Why wage a war if you have the grandest of alternatives?  © Getty Images
Why wage a war if you have the grandest of alternatives? © Getty Images

A resilient India took on a determined Pakistan in the mother of all battles at Old Trafford in the backdrop of the Kargil War on June 8, 1999. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at a day of intense cricket, the kind of which even Lancashire has seldom witnessed despite her rich history.

It was on May 3 that some local shepherds on the Indian side had spotted alien intruders in Kargil. The first Indian patrol reached Kargil two days later. By May 9 there was heavy shelling at Kargil. In another week a chunk of the army moved from Kashmir sector to Kargil sector. ICC World Cup 1999 had got under way at Lord’s meanwhile; India played their first match against South Africa at Hove on May 15, while Pakistan played West Indies at Bristol on May 16.

On June 5 Indian army proved Pakistan’s involvement in the intrusion. On the same day Lance Klusener assaulted Pakistani attacks to snatch an outrageous victory. On the previous day India were mauled by Glenn McGrath at The Oval. India launched a major assault on the Pakistani army at Kargil on June 6. Mohammad Azharuddin’s men took on Wasim Akram’s two days later at Old Trafford.

Given the backdrop it was impossible for most Indians and Pakistanis to look at the match as just another cricket contest. News poured in from the frontier on either side. The innocent, reduced to mere pawns in the hands of those with the sceptre, were being butchered. Parents and partners and children spent anxious nights back home. Even the World Cup, where Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid and Wasim Akram and Shoaib Akhtar and Moin Khan were doing wonderful things, was overshadowed.

The non-residential Indians and Pakistanis were not spared from the intensity of it, either. They queued up outside Old Trafford well before the match, dressed in national colours of blue and green. Flags fluttered, as did banners; and musical instruments of all nature blared through the day. “The rival fans, flag-waving, whistle-blowing and drum-beating, created a passionate atmosphere unimaginable in English cricket,” wrote Wisden.

“Passionate” is perhaps the most overused adjectives cricket fans employ to describe themselves. It is usually restricted to painting the face and throwing stones at homes of failed heroes, but on that day, amidst all the intensity, the word would not have been a cliché to describe the 21,953-strong crowd at Old Trafford. Despite a few minor incidents the focus was on cricket, and the match played was as intense as any in the tournament till then.

It was also the third World Cup match between the two sides. India had prevailed, rather easily at the end, at SCG in 1992 and at Chinnaswamy in 1996. Could they pull off a hat-trick?

Azhar steps up

India faced a major blow before the match took place. Ganguly, in good form throughout the tournament (he scored 96 against South Africa before winning Man of the Match Awards against Sri Lanka and England) was ruled out because of an injury, which led the team management to rope in Sadagoppan Ramesh. Moin, on the other hand, braved a broken finger and played the match.

Heavy rain had left the ground waterlogged 24 hours before the match, but the groundstaff did an excellent job in ensuring the match started on time. Azhar won the toss and elected to bat. Tendulkar flicked the third ball of the morning for two to become the third batsman (after Javed Miandad and Viv Richards) to the 1,000-run mark in World Cups. Tendulkar looked in touch, but the tension showed: and he could not be blamed, either.

Tendulkar eventually opened up with a (possibly predetermined) hoick off Shoaib through mid-wicket for four. Then Ramesh unleashed one of those strokes that earned him a place in the World Cup: Shoaib bowled short, Ramesh stretched out with zero footwork, and the resultant cut raced outrageously fast to the fence. Almost immediately he pulled Wasim with disdain (again without footwork) for four more.

Shoaib was not amused. The second ball of his sixth over came at a menacing pace, and Ramesh paid the price for playing without footwork: the ball sped through the gate and crashed on to the stumps. Dravid walked out and flicked Shoaib for four off the third ball he faced. India were in no mood for getting bogged down.

