Game 1 was between the original test playing nations at Rajiv Gandhi Stadium. It was a 40 over ODI contest.
Rajiv Gandhi Stadium can hold 55,000 spectators. The stadium was still under construction, although an ODI v Australia had recently occurred and the name plates of the Australian batsmen were still on the manual scoreboard. It was also our accommodation.
It was an odd experience to sleep and eat in a massive concrete colosseum. It was even odder to play at a test venue.
The pitch was brown, flat and unremarkable, except for the evenness of its surface. There was not a blade of grass in sight on the pitch. In truth, it was not cricket on a turf pitch – it was cricket on dry, compacted, dark brown soil, baked like concrete by the hot Indian sun. This will be interesting, I thought.
The ball stays low on dry mud and it does not deviate off the seam. In reality, there was no upright seam on the balls we used. They were dark red and shiny and looked like six stitchers but they were nothing like the Kookaburras that all Australian cricketers have been raised upon since birth. The surface dulled the new ball almost immediately. The lacquer was no match for Hyderabadi mud. The ball was soon without a shiny surface, so swing became impossible; seaming the ball was equally impossible, without an upright seam; and as the pitch soon softened the leather it was a thankless task to be a bowler.
The Poms won the toss and batted and a game of cricket unfolded but a lot of unusual things happened. One of the English batsmen smashed a good looking cover drive early in the match and the man at cover point threw himself like a maniac to stop the ball. He landed, elbow first, on the edge of the cricket square and de-barked a lot of acreage on his right arm. Bloody Hell – I thought – that bloke is keen. I had better re-adjust my attitude; I would not like it said that I was not making an equal effort.
This batsman was an off-side slasher and he was scoring in the third man to cover region and he was batting with intent and the runs were flowing.
I then witnessed the single most astonishing thing I had even seen (to that point), in 35 years of competition cricket, occur on a cricket field.
Our gully fieldsman was a lawyer in white clothing, masquerading as a cricketer. In truth, there were a lot of those in our team. We had been cobbled together. Gully was one of the main organisers. As I settled over the stumps around over 10 I had formed the view that my great age (46) was not much of an impediment to my skill ranking in this team. I could detect 4 other proper cricketers and a lot of lawyers in creams.
Meanwhile, one of the real players was bowling – though he was a batsman-trundler in truth, pressed into service at the bowling crease long before his usual captain would have ever thought to do so. He bowled a short one outside off; the slasher had his eye in; he took an enormous swipe and connected mighty well. I watched where it was heading; it was going straight to gully. In the passage of a nanosecond I made a sad observation: it had been a long time, since I had seen anyone die in violent circumstances, but there you have it, it was about to happen again. That mug would not know what hit him, literally; it would smash into his forehead; no one that close to the bat could react; no ball struck with that brute force would only maim someone. He would be dead, either instantly or shortly thereafter. That would be a bit of a downer on the match.
And then a miracle unfolded – Mr Pudding caught the ball. Not in 3 juggles; not as it bounced off his head and landed in his mouth, while he was unconscious on his back. I have never seen a ball hit harder and caught more cleanly. It was a miracle from God.
The rest of the game was an anti-climax. The Poms made a score; we chased it down; just like the first ever test match, Australia won.