Sourav Ganguly (above) scored 124 runs in the final. His 179-run partnership with Robin Singh (82) helped India in the chase of 315 © AFP
The Independence Cup in Bangladesh in 1997-98 had a rather unusual format: there were 3 league matches to be played in a Round-Robin League format [between India, Pakistan, and the hosts], followed by a best-of-3 final, which meant that there were as many finals as there were group matches.
The finalists for the tournament were quite obvious before the tournament started. Of the three countries (which were parts of one big country half a century back) Bangladesh had not even achieved Tests status, while the other two, on either side of the Wagah Border, have been fighting for the supremacy in Asian cricket for quite some time (though Sri Lanka had usurped the title a couple of years back).
Bangladesh had put up an excellent fight against the Indians in the first match after Javagal Srinath and Debasish Mohanty had bowled them out for 190; India were cruising along at 135 for 2 in the 32nd over when a mini-collapse ensued. It was not until the 47th over that India managed the 4-wicket victory.
The second match was the much-coveted India-Pakistan tie which was curtailed to 37 overs due to fog: Sachin Tendulkar (the previous captain) and Mohammad Azharuddin (the newly reinstated captain) helped India reach 245 for 7: Tendulkar also took a wicket and claimed 4 catches to guide India to an 18-run win.
The Pakistan-Bangladesh tie turned out to be more one-sided than the previous two: once again fog intervened and Bangladesh were bowled out for 136 in the match scheduled for 41 overs; Pakistan chased the target comfortably by a 9-wicket margin with 100 balls to spare.
The first two finals were both one-sided: while Tendulkar, with his 3 wickets and 95, helped India romp to an 8-wicket win with 53 balls to spare in the first final, Pakistan’s 6-wicket victory in the second final with 111 balls in hand was decided by Mohammad Hussain’s 4 for 33. It all came down to the third final.
Azharuddin, playing his 273rd ODI (to equal Allan Border’s world record) won the toss and put Pakistan in, probably banking on the fact that both the previous finals had been decided by quality first-session bowling and easy chases. Two months prior to the final, a Delhi left-arm spinner had picked up 8 for 15 (still a world record) in a List A match against Himachal Pradesh at Una; the bowler, Rahul Sanghvi, made his debut here.
Anwar and Ijaz maul India
Pakistan started in belligerent fashion after 2 overs were deducted from each side, but Harvinder Singh put brakes on their progress by removing Shahid Afridi and Aamer Sohail. Pakistan were reduced to 66 for 2 in 12 overs: it was not really the best possible start for India, but was perhaps acceptable given the flat track and the field-restrictions in the first 15 overs.
Ijaz Ahmed walked out to join Saeed Anwar. Both batsmen had outplayed India single-handedly less than a year before the match: while Anwar had scored the then world record score of 194 at Chennai, Ijaz had bludgeoned the Indian attack to an 84-ball 139 not out at Lahore earlier that season.
The two batsmen got together and went after the bowling almost immediately. It was hard to tell whether Anwar’s paintbrush was more devastating than Ijaz’s battle-axe, but between them they did a perfect job of mauling the Indian bowlers. Sanghvi was punished severely, and none of the part-timers could do anything of note.
The pair added 230 in 202 balls (going past Dean Jones and Border’s 224) before Harvinder finally claimed Anwar’s wicket, but not before the wizard from Karachi had managed to score a 132-ball 140 with 14 fours and 2 sixes. For some reason Rashid Latif held back Inzamam-ul-Haq and promoted Azhar Mahmood. Ijaz, already past his hundred, holed out to Navjot Sidhu off Srinath for a 112-ball 117 with 8 fours and a six.
Latif sent Hussain up the order as a “pinch-hitter”: when Mahmood was eventually caught by Azharuddin off Tendulkar off the last ball of the innings, Pakistan had managed to amass 314 for 5 in the stipulated 48 overs. Mahmood and Hussain had scored 12 runs in the 8 balls they had faced: did Latif miss out on a trick by not getting Inzamam to bat?
The Indian bowlers had a terrible day out: Harvinder had managed to pick up 3 wickets, but his ten overs had cost a woeful 74. The others had fared even worse. Could India chase down 315 — a world record ODI chase at that time — that too in only 48 overs?
Sachin shows the way
Both Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly took a few overs to settle down: then Tendulkar decided that enough was enough and carted Mahmood for 4 fours in the fourth over. Mahmood came round the wicket in his next over, and Tendulkar still managed to hit risk-free boundaries off him.