Wasim and Shoaib had to be replaced by Abdur Razzaq and Azhar Mahmood, and Tendulkar and Dravid opened up. Both men were extremely strong off their back-foot, and neither bowler was fast or crafty enough to cause them trouble on a true surface. Saqlain Mushtaq was greeted with 21 off his first three overs. India raced to 95 for one in the 21st over, Tendulkar looking solid on 45.

Then Tendulkar came down the pitch to clear Saqlain at mid-off; Mahmood bowled slightly slow and wide, Tendulkar continued with the stroke, and Saqlain caught him easily. Ajay Jadeja, the man who had massacred Waqar Younis in 1996, struggled before Mahmood got one to lift off a length: Jadeja tried to fend it off, and the ball flew to the right of Inzamam-ul-Haq at first slip; the big man flung himself to his right to reach the ball, split a web in the process, but came up with a spectacular catch.

Azhar walked out, and suddenly the bowling that seemed easy to feast on looked formidable. Dravid struggled for runs, and when he finally went for a desperate cut Ijaz Ahmed dropped him at backward point. His fifty came up in 70 balls, and shortly afterwards he was caught by a leaping Shahid Afridi at cover off Wasim. Dravid has scored 32 from the first 38 balls he faced; his next 50 fetched him 29.

Azhar tried to break the shackles, trying to clear mid-wicket fence of Saqlain, and was dropped by Afridi on the fence. It ran for four, but India meandered to 177 for four off 44 overs. Then Robin Singh opened up, hammering Saqlain into the stands over mid-wicket. Both men ran madly, Moin missed a stumping of Azhar off Saqlain, and Azhar took advantage to hoick Saqlain over long-on next ball.

Azhar started the next over with two boundaries in three balls off Shoaib to reach his fifty. Both men fell in quick succession trying to go for the big shots, and India finished on 227 for six. It was probably fifty less than what they had expected when Tendulkar and Dravid were no song. India had managed to subdue Shoaib (10-0-54-1) and Saqlain (10-0-67-0), but it was Wasim (10-0-27-2) they had troubles with.

Those men from Karnataka

Come Pakistan, come World Cup, come Venkatesh Prasad © Getty Images
Come Pakistan, come World Cup, come Venkatesh Prasad © Getty Images

 

Saeed Anwar pulled Javagal Srinath’s first ball disdainfully for four, and hit two more off Debasis Mohanty’s next over. Afridi slashed Srinath over slip for four but fell next ball, caught by Kumble at backward point. Ijaz and Anwar hit a boundary each, and despite the wicket Pakistan, on 26 for one off four overs, were on course.

Then Azhar gambled, replacing Mohanty with Venkatesh Prasad, taking Srinath off, and giving Mohanty a change of ends. It was then that Mohanty provided his most crucial spell of the tournament. He had Ijaz dropped by Ramesh when the ball spooned into his hands, but he did not give up. Ijaz escaped a close leg-before shout off the next ball.

He swung the ball as if on a trance, beat both Anwar and Ijaz on numerous occasions, and was unfortunate not to finish with a wicket. The wicket went to Srinath, who had replaced Prasad at the other end: the ball pitched on a length, straightened, took Ijaz’s edge, and flew to Azhar at second slip.

Mohanty responded with a maiden, conceded only two wides off his next over, in which he found Saleem Malik’s edge off the last ball: it fell short of Azhar at the same position. Mohanty threw his hands up in despair: what else could he do to get a wicket?

Azhar replaced Srinath with Prasad, who struck fifth ball: the ball jagged back, Steve Bucknor took what seemed like an eternity before raising his finger, and Malik’s struggle at the crease ended. Anwar decided to give Mohanty the charge and chipped him over mid-on for four; the next one was slow, Anwar was sucked into the drive, but it flew between mid-off and cover; and Mohanty walked back, dejected.

Once again it was Prasad who struck: Anwar went for the drive, and the resultant edge was taken by a diving Azhar, standing wide at first slip. Analysing the match, Barry Richards later called it the turning point of the match.

