7 February 2019 marks 20 years of Indian legend Anil Kumble's "Perfect 10". It is the rarest of phenomenons in Test cricket which had happened only once before and has never happened since!
It was the second and final Test of the "Pepsi Test Challenge", the Indo-Pak series happening after 12 years on Indian soil. India had gone down in the first Test at Chennai by just 12 runs despite Sachin Tendulkar's fighting 136 while suffering intense back pain. Pakistan spinner Saqlain Mushtaq was the chief tormentor, claiming a 5-wicket haul in both the innings.
The fixture in Feroz Shah Kotla, Delhi was a do-or-die fixture for the Indians, especially for their skipper Mohammed Azharuddin. Azhar hadn't lost a home series a captain since 1993, and so the stakes were quite high.
Ramesh shores up the Indian batting in both innings
Batting first, India scored a modest 252 in the first innings thanks to opener Sadagoppan Ramesh's enterprising 60. Ramesh, who had made his debut a Test earlier, braved the attack of the legendary new ball pair of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis without any fear.
After the fall of Ramesh, captain Azhar continued the run flow in the company of Rahul Dravid. But after the latter's wicket, with the team's score at 191, the rest of the batsmen managed just 61 runs. Azhar scored 67 and emerged as the top-scorer for his team.
In reply, none of the Pakistani batsmen could reach the half-century mark against the disciplined Indian attack comprising Javagal Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad, a young Harbhajan Singh and the man himself Anil Kumble. The visitors were bundled out for 172 runs, giving a decent lead of 80 runs to the hosts.
In the second innings India lost opener VVS Laxman cheaply, but Ramesh continued his form - first in the company of Dravid and then Tendulkar (both of them chipped in with useful 29-run knocks).
The southpaw kept finding occasional boundaries throughout his innings, frustrating the experienced Pakistani bowling attack. He fell short of a well deserved hundred by just 4 runs.
Then came the 100-run partnership between Sourav Ganguly and Javagal Srinath for the eighth wicket which propelled India to a score of 339. That gave a tough but not impossible fourth innings target of 420 to the visitors, with nearly two days to spare.
Spinning the web on the fourth day
Pakistan's openers Saeed Anwar and Shahid Afridi started well, denying any breakthroughs to the new ball pair of Srinath and Prasad. They reached 100 runs without any damage in just 24 overs.
Afridi, coming in fresh from his whirlwind 141 in the second innings of the Chennai Test, looked threatening again. But as the day progressed, the ball started keeping low and was turning a bit as well.
The Indian bowlers, sensibly, stuck to a stump-to-stump line. Soon after lunch, Jumbo (as Kumble is fondly known) struck the first blow by getting the dangerous Afridi caught behind. No. 3 Ijaz Ahmed lasted only one ball as he was trapped in front of the wicket by a faster one from the leg spinner, who suddenly had a chance of claiming a hat-trick.
The new batsman Inzamam-ul-Haq dashed the hat-trick hopes, but couldn't last long as his stumps were disturbed by the same man four overs later. Newcomer Mohammed Yousuf (those days he was called by the name Yousuf Youhana) fell after just two deliveries, failing to read the Jumbo special and falling pray in front of the wicket.
From a promising start of 101/0 Pakistan were suddenly looking in trouble at 115/4 - all in a span of 4 overs.
Azhar kept the spinners bowling in tandem, deploying close-in fielders to put extra pressure on the batsmen. Harbhajan, through his off-spinners, was giving great support to his senior colleague by keeping up the pressure at the other end as well.
The pressure paid off as the Gentle Giant (another sobriquet for Kumble) struck again, twice, before tea. He broke the backbone of the Pakistani lineup by removing wicketkeeper Moin Khan and a well-settled Saeed Anwar in a span of two overs, both caught by close-in fielders.
Veteran Salim Malik and visiting captain Wasim Akram tried to steady the ship with a 58-run partnership for the seventh wicket. But it was all over for Pakistan when Malik's defenses were breached by the low-keeping quicker delivery from the Bangalore lad.
By that time Azhar, having sensed the rarest of rare feats getting close, kept continuing with Kumble at one end even though he was tired. He brought in Srinath at the other end who was happy bowling widish deliveries outside the off stump in order to give his close friend a chance to create history.
The ploy worked perfectly as Jumbo struck again in back-to-back deliveries, removing spin contemporaries Mushtaq Ahmed and Saqlain Mushtaq and giving himself a second hat-trick chance of the match.
Akram was successful in thwarting that chance. But he fell two deliveries later, caught at short leg, to complete the Perfect Ten for the Spin Doctor (yet another sobriquet for Kumble).
The series was leveled, and history was made. Suddenly, the legend of England spinner Jim Laker had come alive in the memories of cricket lovers - he was the only person who had achieved the feat of taking all 10 wickets in a Test innings before that day, way back in 1956.
It was a great day for umpire A V Jayaprakash as well who made his way into the record books as he was the one who had raised his finger all 10 times when the record maker struck.
Soon after getting the final wicket, the Indians went on a victory lap around the Kotla ground, with Srinath and Prasad carrying their state-mate Kumble on their shoulders. The crowd, who had gathered in good numbers to witness the spectacular feat, kept chanting "Anil! Anil!" "Kumble! Kumble!" as the players took the march.
Two decades have passed, but those chants and those moments still reverberate in the memories of Indian cricket fans whenever the names of Anil Kumble and Feroz Shah Kotla are taken.