In half a century of watching cricket at Chepauk since the return of Test cricket to the hallowed venue in January 1967 I have never experienced the conditions that were prevalent in September 1986 during the Test between India and Australia. I have been in Madras that is now Chennai all my life and am used to the hot, hotter and hottest that the climate in the city is associated with. But the heat and humidity during those five days from September 18 to 22 was something else. It was unbearably hot, there was always sweat aplenty flowing from the brow and water was being taken by the bucketful.
If we in the stands and the press box were in this unenviable situation imagine what batting, bowling and fielding would have meant in the cauldron that was the MA Chidambaram stadium. And yet in this sweltering atmosphere with the sun beating down mercilessly, Dean Jones stuck it out for 503 minutes to score 210 off 330 balls.
A courageous performance comes in many ways. A batsman may continue to bat with a fractured thumb, a broken rib or while running a temperature. There have been such examples in Test cricket but Jones’ brand of courage was something very different. It required guts to stick it out there for such a long period, to keep getting runs at a regular rate, to keep hitting boundaries in what was essentially an attacking innings in keeping with his reputation (there were 27 fours and two sixes in his knock). A superb judge of a run, Jones completed the quick singles, converted singles into twos and twos into threes in spite of the enervating conditions which also required deep concentration, an ideal temperament and loads of stamina to bat on and on and on. It certainly was not smooth sailing. More than once he was overcome by nausea and bouts of cramps, he was dehydrated and even retched at the side of the crease. But not once did it occur to the 25-year-old from Victoria, playing in only his third Test to retire.
Jones came in on the first morning when Australia had lost their first wicket (Geoff Marsh) at 48. He played a supporting role to David Boon who was out shortly before stumps for 122. Jones was batting with 56 at the end of the first day with Australia 211 for two. It was on the following day that his batting really shone under the sun. Taking all the interruptions in his stride he blazed forth with an array of breath taking strokes dominating the third wicket partnership with night watchman Ray Bright and the fourth wicket partnership of 178 runs with his captain Allan Border who went on to get 106. Goaded on by his tough skipper Jones hung on till he was fourth out at 460. His 210 was his maiden three-figure knock in Tests, is the highest by an Australian in India and the highest by a visiting batsman at Chepauk. Totally exhausted after his marathon innings Jones required hospitalization for saline treatment.
There were other heroes in a match that had a historic denouement – a tie making it only the second such result in Test history in 1052 matches. Indian captain Kapil Dev hit a memorable 119 in a superb fightback when India were in danger of following on. Greg Matthews put in a tireless performance with a match haul of ten wickets being particularly heroic on the final day when he sent down 40 successive overs in that intense heat and humidity – not to mention the tension packed finish - to pick up five wickets including the all important one of last man Maninder Singh. But there is little doubt that Dean Jones was the biggest hero of Tied Test II as the game is best known.
The affable Jones went on to enjoy a successful career finishing with 3631 runs from 52 Tests at an average of 46.55 with eleven hundreds. Statistically he topped the 210 by getting 216 against West Indies at Adelaide in 1989. He also scored a century in each innings against Pakistan a year later. He was also arguably the best Australian batsman of his time in ODIs excelling in innovative strokeplay in which he was one of the pioneers. But it will be futile to look beyond his unforgettable 210 at Chepauk as his Himalayan feat for it was the apotheosis of courage.
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