Meanwhile, Mohanty sent down a maiden at the other end, and conceded a single off his last over. His first spell read 2-0-11-0; following the change of ends, the second spell read 8-2-20-0, and even those numbers do not tell the story. Azhar replaced him with Anil Kumble.

Somewhere in the lanes of Bangalore they probably teach you not to cut Anil Kumble from close to the body. Unfortunately, Mahmood did exactly that, and the ball took the edge and zapped into Nayan Mongia’s gloves. Moin lofted Kumble over his head for four and chanced his arms against Robin to bring up the hundred, but the match was still in India’s favour.

Inzamam’s lemon-cut reached the fence, while little Moin breathed life into the chase by slog-sweeping Robin into the stands. He also leg-glanced Kumble for four; and at drinks Pakistan needed 105 from 102 balls with Inzamam and Moin at the crease, and Razzaq and Wasim to follow.

The breakthrough came off a rank long-hop from Prasad: Moin pulled from outside off and Tendulkar took an easy catch at long-leg. Razzaq flicked Prasad for six but somehow managed to pull a muscle in the process; he resumed with Moin as runner. Moin bothered Inzamam with a few racy singles, and Pakistan were left to score 82 from 66.

Then Razzaq tried a cross-batted slog off Srinath’s off-cutter, and the ball hit middle-stump. Inzamam edged one off Srinath for four, and Wasim almost cleared third-man fence in the same over; the target quickly came down to 53 from 39. Could they pull it off?

Prasad maintained the straight line, and Inzamam, half-bent on one knee, erred in not going too forward while trying to loft over deep square-leg. He missed, was rapped on the pad, and Bucknor raised his finger following that agonising delay. Saqlain played all over to one from Kumble and was leg-before as well.

Then, with 48 to score off 28 balls, Prasad sent one down leg; Wasim, trying to play inside-out to clear off, found himself outside the line, and the lofted swing landed in Kumble’s throat at deep mid-wicket. Prasad finished with five for 27 that resulted in a Man of the Match award. Unfortunately, it came too late in the tournament for India.

Both Wasim and Azhar thanked the audience for the day. They had, after all, cast their animosities (there was not any, in all likelihood) and basked in a day of sunshine, watching their heroes take on each other. It was their kind of battle — the greatest invented by mankind — as opposed to the one that involved bayonets and bombardments.

The Man of the Match award could well have gone to the Old Trafford crowd that day. Picture Courtesy: Screen-grab from Tangible Emotions YouTube channel
The Man of the Match award could well have gone to the Old Trafford crowd that day.
Picture Courtesy: Screen-grab from Tangible Emotions YouTube channel

What followed?

–          India were knocked out of the tournament before their last Super Sixes match against New Zealand at Trent Bridge. They lost the match anyway.

–          Pakistan made it to the final at Lord’s and lost to Australia.

–          India holds a 5-0 advantage over Pakistan in the World Cup.

–          Indian Army recaptured two key positions in the Batalic Sector the day after the match. The War came to an end on July 26.

–          Almost three years after the match, a movie called Stumped released in India. Raveena Tandon produced and starred in the movie, which revolved around Reema Seth (Raveena). Reema’s husband was fighting at Kargil while the other residents at Happy Home Society, where Reema stayed, followed World Cup 1999 keenly, almost oblivious of the War, leaving Reema isolated to fight with her anxiety. The movie had cameo appearances from Kapil Dev, Tendulkar, Ravi Shastri, Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan, and Salman Khan.

Brief scores:

India 227 for 6 in 50 overs (Sachin Tendulkar 45, Rahul Dravid 61, Mohammad Azharuddin 59) beat Pakistan 180 in 45.3 overs (Inzamam-ul-Haq 41; Javagal Srinath 3 for 37, Venkatesh Prasad 5 for 27) by 47 runs.

Man of the Match: Venkatesh Prasad.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here)