Sunil Joshi had a dream of playing cricket and when he got a chance, he was living it, quite literally. With the faith’s obsessive affair playing its cards, his craft reveled in its truest glory when South African batsmen found themselves wanting against him, exactly 21 years to this day.
An honest tryer in Indian cricket, very few would’ve had to overcome the challenges that Sunil Joshi faced at the start of his career to make it to the Indian team. Travelling 120 kilometers a day to shuttle from his home town of Gadag to Hubli to get practise after waking up at 4 AM every day is not a job of faint-hearted, but Joshi kept at it for 10 long years before moving to Bangalore to stay in a small sharing room where there was hardly any space to keep their kitbag.
It was the base that made him one of the most determined cricketers India have ever produced. A glorious Ranji season with Karnataka in 1995-96, where he picked 52 wickets and scored 529 runs at an average of 66, was too good to ignore by the national selectors and he was handed his debut cap for the Edgbaston Test of 1996. There was glory waiting for him despite suffering a fractured finger on his debut as he came out with a bandage done by physio Ali Irani and gave Sachin Tendulkar support to score his century.
But the moment under the sun came three years later, exactly 21 years to this day, as Joshi bowled one of the most spirited spells in ODI cricket history, bagging 10-6-6-5 against a strong South African side during the LG Cup in Nairobi. It was a day he could do no wrong as he dismissed Boeta Dippenaar, Herschelle Gibbs, Hansie Cronje, Jonty Rhodes and Shaun Pollock in quick succession, and landed India a much-needed win.
Venkatesh Prasad and Debasish Mohanty were at the top of their game, restricting the Proteas to a below-par score in the first 10 overs, and when Joshi came out to bowl, it was poetry in motion. When Captain Ajay Jadeja brought him into the attack, Joshi flighted every single delivery, strangulating Gibbs in an uncanny manner. So much so that Gibbs was outfoxed by the tossed up delivery only to edge to the wide of second slip where Rahul Dravid pounced on it efficiently.
Joshi possibly didn’t know what was awaiting for him but with his good friend Vijay Bharadwaj giving him great support from the other end, he started bowling those parsimonious over one after one, ensuring not a single ball was in the batsman’s zone. It was the debut for Boeta Dippenaar for the South African team and he was trying his level best to arrest the slide. Already 17 off 53 balls, time was running out for him as Joshi gave extra flight on the delivery to take his stumps for a walk. Everything was coming out so nicely.
With Jonty Rhodes, Shaun Pollock and Lance Klusener bolstering their lower-order, things still could have been South Africa’s, but Joshi was relentless. After Dale Benkenstein and Jacques Kallis added 38 for the fifth wicket, Joshi returned for the second spell. Although Nikhil Chopra gave India a breakthrough in the form of Benkenstein, Joshi delivered an epic spin bowling exhibition that would stand the test of time in the annals of Indian cricket.
In the 38th over of South African innings, Rhodes and Pollock suffered the wrath of the Gadag boy as he registered his maiden five-wicket haul in international cricket. What made it special that he gave away only six runs in his 10-over spell that had six maidens - an economy rate of 0.60. Come to think of it now.
The work that Joshi had put in with the support of Bishan Singh Bedi, who he considers his mentor even now, was all on show and ensured the spell would become iconic in Indian cricket in more ways than one. As the spell hits its 21st anniversary, the need for Indian cricket celebrating the milestone is more than ever. Because, hey, you can bet on it, it will never happen again. A bowler will never bowl a six-over maiden spell ever.