Countdown to ICC Cricket World Cup 2007
There was seldom a world cup match as eagerly anticipated, watched and rejoiced by every Indian as this encounter. For me even our world cup winning 1983 final will have to take a second place to this one. There are a couple of reasons for this. For one I was too young to even care about cricket in 1983. For another, it was the first time Pakistan was coming to play in India in 7 years. This was an aftermath of the frosty political relationship between the two nations spilling over on to the arena of sports.
The world cup of 1996 was held once again in the subcontinent and is remembered for a lot of things. It was in this world cup that a certain gentleman called Sanath Jayasurya announced his arrival as an explosive batsman at the top of the order. He started the trend of pinch hitting in ODI cricket. This aided by the shrewd and astute captaincy of Arjuna Ranatunga ensured that Sri Lanka upset the form book and odds, and went on to win the world cup. It was a world cup where the minnows Kenya scored an upset victory on the West Indies. However nothing matched the drama, the emotion and the sheer intensity of this match.
1996 was the first and only world cup to have had the group matches followed by knockout matches leading up to the final. Thus India and Pakistan (the reigning world champions) came to meet each other in a quarter final at Bangalore. The stage was set and the ingredients could not have been spicier. Pakistan’s long absence from Indian soil, the tensions between the nations, the traditional history and rivalry between the two nations all contributed to the hype surrounding the match. But none of these reasons were more important than the fact that the two teams were meeting each other for the first time in a winner takes all stage at the world cup.
Pakistan suffered a major blow on the morning of the match when their captain and best bowler, Wasim Akram, declared himself unfit for the match due to a ruptured side muscle. So it was Amir Sohail who led Pakistan with Mohammed Azharuddin being his Indian counterpart. Azhar won the toss and elected to bat.
India started off with Tendulkar, so far one of the stars of the tournament, being strangely off color. However Siddhu was in his elements in this game and played a marvelous innings of 93 and took the Indian score to 168 for 2 before he departed, Even though the score sounded impressive India was meandering on at a rate of barely 4.5 runs per over.
By the time Ajay Jadeja came in India were running along to a respectable and competitive total. But Jadeja changed all that and plundered 96 runs from the last 10 overs off which 51 came of the last 3. Waqar Younis, Pakistan’s main weapon was left without a clue as to what hit him when Jadeja along with the tail hit 24 runs off his 48th over and 18 off his 50th. Jadeja hit younis for 3 fours and a six in the 48th over. It was among the most brilliant exhibition of hitting ever seen and Ajay Jadeja turned into superstar in that match. He propelled the Indian score to 287 for 8.
Pakistan was docked one over for slow over rater and had to reach the target in 49 overs. They started off in an explosive manner with Sohail and Saeed Anwar scoring at around 8 an over. Even after Anwar left for 48 off 32 balls, Sohail continued in the same vein and took the score to 113.
Then came the pivotal moment in the match, which is now part of world cup folklore. Venkatesh Prasad, an unknown bowler at the time, was hit for a four by Sohail. For some reason Sohail decided to indulge in some arrogant gamesmanship. Sohail after hitting the shot pointed his bat at the area where the bowl had disappeared and then towards Prasad apparently gesturing where he will send the next one. It was irresponsible from a captain and maybe even caused him to lose his focus.
There was a hush in the stadium and I, watching that on TV, was seething. It was a feeling shared by the millions of other Indians watching that match. Prasad bowled the next ball slightly wide. Sohail attempted the same shot again with utmost contempt. But his feet were not moving and he only managed to drag it back to his stumps. The entire country must have erupted at that second, and I was screaming my head off at the TV and pumping my fits at it. What made the moment even sweeter was Prasad returning the favor by showing the way to the pavilion to Sohail accompanied with a slew of profanities.
The entire mood of the Indian team changed after that. They were revitalized and had a spring in their step. They went on to apply pressure and wickets kept tumbling at regular intervals. But despite some late charge by Rashid Latif, the match was as good as over when Miandad was run out with the score at 239.
The celebrations that occurred later on were unbelievable. The entire country seemed to have gone bonkers and there was spontaneous revelry all around. Perhaps we should have grasped their true feelings when a banner was shown in the stadium stating ‘This is the World Cup final’. And it really was for every Indian cricket fan.