By Suhrid Barua
It was not just a game India had to win but also win it comprehensively. The equations were simple and straight: India had to pull off a win at a better run rate if they were to nose ahead of Australia, top the group and avoid the prospect of meeting arch-rivals Pakistan in the semi-finals in Pakistan.
On a day when the Vidarbha Cricket Association (VCA) ground was bathed in glorious sunshine, New Zealand opted to take first strike, which obviously meant that India would have to chase down whatever target Kiwis set in less than the allotted 50 overs.
New Zealand was chipping away nicely, and reached a score of 182 for five and seemed well on course to post a score in excess of 250. From India’s perspective, the need of the hour was to pick up a few quick wickets and restrict the Kiwis to a modest score. Kapil Dev brought back Chetan Sharma in the 42nd over and the bowler dramatically changed the complexion of the match by registering the first-hat-trick of the World Cup, cleaning up Ken Rutherford, Ian Smith and Ewen Chatfield.
Twenty-three years down the line, Chetan recalls the historic moment. “We needed a few quick wickets to tighten our grip on the match. I bowled three dot balls off the first three balls of the 42nd over. Off the fourth ball, I got one to nip back sharply taking Rutherford’s middle stump and then bowled a quicker one that disturbed Ian Smith’s off stump,” he reminisces.
The VCA ground was on its feet, sensing a potential a historic hat-trick. The bowler had a chat with his captain and mentor before bowling the hat-trick ball to tail-ender Chatfield. “Kapil told me to keep it straight. He told me ‘if you get the hat-trick it’s fine, but if you don’t there is nothing to worry as you have got two important wickets which we badly needed. So, I was not under any kind of pressure that I have to make the hat-trick happen,” recalls Chetan, who played in 23 Tests and 65 One-Day Internationals (ODIs).
There were words of wisdom from Sunil Gavaskar as well when Chetan was bowling that hat-trick ball. “Sunnybhai, who was fielding at mid-off, told me to pitch the ball straight and kept reminding me that it was a great opportunity to take a hat-trick.”
The moment-to-savour came when Chetan castled Chatfield. “I was over the moon,” he says.
His hat-trick show was critically responsible for India restricting New Zealand to a score of 221, as any score in excess of 250 would have tested the best out of the Indian batsmen.
Chetan realized the magnitude of his feat later in the evening. “We boarded an evening Indian Airlines flight to Mumbai from Nagpur. All the team members stood up and started clapping on the flight and that’s when I realized that I have achieved something big. Next morning, the newspapers had headlines screaming over my hat-trick,” he reveals.
Chetan later shared the Man of the Match award with Sunil Gavaskar after Little Master blazed his way to his maiden century after hundred-plus ODI appearances – his second last international. The effort helped India overhaul a score of 221 in just 32.1 overs when they were needed to knock off the required runs in 42.2 overs.
“Sunil Gavaskar played an explosive innings which set up our easy win. Sharing the Man of the Match award with a legend like him whom you grow up watching was a massive thing for me,” he recounts.
It is pertinent to point out that Chetan’s participation in the World Cup was under a cloud of uncertainty. He did not figure in the first three games of the World Cup because of a thumb injury he sustained just days before the mega event. “I chipped a bone in my left thumb while fielding off my own bowling during a World Cup charity game against Pakistan at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi,” he remembers.
Chetan, who owns a petrol pump on the Gurgaon-Faridabad Road, has named it “Hat-trick Filling Station.”
“I started it in 2005 and named it after my hat-trick performance at Nagpur,” he says with a glint of pride.His stand-out bowling effort may have sealed India’s berth in the semis as group topper, but the memories of India semi-final defeat to England still rankles. “We made a mess of that chase. I thought we got more cautious and nervous,” was how he looks at that game.
On the upcoming World Cup, he rates India’s chances highly. “In my book, India has their best chance to win the World Cup. They would have the home crowd support and conditions going in their favour. Sri Lanka is also another team who are also stronger contenders,” he signed off.
(Suhrid Barua is a cricket buff who invariably gets pumped up before every India match)