Monday, June 3, 2019

The World of Cricket World Cups - Part 5 - 1996 Group Stage

The 1996 Cricket World Cup was also known as ‘Wills World Cup’, after the brand of it’s official sponsor, ITC. The world cup was being hosted in the Indian subcontinent again after 1987 edition, and the craze and frenzy was unmatched. India and Pakistan had been performing well for the past few years, and they were one of the prime favourites to win the cup on home soil. Pakistan were the defending champions, with an excellent combination of youth and experience. India had found a superstar of their own in Sachin Tendulkar, who success had become paramount for India’s win in any match. It was believed that India’s chances to win a match take a major downward dip if he gets out early, which was proven by the fact that most of Indian households used to switch off their tv sets once Sachin got out. Sri Lanka on the other hand, were on a rise with some very good players rising in the ranks, but still, they weren’t considered to be a favourite to go the distance.
The format of this world cup was changed again, with teams divided in two groups. Three new Associate teams were included this time: Kenya, Netherlands and United Arab Emirates. Group A comprised of India and Sri Lanka, along with Australia, West Indies, Zimbabwe and Kenya. Group B comprised of Pakistan, New Zealand, England, South Africa, Netherlands and United Arab Emirates. Top 4 teams from each group would qualify for the quarter finals. India hosted 17 matches at as many venues, Pakistan hosted 16 matches at 6 venues and Sri Lanka 4 matches at 3 venues.
Controversy: There were bomb blasts in Colombo in January 1996, as Sri Lanka was still struggling with militancy by Tamil Tigers. This worried the touring teams Australia and West Indies about their security, and they refused to go to Sri Lanka to play their matches, even after safety assurances by ICC. As a result, Sri Lanka was declared winner by walkover and awarded 2 points each for these matches, which meant that they virtually qualified for the quarter finals even before playing a match.
Group A
India started off their campaign on a good note against Kenya in Cuttack, chasing a target of 200 with 7 wickets and 8 overs to spare. Sachin Tendulkar played a fine knock of 127 not out. They continued their good show against West Indies in Gwalior, in a match which was dubbed as a
showdown between two of the world’s greatest young batting maestros, Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara. But it turned into an anti-climax when Lara was dismissed by Javagal Srinath after scoring just a couple of runs, and West Indies getting bowled out for 173 in 50 overs. In reply, Sachin once again showed the way of scoring to other batsmen, by scoring 70 runs himself. India was in a spot of bother at 127/5 with the West Indian fast bowlers charging in but managed to win by 5 wickets. The Indian team was performing well but the winning run came to a screeching halt in Mumbai against the Aussies. Batting first, Australia scored 258 in their 50 overs, with Mark Waugh, who would go on to score prolifically at world cups, scoring a delightful 126. India managed to put breaks at the scoring in last overs but still a score above 250 in 1990’s was a really competitive total, almost a match winning score. India started off poorly, losing 2 wickets for 7 runs.
That is when the show started! Sachin Tendulkar displayed his true prowess on that night and announced himself on the world stage. He put on a display of magnificent batting, hitting the likes of Glenn McGrath, Damien Fleming and even Shane Warne, known as the ‘spin wizard of Oz’, to all parts of Wankhede stadium.
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The crowd was going wild, seeing their own 23-year-old local boy playing one of the finest counter-attacking innings one would ever witness. When captain Mohammed Azharuddin got out, Sachin had scored more than 50 runs in India’s total of 70. He did not stop there and scored 90 off 84 balls before being stumped off Mark Waugh’s bowling. Indian team fought hard, but fell short of the target, losing by 16 runs. This defeat brought back the painful memories of losing to Australia by a single run in each of the previous two world cups.
Next up, India faced the co-host Sri Lanka in New Delhi. On a cloudy morning, India got off to a sedate start, due to Manoj Prabhakar scoring 7 off 36 balls. It was not until Sachin got together with Azharuddin and the duo put on a partnership of 175 in quick time, to take India to a formidable 271/3. Sachin scored another fabulous ton, scoring a run-a-ball 137 and leading the run scoring chart of the event.
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When Sri Lankan chase started, what happened was beyond anyone’s imagination. The explosive duo of Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana came out all guns blazing, especially tonking Manoj Prabhakar to all parts of Feroz Shah Kotla, his home ground. The bowler lost so much confidence that after giving away 33 runs in 2 overs, that he started bowling off spinners. It was a shocking and sorry sight for Indians to see one of their premier swing bowler being reduced to a mere spinner. Jayasuriya scored a quickfire 79 and even though Indian bowlers tried to make a comeback, the damage had been done. Captain Arjuna Ranatunga steered the chase home, helped by a fine knock of 70 by Hashan Tillakaratne. This was a morale boosting win for the Lankans, scoring just their 8th win in India and 1st in Delhi. Little did anyone know, that the Lankan batting domination seen on the day was going to be the norm for next few years. India were now on a two-match losing streak, with their last group match to be played against Zimbabwe. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, were on the verge of being the group toppers.
India faced Zimbabwe in Kanpur, and the confidence lost in their previous 2 matches was evident from start. Sachin had a rare failure, being bowled for 3 runs by Heath Streak. India were really struggling at 32/3 and staring at a possible collapse until Vinod Kambli and Navjot Sidhu, both having a quiet world cup till that time, came together. They stitched together 142 runs partnership, with Sidhu scoring 80 and Kambli going on to score a precious match saving 106 runs. A few lusty blows in the end by Ajay Jadeja took India to a good total of 247/5, a score which their bowlers defended well for a victory by 40 runs. So, the teams expected to advance forward to knock-out stage did so: India ended up on 3rd spot in the group, with Australia coming 2nd and West Indies taking 4th place.
