As India heads into its first World Cup clash against arch-rivals Pakistan sans the services of master blaster Sachin Tendulkar, a confidence built up on empirical data is getting slightly tempered by the team’s current form, which can at best be termed pathetic.
However, the World Cup is a different prospect altogether, and to push that envelope a bit further, I have put together some of my favourite moments from Indo-Pak clashed in the marquee event over the years.
Whether February 15th 2015 will add to the list or take away some of this pleasant nostalgia remains to be seen, but till then, if you are an Indian fan, enjoy!
#10. Miandad emulates a Jumping Jack, 1992
In an era when the game of cricket could, with a certain degree of honesty, pass of as the gentlemen’s game as per its original christening, the Javed Miandad-Kiran More episode was one of the earlier instances of well-documented animosities, something commonplace in today’s camera-friendly game.
The stakes were high. Arch-rivals India and Pakistan were meeting for the first time in a World Cup, at the iconic Sydney Cricket Ground. Pakistan were under pressure during the tricky chase of 217 after a couple of quick wickets fell, and though opener Aamer Sohail and Miandad steadied the ship, runs were being scored in a trickle.
Miandad, famous for his ‘getting under the skin of the opponent’ skills, was getting a dose of his own medicine, looking visibly disturbed by the incessant appealing synchronized with spasmodic leaps of wicket-keeper More at almost every opportunity.
Words were exchanged, and Miandad even complained to the umpire, but More was unflappable. A few overs later, Miandad disposed of the flimsy thread of sanity that was holding him together. After surviving a run-out attempt at the wicket-keeper’s end, Miandad, displaying a flexibility which belied his bulky frame, leapt up and down animatedly several times, in a bid to imitate the diminutive wicket-keeper’s enthusiastic appealing style.
Viewers, umpires and commentators looked on in shock and awe, as the moment went on to register itself as one of the most poignant visuals in the history of Indo-Pak cricket rivalry.
#9. Yuvraj-Dravid partnership, 2003
At a time when India still held the tag of shaky chasers, the unbeaten Rahul Dravid-Yuvraj Singh partnership which led India to victory against Pakistan at Centurion Park went a long way in changing that perception, before finishers like MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli established chasing as one of India’s strengths, as opposed to a weakness.
After Sachin Tendulkar had laid the foundation with a brilliant 75-ball 98, the two got together with the target still about 100 runs away. Thanks to Sachin’s belligerence, the Required Run Rate was well under control, but a couple of wickets would have exposed India’s wobbly lower order.
What followed was a masterclass in batting. Dravid was solid as ever, while Yuvraj exuded a degree of control over the flamboyance the world had come to associate him with, opening out only when the target was well within reach. There were no further hiccups, as the unbeaten 99 run partnership carried India comfortably over the line.
#8. Sehwag cameos, 2003 & 2011
Virender Sehwag may not have fired on all of his ballistic cylinders in Indo-Pak clashes in the World Cup, but his cameos on both occasions the teams met on his watch, completely took the pressure off Sachin, allowing the master blaster to play match-winning knocks both times.
In 2003, at the SuperSport Park, Centurion, chasing a stiff target, Sachin had channelized some of his nervous energy (more on that ahead on the list) towards dispatching Shoaib Akhtar to all corners of the park, including the uppercut, before the wily Wasim Akram turned on the screws with a one-run over.
That’s when Viru took matters into his own hands, with Uppercut 2.0 off Waqar Younis and a couple of spanking boundaries against Akram. Though he fell soon after, Sehwag’s 14-ball 21 set the ball rolling and put India on course for a memorable victory.
The Nawab of Najafgarh’s innings in the crucial semi-final clash at Mohali during the 2011 World Cup was even more vital. Sachin, in a complete departure from his 2003 avatar against the same opposition, was a picture of concentration, perhaps sensing it as his final opportunity to make a mark against the famed rivals.
While the sense of finale would have been as applicable to Sehwag, given his non-selection in the 2015 squad, the right-hander went about his task with gay abandon, doing what he does best – categorically providing the cricket ball with an all-expenses-paid trip across the vast expanses of the ground.
Sehwag was particularly severe on strike bowler Umar Gul, who he took for 21 runs off one over, and struck two more boundaries for good measure, in his next. Even if the most experienced batsman in the team was feeling touch anxious, given the occasion, the Delhi opener’s 25-ball 38 would certainly have eased any jangly nerves, and set India off on a path which would take the team within striking distance of the most coveted trophy, one it ultimately secured.
#7. Srinath yorking Miandad, 1992
I am not sure how highly this moment rates itself in the minds of avid Indo-Pak fans, but for me, the annihilation of ‘Jumping Jack’ Miandad not just exacted sweet revenge for the unnecessary histrionics against More, but was also the turning point in a keen contest.
