<--Added on 8/22/08 for migration to TPB -->
Looking back on Amritraj vs Jaite
Two of the biggest landmark moments of Indian sport took place the weekend starting March 13 1987. A month ago tremendous excitement had been raised by the arrival of the Pakistanis in India for a 5 Test series. The Pakistanis had earlier held the mighty Windies to a series draw, humiliating them in the First Test by bowling them out for 53. India for their part had been in fine nick all season, returning victorious from England(2-0 in the Test series), having the better of the exchanges against Australia and hammering the Lankans in the home Tests. However all the expectations came to naught as the pressure of an Indo-Pak series had BCCI opting for dead pitches in the first 4 Tests. And thus did the teams land in Bangalore for a final face-off, Imran having made it clear it was his last Test in India.
Meanwhile, India were to kick off their Davis Cup pre-quarterfinal against Argentina at Delhi. And it was Sports Day in my school. .
Sports Day was the most awaited day for all of us kids in primary school. Leaving our bags in class, we spent the entire day before the playground witnessing the sports events. The school staff ran a special cafeteria to add to the fun. All of us pestered our parents to part with a few rupees: among the dainties were samosas(Re.1), veg puffs(Rs 1.50), a glass of Rasna(Rs 1.25), with a cup of icecream topping the list(Rs 3). The luckiest were the kids who had older siblings in the same school, after emptying their pockets right in the morning, the brats got sumptuous treats from their siblings later in the day.
For the small gang of Ram, Prabhu, Muthu and I, there were no older siblings to entreat the goodies from but the event held deep significance: right from the start of the year we had formed a little bunch not unlike the Freemason society - lunch was taken by the four of us in the same secret place, each one sat facing his favorite direction, the lunch followed by a walk to an old tree to examine if the initials we had carved on its trunk still remained intact, at exactly 2pm we would look at one another in class irrespective of what was going on. Ram and Prabhu had informed us they were moving to a different school in June to start Class 6 so we made up our minds to spend as much time together as possible. All 4 of us lived in different corners of the town and school was the only place where we met. The fact that our gang had parents in transferable jobs, doting elders and cousins who scoffed at outside food and took care of our snacking needs, meant that we did not get as much dole as the other kids. Older schoolboys manned the counter for ordering and payments. We pooled all our resources to Rs 9.50 and shared every precious purchase the paltry amount could afford :)
Interest in the Bangalore test was lost as we were keenly following the sports events. But it was with some surprise in the evening we learnt that Pakistan were all out for 116 and the Test held possibility of a result, all previous encounters resulting in draws. I'd taken the school bus home to see Appa going out for a walk, informing me that Ramesh Krishnan had Martin Jaite (ranking of No.23) at his mercy, comfortably ahead in the 3rd set after knotting the first two. Ramesh's racquet was like a magic wand as silken winners flowed past the bemused Argentine in the 3rd set.
Doordarshan switched to the cricket for about another 2 hours and after stumps were called, DD surprised me by returning to the tennis which should have ended long back. Only to show us the stunning sight of Jaite shaking hands with a shattered Ramesh over the net! India 1, Argentina 1 - Vijay having beaten De La Pena that morning.
The next day, India starting at 100-4 in response to 116, collapsed in the morning session to 145. Afternoon saw a young Javier Frana, looking like McEnroe in looks and game, whip the ageing Amritraj brothers in the company of Christian Minussi. Argentina 2, India 1.
The stage was set for a pulsating 3rd day Sunday for both the encounters. Pakistan's tail wagged and took the score to 249. While the cricket went on in the afternoon, Martin Jaite was hammering 35 year-old Vijay Amritraj all over the court. Every time DD flashed the tennis scores to interrupt the cricket relay, we fumed and derided the veteran: 3-0 in the fourth set and Argentina cruising to the quarter-final.
DD shifted from cricket to tennis suddenly but not a moment too soon, Jaite at match-point. The rest is history, Amritraj sent a magical drop volley that tantalisingly skimmed the net and dropped dead on the other side of the court - what a shot to play with the tie at stake! It was the start of one of Indian sport's glorious moments. The veteran played some sublime tennis to clinch the fourth set 8-6 and the fifth in style to level the score. The dead man didn't merely open his eyes but got up and walked, wrote Nirmal Shekar. Ramesh to play the decider against De La Pena.
The tele-shift to cricket happened and India needed 221 to win with a session and 2 days left. Srikkanth fell to Akram and Amarnath who walked in was strategically sledged by Miandad. Result: Amarnath out first ball. Gavaskar and Azhar took the score to a tantalizing 51-2, with DD returning to tennis after the day's play and showing us Ramesh clinching a good match to ensure a passage to the quarter-finals. Monday the 16th being rest day, Iqbal Qasim asked Bedi for tips on how to exploit a wicket that was turning square from Day 1. Just dont spin much, keep the line/length straight and the pitch will do the rest, advised the great man.
We were all queueing up for the school bus when the news trickled in, India had lost by 16 runs, Gavaskar(96) playing easily the greatest innings on Indian soil. A deathly silence prevailed during the trip back home.
A few weeks later it was suspected that India would forfeit the forthcoming Davis Cup quarterfinal against Israel due to political reasons. The Hindu carried a boxed item with Vijay(a pic of him flashing his familiar smile) saying that he had played his last match should the tie not take off. I gazed at the news in shock, with some misgivings over the season gone by - Imran's retirement, the parting with my friends and now the sinking feeling that we had seen the last of Vijay. The name Amritraj had been synonymous with Indian tennis for a decade and more.
In the end, Vijay used his diplomatic skills and got the governments to agree, India went on to have a fantastic year in Davis Cup. 3 months later, Gavaskar announced the Bangalore Test had been his last. Imran was persuaded by Zia-Ul-Haq to come back from retirement. Ram and Prabhu stayed in the same school but it was Muthu and I who headed to different schools and the four of us never had a chance to get together again.
Left: Gavaskar during that 96 at Bangalore, note the dust raised by his foot. Right: Vijay describing the day he went Crazy on court!