Ajay Jadeja smashed 45 off 25 balls, studded with 4 fours and 2 sixes, including a maximum over long-on played on back-foot. Waqar Younis, one of the most feared bowlers in the world at the time, was slaughtered for 40 runs in his last 2 overs, after the previous 8 had yielded just 27. Photo courtesy: screengrab from Cricket Videos Unlimited YouTube channel
Ajay Jadeja smashed 45 off 25 balls, studded with 4 fours and 2 sixes, including a maximum over long-on played on back-foot. Waqar Younis, one of the most feared bowlers in the world at the time, was slaughtered for 40 runs in his last 2 overs, after the previous 8 had yielded just 27. Photo courtesy: screengrab from Cricket Videos Unlimited YouTube channel

March 9, 1996 was a day when Bangalore’s Chinnaswamy Stadium witnessed one of the most intense India-Pakistan clashes in the World Cup. Jaideep Vaidya goes back to the day when a captain withdrew, a prince went on rampage and a legend retired.

In March, 1992, India and Pakistan clashed at SCG in the Benson & Hedges World Cup, where Mohammad Azharuddin‘s team won by 43 runs. Even though Pakistan went on to win what was their first World Cup, both results were taken in kind by the masses from either side. Indian legend Sunil Gavaskar was invited for the celebrations in Lahore and Karachi, and the Little Master gladly attended, much against the wishes of right-wing strongman Bal Thackeray.

Then, in December the same year, Hindu fanatics destroyed Ayodhya’s Babri Masjid. The repercussions that followed were highlighted by one of the worst Hindu-Muslim riots India has ever witnessed. These were succeeded by the Mumbai serial bombings in early 1993, which further divided the country and deeply affected Indo-Pak relations, as the mastermind behind the bombings was allegedly hiding in Pakistan.

In spite of all the love lost between the two nations, their respective cricket bodies, along with Sri Lanka, successfully bid for the next edition of the World Cup. India and Pakistan were put in separate groups and would play their group matches in their respective countries. But, what if they qualified for the knock-out rounds? Did the organisers even think of the scenario? Probably not, according to historian Ramachandra Guha, who writes in his book A Corner of a Foreign Field: “The administrators, contemplating the takings, would not ask the question.”

As luck would have it, the two teams met in the quarter-finals of the tournament. Luckily, Bangalore was the scheduled venue for the tie and not Mumbai, where Thackeray was crying himself hoarse calling for a boycott. On the day of the match, all roads in Bangalore were empty, and led to either the Chinnaswamy Stadium or in front of a television set.

“It was quite an event,” said local boy, fast bowler Javagal Srinath. “The whole world was looking up to this game and both teams were under tremendous pressure to deliver. There were a lot of discussions and a lot of talks, but we had a different strategy — less team meetings. Everybody was asked to have their own thoughts over the game and we just met once [before the game]. We wanted to beat the tension down.”

Amidst all the cut-throat tension, the two captains — Azhar and Aamer Sohail — walked out for the toss on D-Day. Sohail was standing in for Wasim Akram, who had pulled out from the game due to a muscle strain. Azhar won the toss and put his team in to bat. ‘Electrifying’ is too mild a word to describe the atmosphere in the stadium as Waqar Younis ran in to bowl the first ball to Navjot Sidhu. The cheers grew louder as the ball strayed down the leg for a wide.

Sidhu and Sachin Tendulkar provided a decent start to India. While Sidhu went for the shots, Tendulkar looked to rotate strike and keep himself at the crease. Sidhu, a prolific cutter, survived a few edges that went flying past first slip for four early on, but slowly grew in confidence. His late cuts were a joy to watch, and as the spinners were brought on, he began to use his feet against them to finesse. While he lost Tendulkar (31) and, then, Sanjay Manjrekar (20) soon, Sidhu carried on. He looked set on a big hundred, but on 93, was foxed by Mushtaq Ahmed’s flipper. India were 168 for three at this stage with less than 14 overs to go.

Azhar departed on 200 for 4 after a quick-fire 27 off 22 balls, and this brought the young prince, Ajay Jadeja, to the crease. He lost Vinod Kambli (24) and Nayan Mongia (3) in quick succession, and was joined by Anil Kumble for the last few overs. After making his mark as a 21-year-old in the 1992 World Cup by taking a spectacular outfield catch to dismiss Australian skipper Allan Border, Jadeja, the batsman, announced himself and became a nation-wide hero at the Chinnaswamy.

The 25-year-old, with some help from Kumble and Srinath, took India’s score from 236 for 6 in 46 overs to 287 for 8 in 50. Waqar, one of the most feared bowlers in the world at the time, was slaughtered for 40 runs in his last 2 overs, after the previous 8 had yielded just 27. Jadeja slashed his blade at everything that came his way and hit 45 vital runs from 25 balls, studded with 4 fours and 2 sixes, including a maximum over long-on played on the backfoot.

“I just was in the zone during that knock,” Jadeja was to tell ESPNCricinfo later. “Everything went according to a perfectly executed script, except that it didn’t go the distance — I got out on the second ball of the last over. Pakistani wicketkeeper Rashid Latif, who had the best seat in the house, said, “Jadeja’s innings probably ranks as one of the best I have seen in ODIs…Waqar seemed under pressure, probably the first time I have seen him like that during the death overs, and the score just went out of our hands. Jadeja usually liked to chat a bit, and we got on well anyway, but that day he didn’t say anything — he just did it.”