Though wickets were falling around him like nine-pins, Miandad’s presence at the crease, though he was crawling along at a snail’s pace and looked mentally agitated, continued to be a danger, his finishing abilities fresh in mind 6 years after Sharjah, 1986 (fresh even today, as a matter of fact).
That was when India’s new-found tearaway quick Javagal Srinath decided to claim a piece of history. Often accused of sticking a tad too frequently to the incoming length ball, the Karnataka speedster bowled a perfect searing yorker, which Miandad, perhaps still intoxicated by all the jumping around, played like a length ball – trying to run it down to third man, to have his timber disturbed.
Almost equally momentous was the dignified celebration of the Indian fielders, which, given Miandad’s dramatics, was in stark contrast to some of the exaggerated send-offs which have become the norm of modern game-play under the guise of aggressive cricket.
#6. Sachin announces himself on the biggest stage
The clash at Sydney had aspects of an Olympic relay race, with a distinct phase in the latter part of India’s innings when the country’s greatest ODI player till date, rubbed shoulders with, and eventually passed the baton onto the man who was to hold on to that crown for decades, perhaps even pipping his predecessor in the contest for the all-time recipient of the abovementioned laurel.
The 19-year old Sachin Tendulkar was already a household name, thanks to a couple of brilliant Test innings in England and Australia, though he was yet to create such an impact (by his own lofty standards) in the shorter version of the game, and did not play much of a role in the first two games of this tournament.
When Sanjay Manjrekar fell for a first-ball duck with the score reading 148-5, Sachin was joined by the beyond-his-prime rockstar of Indian cricket, Kapil Dev. In an absolute gem of a ‘passing-the-baton’ partnership, the duo put on 60 runs in just 8 overs.
Kapil launched into the bowling with gusto, slamming a 26-ball 35, while Sachin played a more controlled, albeit delightfully strokeful 62-ball 54, the little master’s first half century in a World Cup.
The Mumbaikar, then a regular fixture in India’s bowling line-up as well, returned to snare Pakistan’s best batsman that day, Aamer Sohail, to claim his first Player of the Match award on the biggest stage, signing off a glorious opening chapter in an epic journey he was to dominate over the years.
#5. The Prasad and Srinath show, 1999
In what was perhaps the least intense, at least in terms of visible activity, World Cup encounter between the two sides, even as the countries’ respective armies faced off in Kargil a short while back, India’s new ball pair of Venkatesh Prasad and Javagal Srinath decimated the Pakistani batsmen, accounting for 8 wickets between them.
At the quaint Old Trafford stadium in Manchester, India, after winning the toss and electing to bat, set up a moderate total of 227, built around solid if not spectacular innings by Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Mohammed Azharuddin.
Often the bane of the Indian bowling attack through the 90s, Saeed Anwar got the team off to a brisk start, though Srinath got rid of the dangerous Shahid Afridi and stalwart Ijaz Ahmed in quick succession. Post that, his Karnataka teammate Prasad, no stranger to being in the thick of action in Indo-Pak clashes, took over, breaking the back of Pakistan’s batting line-up with 5 wickets, an assault the men in green could never quite recover come, surrendering tamely 47 runs short of the target.
#4. DRS and butterfingers aid Sachin’s last stand, 2011
Pakistan stood between India and a famous second triumph, when the two teams met in the semi-finals of the 2011 World Cup, at Mohali. If the immense pressure associated with Indo-Pak clashes was not enough, the presence of both countries’ Prime Ministers, the knockout stage and the inevitability of the tournament being the final opportunity for Sachin Tendulkar to add the one piece of silverware missing from his overflowing awards cabinet, transformed the park into a cauldron.
After winning the toss and electing to bat first, Sehwag blazed away in his customary fashion, while the little master was highly circumspect. The heart-in-the-mouth moment came in the 11th over, when a Saeed Ajmal delivery rapped Sachin on the pads, and umpire Ian Gould immediately lifted his finger. The diminutive right-hander immediately sought the services of the Decision Review System (DRS), a contraption which India looked at (and still does) with mistrust and suspicion.
DRS overturned the umpire’s call, a momentous decision which triggered punches and counterpunchesover its authenticity, well after the match was over. The little master had survived, and only by the skin of his teeth.
In a departure from the uber-confident Sachin we saw against Pakistan in the 2003 edition, the maestro trudged along, in a last stand which was significantly aided by four dropped catches by the Pakistan fielders.
Sachin stood tall amongst the ruins of a middle order which saw Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh fall cheaply, his 115-ball 85 lending respectability to the Indian total, one which the Pakistanis fell 29 runs short of.