A desperate Latif turned to Saqlain Mushtaq — the finest spinner in the world at that time – to stop the onslaught. Tendulkar immediately dismissed over his head for six, and kept the momentum going. India reached 71 without loss after 7 overs: the chase was on track.
Latif brought on Afridi: Tendulkar attempted an encore off the second ball, trying to clear long-off but eventually had a leading edge; the ball soared high in the air, and the hearts of a billion sunk in gloom as it descended to the waiting hands of Mahmood at long-off. Tendulkar had scored 41 in 26 balls, but his cameo had ignited the initial fires.
The surprise promotion
It was not the reliable Sidhu that followed, neither was it the Indian captain himself; Ajay Jadeja was held back for the dying stages, as was young Hrishikesh Kanitkar. Azhar sent in a bareheaded Robin Singh instead. One might have thought that the decision was erroneous, since India already had got off to a galloping start, and a long partnership was the need of the hour. Azhar had probably thought it out better than it seemed like.
The two batsmen, Ganguly and Robin Singh, were both renowned six-hitters, albeit in different styles. The elegant Ganguly, more famous for his silken drives through the off, had the ability to clear the ropes by a substantial margin, especially off the spinners; Robin Singh, on the other hand, relied on the muscles and steely wrists of his bottom hand for his big hits, often with a cross-bat.
But more importantly, Robin Singh was perhaps the fastest runner in the Indian side: Azhar had probably banked on him to rotate the strike even when the batsmen got stuck; Ganguly was in good touch, and once provided with a fair share of the strike, he might tear the bowling apart the same way Tendulkar had done.
Not willing to get bogged down after Tendulkar’s dismissal, Ganguly dismissed Saqlain off the back-foot through cover in the next over, and almost immediately lofted Afridi straight over his head for four. Robin Singh got a reprieve when he tried to hit Saqlain off the attack, stepped out, and the stumping opportunity was missed by Latif.
Then Ganguly came to his elements: he stepped out against Afridi and hit the shot they call Bapi, bari jaa (go home, kid) back in Bengal; the customary double-step out of the crease, the high back-lift, and the full flow of the bat saw the ball disappear over long-on for perhaps the cleanest hit of the match.
Almost immediately Robin Singh manufactured a stroke out of nowhere to dispatch Saqlain to the cover boundary, and followed it with a deft steer past point for four more. With the asking rate a shade above 5.50 Latif brought Aaqib Javed back, only to be caressed through cover by Ganguly for four.
Then Robin Singh exploded: when Manzoor Akhtar tossed one up, his bat came down like a bludgeoning hammer and dispatched the ball over long-on in an almost physics-defying fashion. The ball touched the fingertips of the substitute Yousuf Youhana at long-on before disappearing over the ropes.
As light faded Messrs Duckworth and Lewis came into the discussion at the dressing-rooms and the match-referee’s office. Frantic calculations were made and revised targets were set: thanks to the fact that they had lost only a single wicket India required 242 at the end of 30 overs, 268 after 35, and 289 after 40.
Ganguly had a narrow escape when Latif missed another stumping opportunity, this time off the left-arm spin of Hussain. In the same over Robin Singh swept furiously, and the ball went so hard that Ijaz dropped the chance at fine-leg. It was a difficult chance, however: unfortunately for Ijaz the catch did not stick.
Ganguly eventually reached his hundred, and India reached 250 for 1 after 38 overs. Though the light was fading the target of 64 in the remaining ten overs was perfectly achievable. Unfortunately for India Robin Singh was caught by Aaqib off Hussain almost immediately. Robin had scored an 83-ball 82 with 4 fours and a six, and the pair had added 179 in 179 balls.
Azhar walked out at No. 4 and survived a run out, but teed off with a boisterous cover-drive off Hussain for a brace. Ganguly edged Mahmood through third-man for four, but batting was becoming increasingly difficult as the light faded with the passage of time.
India’s intention was clear: they had to score the runs as soon as possible to make sure that the loss of light would not affect them. Ganguly tried to clear Hussain over deep mid-wicket but could only manage a four. However, with 47 to score from 41 balls Azhar tried to place Saqlain past mid-wicket and was caught by Sohail.
Jadeja’s job was well-defined: he simply had to go all-out against the bowlers. Ganguly and Jadeja ran hard for a brace but towards the end of the second run Ganguly was visibly struggling. He was fortunate in the sense that it was Inzamam who had picked up the ball, and he survived a run-out.
With Ganguly down with cramps and every second being crucial, Azhar raced out as his runner. Ganguly, keen to get on with the score, decided to give it the full throttle: not caring much about running, he tried to hoick Aaqib over long-on and was bowled. His epic 138-ball 124 had included 11 fours and a six.
