On October 2, 1997, Pakistan clinched a three-match One-Day International (ODI) series 2-1 over arch rivals Pakistan at the Gadaffi Stadium, Lahore. The wrecker-in-chief was Ijaz Ahmed, who with his belligerent hitting took the game away from India. Sarang Bhalerao revisits Ijaz’s best ODI knock.
India had visited Pakistan after eight years for a three-match ODI series. The series assumed historic proportions since an India-Pakistan match is akin to the Orwellian philosophy of war minus shooting. If the first match was won comfortably by the home team at Hyderabad, India bounced back in the second game at Karachi, thus arousing a lot of interest in the third encounter at Lahore. Every vantage position had been taken by the crowd to witness the deciding match of the series.
Pakistan chose to field in the decisive match at Lahore. Aaqib Javed dismissed Sachin Tendulkar for seven. Sourav Ganguly, who had scored 89 in the previous game, got to a good start but fell for 26 to Saqlain Mushtaq. Azhar Mahmood then was in the middle of a spell where he could do no wrong. He dismissed Robin Singh (17), Vinod Kambli (6) and Mohammad Azharuddin (6) to leave India at 77 for five.
The onus of resurrection fell on Ajay Jadeja. He stitched a partnership of 53 with Saba Karim to take India to a respectable total; Jadeja (76) was the top-scorer. India committed the cardinal sin of getting bowled out inside 50 overs and scored a mere 216 on a track that did not have too many jitters.
The Ijaz show
Ijaz Ahmed opened the innings for Pakistan along with Shahid Afridi. The duo looked in total command right from the outset. While Afridi was hell-bent on taking the cover off the ball right from the outset, Ijaz bided his time before launching the assault.
Ijaz smashed Abey Kuruvilla straight for a boundary and then thumped him over long-on for a six to get going. The six was followed by a delicate flick which beat short fine-leg for a boundary. Debasis Mohanty went for 24 runs in one over with Ijaz pulling him for a six over mid-wicket and Afridi going hammer and tongs at the other end. Both the Pakistan openers were looking for big shots which made life for the bowlers difficult. The wicket offered no movement for the opening bowlers, which compounded captain Tendulkar’s predicament. Pakistan raced away to a fantastic start.
Soon, the introduction of spin did the trick for India. Afridi was dismissed for 47 off 23 balls, caught by Tendulkar off Nilesh Kulkarni. As they say the best way to control the run-rate is by picking up wickets. Factor in Ijaz’s aggression and the philosophy turns out to be null and void. The fall of wicket did not have any impact on Ijaz — in fact, he took the role of the aggressor and befuddled Indian team.
Ijaz took the aerial route and personified superciliousness. Kulkarni switched to a tactic of bowling over the wicket but Ijaz danced down the track and clubbed him over long-on to thwart the left-arm spinner’s plans.
Rajesh Chauhan was not allowed to settle. He was driven through the covers for a boundary by Ijaz thus rounding off a very ordinary display of bowling. The six over long-on from Chauhan broke the spirits of the Indians and the crowd — some of them sitting on the roof-tops became delirious.
Kulkarni switched over to round the wicket but Ijaz hit him inside out over long-off for a six. There was no stopping Ijaz at Lahore. He was lacing his tunes, if this were a contest of boxing Ijaz the pugilist was so near to delivering the knock-out punch.
With sublime touches, the shrewd tactician Ijaz came to the fore. At 94 he hit Sourav Ganguly for a straight six to bring his century in only 68 balls.
Robin Singh was introduced in the 24th over of the innings. He bowled a full-toss first up which went sailing over square-leg. In the next over Robin committed the cardinal sin of bowling short. For the man batting on 100-plus this was an early Christmas present. The ball was duly hit towards mid-wicket for a four. The length ball, an innocuous delivery, was carted over mid-wicket for a huge six.
Needing four to win Ijaz charged down the track to Ganguly and hit a six over long-on — his ninth in the 84 ball innings. In the blink of an eye, he finished the game for Pakistan and his innings of 139 was an anthology in utter domination right from the outset. The innings consisted of 10 boundaries and nine sixes. Pakistan won the game in 26.2 overs.
The feature of Ijaz’s batting was his sparkling hitting. The boundaries looked short as he was easily clearing the ropes. Such was the impact of the innings that Indian captain Tendulkar in the post-match presentation said that Ijaz’s knock was one of the greatest one-day innings.
India 216 in 49.2 overs (Ajay Jadeja 76; Azhar Mahmood 3 for 34) lost to Pakistan 219 for 1 in 26.2 overs (Ijaz Ahmed 139*) by 9 wickets.
Man of the Match: Ijaz Ahmed
(Sarang Bhalerao hails from a family of doctors, but did his engineering. He then dumped a career in IT with Infosys to follow his heart and passion and became a writer with CricketCountry. A voracious reader, Sarang aspires to beat Google with his knowledge of the game! You can follow him on Twitter here)