I grew up in a small hilly town in the northeast of the country, where rains were a daily fixture, and it looked green as far as your eyes could see. I’m now at a place where both things are more impossible than pipe dreams bearing fruits. One of the constants in both the eras has been my love for cricket, the game, and Indian Men’s Cricket Team. The biggest, but not necessarily the best matchup for the team has been with Pakistan. And what better stage for this than the World Cup?
9th March, 1996
This story begins in 1996. On a night in what was then Bangalore, Aamir Sohail felt it right to show an Indian medium pacer his place on the park.
Prasad vs Sohail – Part 1. Image courtesy : YouTube screenshot.
To do what he did, gesturing with his bat to Venkatesh Prasad, as if saying, “Go fetch the ball,” was deemed a direct insult, and not just by my seven-year old brain. I didn’t understand the backdrop to the rivalry but I knew what beating them meant. They “fixed every match in Sharjah by having favourable umpiring,” elders in the family never ceased to tell me. Also, they were, to use a mild word, the villains of our cricket team’s story. It’d be years before I learnt of the “lions at home, lambs abroad” record. But that didn’t matter. This did. Beating them.
If you see, I haven’t mentioned who “them” is. For people on both sides of the Radcliffe Line, the team from the other side was, and is, “them”, the villains in their respective stories.
Back to the match.
Everyone was incensed in the house. The living room, hall as we used to call it, was packed. The whole joint family was huddled there, the elders on the sofas, some others on cane stools and wooden seats, and us kids on the bed, barely five feet away from the BPL television set. Years later, watching highlights of the match, I realised how grainy and dark the footage looked.
Prasad vs Sohail – Part 2. Image courtesy : YouTube screenshot.
Anyway, Prasad’s retort, knocking out the off stump and asking Sohail to basically “get the f*** out of here,” got us pumped. There was no stump mic feed, but the gestures spoke everything. I don’t remember Sidhu’s innings, or Jadeja’s T20-ish finish. But I do remember this passage.
The other memory from the match is of Mushtaq Ahmed walking back to the pavilion, under a dark sky and a floodlit stadium, his face barely visible under the helmet, the fans in the stands going nuts at the impending win, and Tony Greig on commentary pronouncing his name “Mistake Aahmed.” Cue laughter.
The 1996 World Cup is my first definitive memory of watching cricket. I don’t remember much of the semifinal though, except for the Eden Gardens crowd throwing bottles on the outfield and family elders painting all Bengalis with the same brush. That the tournament redefined tv viewership of cricket, and the stakes and the moolahs to be had, came much later to my understanding.
8th June, 1999
For some reason, I have zero memories of the India vs Pakistan match of this world cup. I guess part of the reason could be the time zone, or that the school was open. And because India performed poorly in that tournament, except for this match, I never even went back to implant memories by watching highlights. It felt, and still feels, far more emotionally fulfilling and wrecking, both, to revisit the Edgbaston semifinal, “the greatest ODI ever played.” I don’t know whether I watched that match, but the memories are as sharp as any, specially of the tragicomic end.
1st March, 2003
There needs to be some extra context and background to this one.
By the time the 2003 World Cup started, I was preparing for my 10th board exams. The Pakistan match was two days before my exams started, while the final happened to be a day after the fifth and last one. While millions of kids, like me, are told every year that the 10th board exams are the most important event in my life, cricket mattered a hell lot as well to the fan in me.
The Indian juggernaut was rolling by the time of this match, having washed away the poor form they had since the New Zealand tour earlier in the year. Comprehensive wins against Zimbabwe, Namibia and England meant all the negativity after the loss to Australia, the stone-pelting and the effigy-burning, already felt like another year. We — family and friends in school — were quietly confident about the chances of our team. Trouble was, Pakistan had enough all-time stars and individual quality to make us feel worried. There was Shoaib Akhtar, who ran in from beyond the advertising logos at the end of the 30 yard circle, chest puffing out, centre-parted zulfein (hair) bouncing on his temples, muscles bulging as if he would pummel batsmen into submission with his fists if the ball wasn’t enough. He was all this to us, as also the “throw bowler.” Messrs. Waqar and Wasim, W & W, were there too, the greatest subcontinental pace duo and the villains of so many matches in the 90s. And then there were Inzamam-ul-Haq and Saeed Anwar. Each one of these players had played their part in taking Pakistan’s already-imposing ODI head-to-head against India to newer heights. We weren’t sure what was going to happen.
Pakistan won the toss and batted first. The huge, almost vulgar gap between the visor and the grille of Taufeeq Umar’s helmet, practically goaded the bowler to forget the stumps and aim for his nose. He had a typical lefty’s batting action, arms and feet in a whirl before the bat came down from third slip to meet the ball. There was the quintessential Inzamam run-out. And then there was Saeed Anwar. He had this flowing beard, like men of religion. I was wondered why he was sporting a beard like an old man? I remember the unsuppressible grins of the two openers, Umar and Anwar. I also remember thinking, and this may be a planted memory, that someone should wipe those grins off their faces.
Has there been a more iconic shot? Image courtesy.
The binding memory of that match for every Indian fan will be that Sachin uppercut. Even after all these years, I’ve been unable to comprehend how anyone could hit that. His inning that day expanded the boundaries of fandom. The shots he played against some of the best bowlers in the world, and the way it ended, showed vividly that having art, violence, silky smoothness and heartbreak, all together, is one of the inherent characteristic of sport. His 98 off 75 would not be out of place even in this year’s tournament, a full 16 years later, when the features of ODI batting have changed so much. That’s how far ahead he was that day, and at his best.
It was symptomatic of Sachin’s career in the 90s, the way that inning in March 2003 ended, and at the point it did. India were 177/4 when he got out, with a further 98 runs needed from just over 22 overs. Shoaib Akhtar’s snorter of a delivery, and Shahid Afridi’s sliding catch at point, felt such an anticlimactic moment to me that I couldn’t believe he had actually been dismissed. I mean, he was only two runs away from a hundred, and he was spanking the same bowler to different parts of the ground. How could…?
Dravid and Yuvraj are congratulated by the Pakistani players. Image courtesy.
But this wasn’t the Indian team of the 90s, when Sachin being dismissed was the signal for the viewers to turn their tv sets off. For all the clichéd use of the phrase, this was New India, forged by Sourav Ganguly and John Wright. Kaif, Dravid and Yuvraj ensured that the late-afternoon glow at the end of the match, when the sun had almost gone down below the stadium’s roof, was extra sweet for us.
15th April, 2007
This match never happened. India and Pakistan both were bundled out of their groups after losing to less-fancied oppositions, India to Bangladesh and Pakistan to Ireland. So the other two teams slugged it out in Bridgetown, Barbados.
But some background.
Between 2003 and 2007, as I grew up from a secondary school kid to a collegian, India and Pakistan played each other in bilateral series every year. I and my brother also read The Sportstar magazine almost on a weekly basis. We used to keep the radio tuned to AIR FM Gold, which used to broadcast live commentary of the matches, and play cricket in the yard, bowling to each other. The 2003-04 Australia tour was the watershed moment in following cricket for me. It was then that I started following every Test, every series that India played, often noting down scorecards from the matches, Tests specially, on pages that I have kept with myself even to this day. With increased following came an understanding of the game that helped acknowledge the class and genius of other teams and their players, including Pakistan’s. I marvelled at Yousuf Youhana/Mohammad Yousuf’s brilliance and Younis Khan’s Bradman-esque record against India as much as I enjoyed Sehwag’s ability to cut loose in every series between these two teams.
30th March, 2011
The first post-studies World Cup for me. A world cup semifinal. An insane hype train. Celebrities by the dozens in the stand. The prime ministers of both countries watching the match at the stadium, doing cricket diplomacy.
That roar. Image courtesy.
