Friday, February 17, 2006

The Great Indian Chase :Flashback 1998

Exactly one month ago, I mentioned about the best India-Pakistan ODI(that is, from my point of view) that ever took place in my memory. Since chases are the flavour of the season my second favourite in the list happens to be another successful Indian chase, which was a world record(316 runs) at that time.

The heart stopper I am talking about took place on a cool January morning, at the National Stadium, Dhaka, some eight years ago. It was the second time in the history when India chased out Pakistan from Bangladesh. The irony was so killing that tournament's name was Silver Jubilee Independence Cup(of Bangladesh).

Mind you, during those times, a 300 plus score used to be huge and rare, and India was pathetic in chasing. We hardly used to win matches batting second. And then there were match fixers abound.

I still remember it was a Sunday, and I was in home for the weekend. As I mentioned before, Pakistan batted brutally, and opener Saeed Anwar, for whom India was always the favourite goose to roast, made yet another humiliating century against us.

That was not all. Izaz Ahmed, the biggest Lapaytoo of all time, made a century as well. He pulled and swept from leg, middle, off - from every where. And ferociously at that.

Due to delayed start both the innings were shortened to 48 overs each. Pakistan made 314 in theirs. For all of us Cricket buffs match was as good as over. Or so we thought.

Aaqib Javed is another player(apart from Saeed Anwar) who has made his entire career against India. After that all-LBW-Hat-Trick at Sharjah, which was more a trick by the umpire than him, I had begin to hate him and his ever flapping tresses.

But this time he was in for a rude shock. Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar began the onslaught by ripping the opening bowlers apart, fishing out four consecutive boundaries in an Aaqib Javed over. The poor soul got so rattled, that he left the next over mid way claiming hand injury. It seemed the ball was too red hot to handle.

Sourav was given the job to consolidate one end. By the ninth over, run rate was clocking nine an over, all SRT's doing. But change in bowling did the trick when little master mistimed the very second delivery of ever-seventeen-year-old Shahid Afridi's(I reckon he was seventeen even at the time of his birth) to mid-off. Genius departed after making 41 of just 26 balls which included seven fours and a big one.

Greg Chappel has begun experimenting only now, but this thing is not new to India, for as an experiment and to everyone's surprise, Robin Singh arrived at the crease, and boy, what a move it was.

Robin Singh had many a times played Robin Hood for India. In late nineties, he was the most valuable asset for the Indian team. Fighter to the core, useful with ball, a great hitter, and a terrific fielder.

What was breathtaking was his running between the wickets in tandem with Ajay Jadeja. He was the Michel Bevan for India. A master finisher and architect of many victories for India while chasing, and though being a 30 plus, his fitness was the best amongst all his peers.

It was really regrettable that he could break into the Indian team so late at his age. My only grouse against John Wright was that he was pre-meditated in giving an early retirement ticket to him at the cost of Dinesh Mongia's and Laxman's.

Coming back to the match, Sourav Ganguly was playing the most important innings of life. Courtesy Sachin's blitzkrieg, these two could bid their time, and still the run rate could be maintained above 6.5. There was no more wicket for a long time, and partnership had accumulated 180 runs or thereabouts.

It was already evening, and was time for me to catch the Chitrkoot Express for Kanpur. Unwillingly, I left for the Charbagh station. The tempo had stopped near a railway crossing, when I saw Robin Singh being caught at long on boundary by Aaqib Javed who had returned by then. My hate from him increased to another level.

Anxiously I reached station and bought a ticket. There was still half an hour for the train to leave, so I left the station to look for a TV in near by shops . There was no bloody current, but yes I did find a Radio, and guess where - with a shoe cobbler.

The story wasn't good. Sourav was out( 124 runs), and so was Azhar, the next batsman. By the time I left the Radio, Jadeja and Sidhhu were also out. However, there was quite a bit of drama which had happened during that phase.

It so happened that it got dark at the stadium. Pakistan would have won by Duckword & Lewis(or whatever rule was there at that time) if the match had to stop then. The moment Umpires discussed this with players, the complete Pakistani team disappeared from the scene.

However, the Indian batting duo on the field - Sourav & Azhar stood their ground, refusing to leave. The rules say that the light appeal is offered to batsmen, so only they can refuse or continue to play, not the fielding side. Reluctantly Pakistani team had to return back.

But the fact was that the ball was impossible to read in that darkness. Hence, Indian batsmen fell like nine-pins, but they still hung on. Asking rate was above eight.

Meanwhile I had reached the platform, and luckily a few more radios in between, kept me posted with score. By the times more of my college mates had also reached, equally anxious about the fate of the match.

Nayan Mongia was at the crease and I had no hopes on him. The Kanpur match memory was still fresh in my mind when he and Manoj Prabhakar didn't even try for the win against West Indies, just to let Manoj Prabhakar reach his century.

To confirm my belief, he blocked the first ball he played dead on the pitch when the number of balls left were running out like the sand in a glass. A typical front foot shot you play in a test match. Neither did I have the heart to face it any more, nor I wanted to miss my train.

I boarded the train with my friends, more or less confirmed about the outcome. It was 5.33 PM, and train's departure time was two minutes later. Suddenly, two young guys about my age, appeared on the window, shouting with joy that India has won the match. And they did this before every single window they could in those two minutes.

Joy erupted across the whole bogey, and now that we knew 'what', we wanted to know 'how'. The wait for that lasted till we reach our hostels. Atmosphere in my wing was festive, and there we heard the story untold.

It so happened that after that "well played" delivery, Nayan Mongia had made room and hit a boundary through covers. After hustling and bustling a few deliveries he soon departed.

Last over of Saqlain Mushtaq needed nine runs to win, with Hrishikesh Kanitkar and Javagal Srinath on the crease. Srinath twice managed close-eyed 'pulls' towards unusual cover point direction, twice three fielders closed in for the catch, and none succeeded, and twice Srinath got a couple of runs.

Second last ball was faced by Kanitkar, and India needed just three. Saqi Bhai, for once, slightly over pitched. Kanitkar, to his credit, quickly read the length, and lofted it between long on and midwicket for a boundary!

India had won, with a ball to spare, and Hrishkesh Kanitkar will always be remembered for that shot. Nothing more, nothing else.

What a world record chase, and match!

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