In a circle of life scenario, Sachin picked up his final Player of the Match award in a World Cup, nearly 20 years after his first, against the same opposition, to lead India to the threshold of what would be their greatest triumph on this side of the millennium.
#3. The Sachin uppercut, 2003
Perhaps the most visually stunning moment in this entire list, Sachin upper-cutting then fastest bowler in the world, Shoaib Akhtar, for a six, set against the backdrop of the picturesque Centurian Park, is my favourite Sachin-moment – not just against Pakistan in World Cups, but his cricketing career as a whole. No mean achievement, given the numerous moments the master has given us those 24 sparkling years when he donned Indian colours.
Getting back, Sachin admitted to being under tremendous pressure going into this match, having not even slept properly for the past 12 days, as reported by ESPNCricinfo. India’s bowling attack, and in particular Ashish Nehra, who was most impressive in the previous match against England, had been taken for plenty and a good start to the chase was imperative.
All of Sachin’s pent up anxiety lent weight to that stunning stroke off Akhtar . The moment transformed into something much more than a cricket shot; a knockout punch in a slugfest between two heavyweights may have been closer to the statement it sent across – that the balance of power, till then somewhat in Pakistan’s hands, had been firmly wrested back.
The six was followed by a couple of breathtaking boundaries off Akhtar’s next two deliveries, and with Sehwag providing able initial support, Sachin settled down into what was, in my opinion, his best non-century making World Cup innings ever. The maestro’s 75-ball 98, while falling tragically short of an immensely deserved century, relegated the Required Run Rate factor to a mere number, allowing his successors to knock off the target without too many risks.
#2. Jadeja takes on Waqar, 1996
The M Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bangalore played host to a high-voltage clash, the most intense in my opinion, between the two sub-continental neighbours, in the quarterfinals of the 1996 World Cup, and bore witness to not one, but two of the most memorable moments in Indo-Pak clashes, both of which figure right up there in my list.
India, batting first after winning the toss, had built a solid platform on the back of Navjot Singh Sidhu’s 93, augmented by 20s and 30s by others around him. At 200-4 in the 42nd over, when Ajay Jadeja strolled in, the X-factor was missing from an innings which looked set to fold up in the vicinity of 250, hardly a match-winning total on a placid pitch.
The normally chatty Jadeja was, as former Pakistan wicket-keeper Rashid Latif recalls, quiet and focused. It was, perhaps, the calm before the storm, which, when it did come, blew away the reputation of one of the most fearsome quick bowlers in international cricket at that time.
Waqar Younis, in that era, at the death, was what Lasith Malinga, at his best, is in the current – virtually unplayable with pin-point inswinging yorkers. While most batsmen would have looked to save a toe, Jadeja went deep in his crease, and with what could be termed an improvised version of the helicopter shot branded by MS Dhoni, lofted two such perfect yorkers into the stands.
The assault was just beginning, and when the dust settled, the veteran pacer’s final two overs had gone for 18 and 22 respectively, Jadeja had conjured 45 runs off just 25 balls, and the Indian score had surged to 287, X-factor very much included.
#1. The Prasad-Sohail camaraderie, 1996
Finally, my favourite moment in Indo-Pak clashes – ever! If the entire history of the rivalry between these enigmatic teams were converted into an infographic, the heading visual would undoubtedly be this timeless classic of a bullfight, which at the end of the day, was the turning point of in that eventful 1996 World Cup quarterfinal clash.
Ajay Jadeja’s heroics looked in danger of being in vain, as Saeed Anwar and stand-in captain, Aamer Sohail, smashed 84 runs off the first 10 overs, silencing the crowd which was dancing in the aisles a short while back.
Though Anwar fell, Sohail looked at complete ease, dictating terms against bowlers, in the process reaching his half century with a Strike Rate in excess of 100.
Then came the moment, or to be precise, the prelude to the moment. Sohail stepped out of the crease and slashed a length delivery from a till-then lacklustre Venkatesh Prasad to the extra-cover fence. To rub it in, Sohail pointed out the path traversed by the ball to Prasad, either asking him to fetch it, or suggesting extra protection.
The very next ball it happened. The stuff scripted in fairytales. Or perhaps at the movies. Prasad ambled up to the stumps and hurled down a seemingly innocuous delivery, this time on the stumps. The charged up Sohail, without moving his feet, took an almighty swipe, only to miss, and found his off-stump uprooted.
Prasad’s humiliation was avenged in the space of just a single delivery, and even as the lanky pacer issued a fiery send-off with the crowd exulting in the background, the tide had turned firmly in favour of India.
This article was first published in Sportskeeda: