Sunday, August 11, 2013

Nostalgia - India vs Sri Lanka, 1996 World Cup Semi Finals at Eden Gardens, Calcutta

India vs Sri Lanka, 1996 Cricket World Cup Semi Final Match at Eden Gardens, Calcutta

The 1996 World Cup which was hosted jointly by India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka was the first ever Cricket World Cup that I feverishly followed.

Many moments are still etched in my mind from that tournament – West Indies losing to Kenya, India beating Pakistan in an electrically charged Bangalore, Chris Harris making a wonderful century against the Aussie’s but still ending on the losing side, West Indies committing hara-kiri against Australia chasing only 208 but ending up losing after being 2/165 at one stage, Australia and West Indies forfeiting their games against Sri Lanka due to security concerns, etc.

But in this post I will describe a game which I remember like it took place only yesterday. India was to play against Sri Lanka in the Semi Finals at Eden Gardens, Calcutta.

Mohammad Azharuddin won the toss and elected to bowl first, perhaps influenced by the fact that the Lankans loved chasing and the ease with which they had won in the league game against India chasing a huge score.

With 100,000 people egging on their team wildly, Javagal Srinath removed the dangerous opening Lankan pair of Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana with just a solitary run on the board. Out walked Aravinda, their star batsman, under massive pressure. Pressure, what pressure? I was just 11 but I still vividly remember that savage assault of his on the Indian bowling. He cut, drove and punched like a man possessed. Nothing mattered to him at that moment, he played some delightful strokes, and he was in the zone. He reached his 50 off just 32 deliveries and yet not a single stroke was played in anger. You would find it difficult to hear your own voice in that mad Eden Gardens crowd when those two early wickets fell and still a passerby could be forgiven if he mistook it for a mortuary at mid-night while Aravinda was out there bisecting fields as if batting with set-squares, protractors and compass!!

He was finally castled for 66 which came of just 47 balls but such was the ferocity of his mauling that it left India shell shocked. Arjuna Ranatunga, Roshan Mahanama and Hashan Tillekeratne all contributed to the score and build on from where Aravinda De Silva had left to take the Lankan score to 252. It was certainly not a frightening total and the strong Indian batting line up would have been pretty confident of chasing this down.

India lost Sidhu early but the Mumbai lads Sachin Tendulkar and Sanjay Manjrekar steadied the Indian ship and the fans nerves by taking the score to 98 without any real difficulty. It all seemed easy out there for the Indians. And then, disaster struck. Sachin lost his balance to a full leg side delivery from Jayasuriya and little Kalu whipped the bails off in a flash. India 98/2 and perhaps a little panic set about in that Indian dressing room right at that moment, a little moment of self doubt perhaps crept into the minds of the incoming batsmen.

The Moment when it all started to go downhill for the Indians, 
Sachin stranded down the pitch

Azharuddin joined Manjrekar but for a fleeting moment as he spooned a simple return catch to Dharmasena and India slipped to 99/3. The Sri Lankan spinners then began to extract vicious turn and zip from the Eden pitch. Nearly every ball started turning square and not losing a wicket seemed a no less than a miracle. It was dramatic as it seemed that the pitch had crumbled in a matter of a few overs. Batting almost became impossible as the batsmen struggled to even get the ball off the square. Sanath bowled Manjrekar and Jadeja behind their legs leaving stunned faces in the crowd. The spin quartet of Sanath, Murli, Aravinda and Dharmasena could have easily passed as the fearsome pace quartet of West Indies of the 80’s in that moment. As India lost Ashish Kapoor to a fine running catch by De Silva, the crowd had had enough.

India had slipped from 98/1 to 120/8 and it could take no more. Water bottles were thrown on the field and seats burned. The ugly side of fanatic Indian crowds had made an appearance in the wake of a truly disastrous Indian performance. The match was temporarily stopped and just when it was about to resume the riots in the stands started again. Clive Llyod awarded the match to Sri Lanka and rightly so as India hardly looked like it could scrape a run let alone score 130 odd runs in just under 16 overs! The image of a crying Vinod Kambli making his way off the field was a distressing sight even as a placard in the crowd read – “Congratulations Sri Lanka, We Are Sorry”


Vishal Kataria said...

This match's memories still haunt me... much more than India's umpteen losses to Pakistan until the early 2000s...

I'd rather not remember this match... but it's 1 I will neevr forget... The sheer horror seeing Jayasuriya's deliveries spin at almost right angles and India slipping into the worst shade...

DS said...

@ Vishal
Yeah, the horror of his fastish round arm deliveries turning square was some sight. I still remember the stunned faces of the hapless Indian batsmen!!

C Suresh said...

That was one night of horror for India - the pitch, the loss and the reaction of the 'fans'

Anonymous said...

Second worst outing I guess after the Javed Miandad's six of the last ball at Sharjah

Bushra Muzaffar said...

Interesting read. Refrshes memories of those cricket days :) Also the agony of seeing the tai lenders like Maninder bat is nightmarish to recall. If you have a post about mid eighties cricketdes ...would love to read it. Those were the real cricket days!

DS said...

@ Bushra

I was born in the mid eighties, so do not have any recollection of watching it on the tv. Though I have watched a lot of highlights of the days gone by!!