Saturday, February 12, 2011

The 1996 World Cup game

It was a Saturday morning and many many years ago.  I remember the day vividly, though I got the date from Wikipedia.  In the larger context of things, the date is insignificant.  Obviously, with the passage of time, it just goes to show how timeless it is.  Fifteen years ago is a long time, but to me and the billions of Indians around the world, the events that unfolded the rest of the day has left an indelible mark in memory.  People who follow sports are obsessed with statistics.  Cricket is all about statistics and there is so much to assimilate - bowling and batting figures, partnerships, maidens, wickets and a whole gamut of fascinating figures.  People have made a career out of cricket statistics; ask the cricinfo guys about it.

I was supposed to have my ninth grade exams in a couple of weeks.  There was an India Pakistan game on Saturday, 9th March 1996.  As I told you earlier, the date was insignificant, and as I tell you now, the exams were even more.  My brother and I, and our friends, couldn't sleep the whole of past week leading up to the greatest ever day of our lives; at least that's how it was then.  We had waited for the game for a long time.  Pakistan and India hadn't played in years and to have them play at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore was a great feeling.  The whole of India was waiting with bated breath.  We had never lost a World Cup game to the Pakistanis.  Like today, then, I was restless, and to the core.  That morning, I was creating a lot of fictitious aspect to the game.  I played out the game in my head at least a zillion times.  The permutations and combination were many.  Obviously, all the games were won by India, and I could not even remotely think of the prospect of an Indian defeat.  I could see Tendulkar hitting a last ball six to win us the match; Kumble taking a hat trick and many such scenarios, all leading to a great and unforgettable Indian win.  The news channels as usual were getting excited.  There was so much tension and excitement in the air.

A group of friends had gathered at my place for the first ever day-night encounter at the Chinnaswamy.  India won the toss, and Azhar, at that time was not delusional enough to field first.  India moved on with a very sedate start.  No hiccups.  The last ten overs of the game, and we were looking at a score of about 245 or 250, by no means a sure shot winning score.  We would have had to bowl exceptionally well to bowl out the Pakistanis to win the game.  But the last five overs saw some exceptional batting by Ajay Jadeja to take us to a total of 287.  Those days, 287 was a huge huge score, and in a World Cup game, that was really huge.  That passage of play between 45 and 50 overs had to be seen to be believed.  The crowd was in a state of frenzy, and Waqar Younis was dispatched over the cover boundary for outstanding lusty blows.  I still remember the yorker that Kumble dug it out to hit it straight down the ground.  It will always remain a regret not to have seen that match live at the stadium.  Pakistan responded in brilliant fashion moving to 80 runs in the first ten overs.  The crowd of around 45000 were silenced.  There was pin drop silence, and the atmosphere had a quite deathly feel.  One of the greatest moments of the game was yet to unfold.  Aamir Sohail pierced the point boundary with a stunning hit off Venkatesh Prasad.  Sohail gestured animatedly at Prasad, and all Prasad could do was go back to his bowling mark to deliver the next ball.  Those were the days when anybody could dish anything to the Indians.  Prasad bowled the next ball pitching in line on the off stump, and Sohail tried to play the exact same shot as he did off the previous ball; the ball uprooted the off stump and the 45000 crowd, and a billion more erupted in joy.  Prasad hurled the choicest of expletives, the crowd backing him up in exhilarating fashion and that wicket swung the momentum totally in India's favor.  The rest as they say is history.  For some strange reason, I remember Kumble's caught and bowled to dismiss Mushtaq Ahmed.  The ball popped back to Kumble, who fell flat, face forward to tuck the ball underneath his belly.  It was a comical sight.  Kumble was bowling from our nemesis Bucknor's end.  The firecrackers that went off after the match still resounds in my ears after so many years.  An interesting anecdote about this game.  Years later, I was talking about this game with a friend in Rolla.  The conversation went as follows, "Man, I had the tickets for the game.  I went to the stadium.  There was a guy who agreed to buy the tickets for 2000 bucks." I responded "Who would sell those tickets for 2000 bucks!" He said "I did." I couldn't believe it.  I didn't prod him further to put him further in a state of misery.  I am sure he is still repenting the money he made out of those tickets.

There were many India-Pakistan encounters.  The 1992 game was great as well.  One of the best moments I remember of that game was Miandad's wicket off Javagal Srinath.  It was a beautifully pitched yorker that swung in a little to fell the leg bail.  India went on to win a memorable game at Sydney.  Later in 2003, a blitzkrieg from Tendulkar won us a fantastic game.  It was absolutely unbelievable.   

I was too young to watch the 1983 World Cup, and 1987 too, I have no idea of.  By 1992, I was hooked to cricket.  I remember getting up early in the morning to catch the games played in Australia and New Zealand.  I remember our opening encounter against England.  Those days, the Indian tail used to wag tantalizingly close to the opposition total and it was a classic case of "We tried too hard, but we couldn't go the full distance." I still remember the six hit by Bannerji off Pringle, before we were bundled out just ten runs short of the English total.  There was the classic India Australia encounter which we lost by a run, thanks to Raju, who failed to get the third run off the last ball to fetch us the tie.  That was painful! 1999 World Cup win against Pakistan was great as well, with Venkatesh Prasad bagging four wickets to fetch us a memorable win.  The less we talk about 2007, the better.  The World Cup was absolutely forgettable.

In general, for all of us who have grown up on cricket, any game is timeless, and for some of those exciting World Cup encounters, they are absolutely unforgettable.  Be it a Donald run out or a wild swing by Courtney Walsh, every World Cup has those thriller moments that would engage us in long conversations and help us reminisce about those wonderful moments.