability in his batting and took Australia home with 13 balls to spare. In their 87 run partnership, Mark and Steve Waugh showcased an understanding that was coalesced in the backyard of their Panania residence, by nicking ones and twos with cheeky disdain. After Mark fell to a tired stroke off Dion Nash, the elder Waugh in partnership with Stuart Law ensured a mishap-free completion of the chase. But the day belonged to Mark Waugh. Easy and elegant, his batting was a joyous spectacle – a truly, great World Cup innings.