That cameo in the death overs was to give “a new energy” to India, Srinath was to recall later. 288 was no easy target and what’s worse, the Pakistanis were docked one over from their chase due to a slow over-rate. However, this did not mean that the game was over, at least not for the Indian fans. This was Pakistan after all, who always managed to find that extra bit of motivation against India.

Pakistan were off to a flying start via Saeed Anwar and Sohail. The duo raced to 49 for nil in 7 overs, as all the boundaries were met with a hush. While the talented Anwar’s strokeplay was natural and smooth, Sohail had to resort to stepping out, giving himself width and taking risks. However different the two strategies, they worked, and at one point it looked as if the target would be achieved in less than 45 overs.

However, the prolonged hush was to transform into a roar in the 22nd over as Anwar (48 off 32 balls) holed out to mid-on to make it 84 for one. Meanwhile, Sohail carried on. He continued to give himself room and slashed hard. Venkatesh Prasad, who was being clobbered, moved to around the wicket. It made no difference to Sohail as he pelted him to the cover boundary. Prasad gave the Pakistani a long stare following that shot, to which Sohail responded with pointing his bat towards the direction of the ball and saying something on the lines of, “I’ll hit you there again.” The same over, a nothing shot claimed his stumps, much to a charged-up Prasad’s joy. The incident remains one of the most memorable from that World Cup. Sohail had scored 55 from 45 balls.

Ijaz Ahmed (12) and Inzamam-ul-Haq (12) did not last long after that, and it was left to the experience of Saleem Malik and Javed Miandad to take Pakistan towards their target. The duo shared a 52-run fifth-wicket stand before Kumble trapped Malik in front for 38. Miandad then combined with wicketkeeper Rashid Latif (26) and took the score to 231 for 5 before Latif was stumped by his counterpart Mongia. Mushtaq came in and left without scoring as Pakistan slumped to 232 for seven with about five overs to go. It was surely India’s match now?

Not until Miandad was there. The then 39-year-old, who was long due to retire at the end of the tournament, was the chief thorn in India’s side during his peak as a batsman. Probably no Indian in the stadium had forgotten that last-ball six in Sharjah off Chetan Sharma that snatched a sure win from India. As long as Miandad was there, Pakistan had a chance.

However, with 49 to get from 24 balls, Miandad was run out for 38. The malicious ovation that followed as Miandad walked back to the pavilion was like one never seen before. It was rather sad witnessing the greatest batsman Pakistan has ever produced be sent off in such a manner. Guha, who was present at the Chinnaswamy provides a first-hand account: “When he walked off the ground I stood up to applaud him. ‘Why are you clapping?’ asked an obnoxious fellow from a row behind. ‘You should clap him too,’ I answered, recklessly. ‘He is a truly great player, and this is the last time any of us will see him bat.’ ‘Thank God I shall never see the bastard again,’ came the reply.”

Pakistan eventually lost by 49 runs and were knocked out.

What followed?

While there was bloated, almost ostentatious, patriotic celebration on one side of the border, the other side witnessed mindless violence with television sets being smashed and a bunch of dissatisfied and riled fans gathering at Lahore airport with abusive placards and rotten eggs. While Wasim Akram received death threats for missing the game, another disgruntled fan filed a petition in the court against the team’s performance. While a man called Jaffar Khan, too shocked after watching his team lose on TV, fired bullets into the box before shooting himself, another 55-year-old man suffered a heart-attack and died. Perhaps the height of it all was reached when people started to blame it on the fact that the country had a woman Prime Minister in Benazir Bhutto.

You couldn’t help but think that the situation would’ve pretty much been the same in India had their team lost. This was proved in the semifinal against Sri Lanka, played at Calcutta, when the tempestuous public took to bottle-throwing and chair-breaking after India collapsed from 98 for one to 120 for 8. The match was eventually awarded by default to Sri Lanka.

Alan Lee wrote in Wisden following that match: “Perhaps, however, we should not be too harsh on the individuals responsible for the Calcutta riot. They were merely responding to the seductions created for them by the promoters of the Wills World Cup, an event that plainly, disastrously, put money-making above all the fundamentals of organising a global sporting competition. As the glamourising of the Indian and Pakistani cricketers reached new and absurd heights, so too did the unshakeable belief in the masses of their invincibility.”

Brief scores:

India 287 for 8 in 50 overs (Navjot Sidhu 93, Ajay Jadeja 45*) beat Pakistan 248 for 9 in 49 overs (Aamer Sohail 55, Saeed Anwar 48; Venkatesh Prasad 3 for 45, Anil Kumble 3 for 48) by 39 runs.

Man of the Match: Navjot Sidhu.

(Jaideep Vaidya is a multiple sports buff and a writer at CricketCountry. He has a B.E. in Electronics Engineering, but that isn’t fooling anybody. He started writing on sports during his engineering course and fell in love with it. The best day of his life came on April 24, 1998, when he witnessed birthday boy Sachin Tendulkar pummel a Shane Warne-speared Aussie attack from the stands during the Sharjah Cup Final. A diehard Manchester United fan, you can follow him on Twitter @jaideepvaidya. He also writes a sports blog – The Mullygrubber )