In the grudge match of a quarterfinal, India played Australia. After Yuvraj Singh let out a primal roar, and we felt the ghosts of 2003 being exorcised, it dawned on us that it was India v Pakistan in the semifinal. Beat the favourite opponent and get a chance to win the cup.
Watching highlights of the match, I was reminded of many things from that day. It was a work day, and a day-night match. So I and some other colleagues watched India’s innings on streaming at the office. The second half I watched at an eatery near my room, with 30-40 people cramped in front of a 21” TV set, standing outside the shop too, covering every square foot that offered a view of the goings-on.
Sachin’s “charmed life,” as I remember a headline in Cricinfo, was a strange occurrence. Here was India’s best batsman, getting five lives! A DRS reprieve, dropped catches, what the heck was happening? Pakistan had a 0-4 record against India in World Cups coming into this match, but a win against them wasn’t a foregone conclusion, ever. And heck, they had to be good enough to get to this stage of the tournament.
“Exhausted all the lives I got.” Image courtesy.
They showed how good they were through Wahab Riaz, whose five-wicket haul I’d forgotten. When Virat Kohli got out (more on that in a bit), I thought, no worries, Yuvi is coming. Yuvraj had been India’s man of the series till then, and would go on to win the ICC’s player of the tournament award after the final. So, it is safe to say we expected him to come good. Except, he came in, took guard, Wahab steamed in, and it seemed his bat and the ball were living in parallel universes for the split-second that it took for the ball to leave the bowler’s hand and cannon into the stumps, and with that, leave us viewers concussed when the two universes collided.
Woof! What just happened? Image courtesy.
Even now, knowing the result of the match, the fear and the feeling of impending doom at watching the fall of the Indian wickets is as palpable for me as it was back then.
The Kohli dismissal was identical to the way he was dismissed by Mohammad Amir in the final of the 2017 Champions Trophy. The same left-arm pacer angle, the same flick to the leg side, and the leading edge gobbled up by point on both occasions. As much a carbon copy as can be.
The choke is on. Image courtesy.
Let’s get that cup. Image courtesy.
At the end, as Kohli let rip at long-on with his choice words after catching Misbah-ul-Haq, the whole eatery erupted in joy, a bit less than how it would two nights later, when fantasy became real for us for the second time after the 2007 World T20.
15th February, 2015
King Kohli takes centerstage. Image courtesy.
The 2011 match, along with the fortunes of the two teams in this decade of the 21st century, made one thing clear for most of us. Despite all the hype, Pakistan had never yet beaten India in a World Cup. Why? Oftentimes, the Pakistani players looked to be playing with the weight of a blue whale on their shoulders, while India played methodically. The hype never matched the reality, with India running out comfortable winners in the end every time. The 2012 and 2014 World T20s only reinforced this belief.
Still, India vs Pakistan is India vs Pakistan. Hype or no hype, you can’t miss this match.
Once India racked up 300 on the day, Pakistan were never in the game. The letdown was immense. The opening match of the world cup for the teams, so much interest, and one team didn’t even look like contesting for half the match. Tch tch.
#Scenes in Adelaide. Image courtesy.
16th June, 2019
These vignettes from the past bring us to the present. There is nothing in the form book to suggest India aren’t going to win on Sunday. They have a superior ODI record, have been in the knockouts and finals of most of the ICC events in this decade, and have a depth in bowling, specially, that is making up for the historical weaknesses with every passing match.
Except, there’s the 2017 Champions Trophy final.
After giving Pakistan a drubbing in the league stage, and but for a hiccup against Sri Lanka, waltzing into the final, we felt it was a formality that India were going to win a second-consecutive CT. But that’s not how it turned out. Our complacency and arrogance were shattered in the most comprehensive manner that day.
India have learnt tactical and mental lessons from that loss, bringing in attacking wristspinners and bolstering the middle-order batting, while Pakistan are the same maddening, inconsistent side they were four years ago. I am expecting an India win, but more than that, I want a hard-fought match for the ages. Of course, as history has shown, neither of those is guaranteed. Let’s hope rain doesn’t win, at least.
Featured image courtesy.
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