Around this time there was a commotion on the ground. The National Stadium in Dhaka, designed to host football matches, did not have adequate floodlights for a cricket match. The umpires decided to call the match when Azharuddin — who was about to leave the ground — intervened. Fully aware that Pakistan held the Duckworth-Lewis advantage he decided to bat on.
So Sidhu walked out at an uncharacteristic No. 6 and almost immediately leg-glanced Aaqib for four. The joy was, however, short-lived: Saqlain, bowling at the other end, struck Sidhu’s pads and Russell Tiffin raised the dreaded finger. India needed 34 from 28 balls.
The ball was almost impossible to spot: poor Kanitkar kept on groping and missing in the dark, but he still managed to steal two from long-off; Latif kept on bowling with Aaqib at one end, whose was almost impossible to pick. Nevertheless, Jadeja managed to pierce the gap at extra-cover to find a boundary off Saqlain.
One might have thought Latif had probably missed out on a trick by not getting two seamers to bowl in the dark, but Saqlain proved him right: Jadeja attempted to steer Saqlain, missed the line completely, and was bowled. Nayan Mongia missed the first ball he faced – a doosra – completely, but managed to connect the next for a single.
The dying stages
With 18 to score from 2 overs Mongia moved outside leg-stump to give himself room; Aaqib pitched up, despite the darkness and Aaqib’s pace Mongia connected, and the ball raced through cover for four, and the batsmen stole a single the next ball. Kanitkar, who was somehow managing to sight the ball perfectly, managed to extract a single off the next ball.
The background was pitch black as Aaqib steamed in. He attempted a yorker that Mongia somehow managed to get an edge on, and the batsmen scurried for a brace as the ball ran to deep square-leg. Mongia connected the next one again and the batsmen crossed ends.
Kanitkar missed the last ball, but the batsmen decided to run anyway: Latif rolled the ball, aiming perfectly to hit the stumps, and his throw found Mongia short of the crease. India required 9 off the last over as Srinath walked out with only Harvinder and Sanghvi left in the pavilion. Saqlain was assigned the final over.
Could the inexperienced southpaw and the fast bowler pull off a victory off the most guileful bowler in the world? Saqlain pitched one short, but Kanitkar, despite having ample time to hit it for a four, could only play it to deep fine-leg for a single. 8 off 5.
Saqlain tossed one up, and Srinath went for a wild slog. Had he connected well the ball might have cleared the boundary, but it struck slightly on the outside of the bat: Kanitkar and Srinath ran frantically and squeezed a couple. India required 6 from 4 balls.
Saqlain bowled a straighter one this time, and Srinath tried to clear the ground again; the ball went high, very high up in air towards mid-on… three fielders converged around it… surely one of them was going to take the catch? No! All three were perhaps under the assumption that one of the others would go for it, and the ball landed between all three. The batsmen ran two more: India now needed 4 from 3.
Once again the wily off-spinner bowled – this time a shade outside off-stump; Srinath waited for it and steered the ball to third-man, and Kanitkar was off in a flash. The ends were exchanged. 3 from 2 now: Srinath had done his job; it was down to Kanitkar now.
Saqlain bowled; Kanitkar swung; the ball sped through the vacant mid-wicket for four! The batsmen hugged themselves, as did the men back in the dressing-room; Ganguly and Robin Singh, the main architects of the victory, ran out to congratulate young Kanitkar, who had managed to keep his cool in the moments of crisis against one of the finest ODI bowlers the world had seen.
The world record was overhauled. Tendulkar won the Man of the Series for his all-round performances and Azharuddin lifted the trophy, but the loudest cheer was saved for the man who spoke the tongue of the locals: Ganguly had become the hero of a home away from home in an unbelievable evening in Dhaka.
Greater chases have been made and after the match. However, seldom has a chase made in conditions these difficult. Ganguly and Robin Singh had laid the foundation after the Tendulkar explosion, but almost as heroic were the cameos from Jadeja, Sidhu, Kanitkar, Mongia, and Srinath — none of whom crossed 11 — in the most abysmal of light conditions cricket has ever been played with the white ball.
Pakistan 314 for 5 in 48 overs (Saeed Anwar 140, Ijaz Ahmed 117; Harvinder Singh 3 for 74) lost to India 316 for 7 in 47.5 overs (Sourav Ganguly 124, Sachin Tendulkar 41, Robin Singh 82, ; Saqlain Mushtaq 3 for 66) by 3 wickets.
Man of the Match: Sourav Ganguly.
Man of the Series: Sachin Tendulkar.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)