There was also a big shocker of a result in a group match between Kenya and West Indies in Pune, when Kenya defeated the two-time world cup champions! Batting first, Kenya scored a paltry 166, a target which no one expected the Windies to not achieve. Except that they didn’t! A good batting line up boasting of stars like Brian Lara and captain Richie Richardson tumbled like 9-pins to be out for 93 runs. It was the biggest upset in not just world cup history, but also the ODIs. Luckily the West Indies regained their motivation and defeated Australia in their last group match in Jaipur, thus avoiding any further embarrassment of not even making it out of the group stage. Sri Lanka, however, continued their domination and scored a whopping and scarcely believable 398/5 against Kenya in Kandy in the last match of the group A. It was a record for highest ODI score until it was broken on 12th March 2006 in the same match twice, by Australia and then South Africa (yes, the historic 434 run chase). As a world cup record, it stayed until 2007 when India scored 413/5 against Bermuda.
Group B
In group B also, it was expected that Pakistan, South Africa, New Zealand and England would advance, no one really expected the minnows Netherlands and U.A.E. to cause an upset. It was only a question of positioning of these 4 teams after the group stage. Pakistan started off well, winning convincingly against U.A.E. and Netherlands. However, South Africa trumped them in the next match, making it a repeat of the previous world cup encounter in 1992. Pakistan came back strongly to register convincing wins against England and New Zealand to finish 2nd in the group. Their openers Aamer Sohail and Saeed Anwar looked in fine touch, giving brisk and solid starts each time. Ijaz Ahmed was in good touch, and the presence of wily old fox Javed Miandad and experience of Salim Malik in the middle order gave the batting line-up a lot of strength. Their bowling unit was arguably the best in the competition, with the likes of pace predators in skipper Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, skilful Aaqib Javed and spin master Mushtaq Ahmed. Both Waqar and Mushtaq had fared well in the group stage, picking up a handful of wickets.
South Africa went on to top the group, showcasing their ability as an exceptional fielding unit, led by the most feared fielder in the point region, Jonty Rhodes. The presence of all-rounders like Brian McMillan and captain Hansie Cronje gave more options to the team. The presence of batting stars like openers Gary Kisrten and Andrew Hudson, Daryll Cullinan and a young Jacques Kallis in the middle order, pace bowlers like Fanie de Villiers, Craig Matthews, a young Shaun Pollock and the fearsome Allan Donald, popularly known as ‘White Lightening’ and experienced spinner like Pat Symcox and an un-orthodox ‘chinaman’ bowler in Paul Adams made this team one of the most balanced outfit in the competition. This South African team had convinced the masses that they were a major contender to win the title, by winning all 5 group matches.
New Zealand finished 3rd in the group. They also had a lot of all-rounders like Chris Cairns, Chris Harris, Gavin Larsen, Shane Thomson and even the swashbuckling opener Nathan Astle, who hit a century in the inaugural match of the world cup, could roll over his arm. But the utility players were not able to match the skills and experience of the specialist bowlers and batsmen in the South African and Pakistan teams, against whom they lost their matches respectively. England was the most lacklustre among all the major teams, winning their matches only against Netherlands and U.A.E., and finishing on 4th spot. The team didn’t have the spark or motivation that was expected from the world cup finalists of previous two editions. They had experienced players in captain Michael Atherton (who was woefully out of form) and Robin Smith playing as openers, their best batsman Graeme Hick, experience in middle order with Alec Stewart, Neil Fairbrother and Graham Thorpe and pace battery comprising of experienced Philip de Freitas, Dominic Cork, Darren Gough and Peter Martin. Probably the lack of a quality spinner in their ranks hurt New Zealand and England dearly on the spinner friendly slow tracks of the Indian sub-continent.
The minnows were never a threat to other teams in this group, unlike the upset caused by Kenya in group A. U.A.E. took the bragging rights in the match against the Netherlands, their sole victory in the event. These 2 teams were thrashed by the other 4 teams. While Pakistan had to chase paltry totals of 110 and 146 against U.A.E. and Netherlands respectively, South Africa batted first against them and scored 321 and 328 against respectively. Gary Kirsten scored 188 not out against U.A.E., breaking the record for highest individual score in world cup history by Sir Viv Richards in 1987. His record stood for almost 20 years before it was broken by Chris Gayle first and then Martin Guptill, when the both scored double centuries in 2015 world cup. Kirsten’s opening partner Andrew Hudson also did not stay behind and pummelled the Dutch by scoring 161 runs. Even the English and Kiwis made merry against these 2 teams and registered comprehensive victories.
There was a dangerous event which occurred in the match between the Proteas and the Arabs. U.A.E. skipper Sultan Zarawani came out to face Allan Donald without wearing a helmet! This was enough to infuriate the fearsome pacer and he bowler a bouncer which hit Sultan flush on his forehead.
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Luckily for him, he did not suffer any major injury. Given the pace of Donald, when he was at his prime, as one of the fastest bowlers in the world, it is a miracle that there was no casualty. It brought back the memory of Indian batsman Nari Contractor getting hit on his head in 1961 by West Indian Charlie Griffith and struggling for his life for many days in the hospital. With the availability of safety of helmets, opting to not wear it while facing someone as fast as Allan Donald can only be considered as foolhardy.
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