The 1987 World Cup semi-final - exactly 25 years ago - had painful memories for India. This was the game which saw India toppled as World champions, a match that they could well have won. But this game also had an amazing story that is not known to many cricket fans. H Natarajan, who was in the Press Box that day, reminisces about the match and the moments.
“Quit India,” said one banner.
The scene was not from August 1942, when the Quit India Movement was launched, as Indians responded to Mahatma Gandhi's call for freedom from the shackles of British Raj. Thescene was from November 1987. And the banner was inside Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium, where England were playing India in the semi-finals of the Reliance World Cup.
As I took my place in the Press Box to cover the match for the Indian Express, I could see many more jingoistic banners that taunted Mike Gatting’s Englishmen. One cocky Indian fan’s banner had a travel advisory for the Britishers: “Next flight to London at 4.35 pm.”
The Indians, however, were soon to realise that Gatting’s Englishmen were as determined as their ancestors in British Raj.
Kapil Dev won the toss and asked England to take first tenancy rights. Gatting was not disappointed: “It was a good toss to lose,” he admitted.
On what was a slow wicket, the Indian new-ball attack of Kapil and Manoj Prabhakar gave Graham Gooch and Tim Robinson no freedom to score. Twenty runs from the first 10 overs tell a story. The brilliance of Mohammad Azharuddin, Krishnamachari Srikkanth, Maninder Singh and Kapil on the field also played a big part in the slow rate of scoring.
Quite clearly England needed to take a few risks. As was to be expected, it was left to Gooch to take over the role of the dominant partner. He launched into some audacious sweep shots to balls pitched even on or outside the off stump. Gooch singled out Maninder for special treatment, though the left-arm spinner hoodwinked by drifting one away to have Robinson stumped by Kiran More in a flash.
The situation was far from happy when the English captain joined Gooch in the middle – batting on 60 in a total of 69. The experienced Englishmen went meticulously about in tilting the balance of the game in England’s favour. The importance of singles in one-day cricket was beautifully underscored by the two batsmen during the course of the innings; Gooch’s well-crafted 115 had 41 singles, while Gatting’s 56 had 22 singles. But as the innings progressed, they shifted gears to take a heavy toll of the Indian attack and took the score from 150 to 200 in just six overs.
The Englishmen came into the game with a plan to destroy the Indian spinners with the sweep shot. And they executed that plan brilliantly.
Gooch’s fifth ODI ton was an extension of his brilliant form; his scores in the previous innings being 47, 21, 84, 16, 92 and 61.
The exit of the two senior pros in quick succession to Maninder was a big blow to England, who were bottled up by a strong comeback by the Indian bowlers in the slog-overs.
India began their reply with Srikkanth and Sunil Gavaskar – two men who blazed their way against New Zealand at Nagpur in the earlier game. In fact, Gavaskar scored what was his only ODI hundred in that game – 103 off 88 balls.
Sadly, Gavaskar was packed off early by a menacing incoming ball from Phil DeFreitas that pierced the famed Fort Knox-like defense. It was the end of an era. The maestro had played his final innings for India. As he came back, I rose from my seat in the Press Box to give the great man a standing ovation. Neutrality demands that a media person avoids such show of public emotion, but the applause now was thanking the man for a great career – a career in which he gave Indian cricket a new-found respectability in international cricket.
Srikkanth, flamboyant as ever, infused life in the 45,000 capacity crowd by slashing and cutting pacer Gladstone Small for successive boundaries. However, after posting 51 runs for the second wicket with Navjot Singh Sidhu, Srikkanth played early and with his head high to be bowled by Neil Foster.
Sidhu showed some apprehensions against pace by moving towards square-leg. But he soon settled down and looked good for his fifth successive half-century in the tournament, when he drove uppishly and paid the penalty.
Chandrakant Pandit, who retained his place in the eleven after Dilip Vengsarkar failed to recover in time from food poisoning, walked into the crisis at 73 for three. Pandit timed the ball well and, like the Englishmen, used the sweep shot quite productively. He and Azharuddin took a heavy toll of Eddie Hemmings, who was taken off after a first spell of 3-0-26-0.
But Foster, who passed the fitness test in the morning, followed by the wickets of Srikkanth and Sidhu by trapping Pandit lbw with a slower one.
Kapil, who came in at 121 for four in the 29th over, went after the bowling in his inimitable style. But after lofting Hemmings to the mid-wicket fence in the 34th over, he repeated the shot off the very next ball and Gatting, who had posted himself on the fence to trap Kapil, pulled off a good catch. Gatting had termed that shot by Kapil as “silly” in his post-match chat with the media. But the English skipper added, "But that’s the way he plays his game. When he gets going, he murders any attack. If not….”
Gatting was bang on. Three years later, at the very venue he had led India to victory in the 1983 World Cup final, Kapil Dev famously hit four consecutive sixes from the last four balls of Hemmings’ over. India needed 24 runs to avoid the follow-on and Kapil did not want to expose the last man, Narendra Hirwani, at the other end.
The importance of those 24 incredible runs and Kapil’s dare-devilry in going for it was evident in the first ball of the next over when Hirwani was bowed by Angus Fraser.
Coming back to the Wankhede game, even after Azhar fell with the score at 204 in the 42nd over, India had a chance had Kiran More, Manoj Prabhakar and Chetan Sharma given Ravi Shasti the necessary support. But all three unwisely chose to attack - and failed. The end was swift, unexpected and tragic. The reigning champions were dethroned.
As Gavaskar’s international career came to an end, unknown to anybody, a tiny school lad was doing the duty of a ballboy on the fence. The boy went on to play the very next edition of the World Cup and, in the years to come, and in the evening of his career went on to win the coveted title at this very venue where he once doing duty outside the fence! Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar – a truly epic career.
England 254 for six in 50 overs (Graham Gooch 115, Mike Gatting 56; Kapil Dev 2-38, Maninder Singh 3-54) bt India 219 in 45.3 overs (Krishnamachari Srikkanth 31, Mohammad Azharuddin 64, Kapil Dev 30; Neil Foster 3-47 Eddie Hemmings 4-52) by 35 runs.
India vs England World Cup semi-final, Wankhede Stadium
(H Natarajan, formerly All India Deputy Sports Editor of the Indian Express and Senior Editor with Cricinfo/Wisden, is the Executive Editor of CricketCountry.com. A prolific writer, he has written for many of the biggest newspapers, magazines and websites all over the world. A great believer in the power of social media, he can be followed on Facebook athttp://www.facebook.com/H.