Tuesday, June 4, 2019

The World of Cricket World Cups - Part 6 - 1996 Knockouts

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Description automatically generatedThe first of the quarter finals was played in Faisalabad between Sri Lanka and England. It was almost a one-sided affair with Sri Lanka dominating the proceedings. England managed to reach a score of 235/8 with no real contribution from any of the main batsman. In reply, the English were blown away in the storm of Sanath Jayasuriya, who scored 82 off 44 balls.
Such consistently explosive batting at the top of the order was unseen till that time. In those days when 50-60 runs in first 15 overs was considered a good score, Sri Lanka was scoring above 100 runs, which laid a solid platform for the middle order to come in and capitalise on. Sri Lanka won the match easily by 5 wickets with more than 9 overs to spare, thus ending the embarrassing run of English team in the tournament.
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Description automatically generatedThe second quarter-final on the same day was the most anticipated clash of the tournament, between the arch-rivals India and Pakistan in Bangalore. Pakistan were dealt a huge blow with the absence of captain Wasim Akram, nursing an injury. Batting first, India got to a good start with Sachin and Navjot Sidhu before Sachin got out for 31 runs. Sidhu continued in the company of Sanjay Manjrekar and Azharuddin and got for 93 runs, missing out on a well-deserved century. Pakistan had control of the match with India having scored 230 runs in 46 overs. This is when Ajay Jadeja came to party and played one the cameos which is vivid in the minds of Indian cricket lovers till today. He scored a brisk 45 off 25 balls, and belted Waqar Younis all over the ground, who gave away 18 and 22 runs respectively in his final 2 overs. India finished at a formidable score of 287/8, with the tail-enders Srinath and Kumble also scoring useful boundaries.

If the scoreboard pressure in a knock-out game against India at their soil was not enough, Pakistan had more trouble having fined 1 over for slow over rate. But stand in skipper Aamer Sohail was not going to bow down to the pressure. Along with Saeed Anwar, he got Pakistan off to a flying start, scoring boundaries at will. The Chinnaswamy crowd stunned into silence for some time before Srinath dismissed Anwar. But Sohail was not perturbed. If anything, he started playing more aggressively, which created a moment which he would surely want to erase from his memory. After hitting the local boy Venkatesh Prasad through covers for a boundary, he pointed his bat in that direction and gestured to Prasad that he would hit him again through that region. The emotions were flaring, the crowd booing and tension rising. Pakistan still had an upper hand with 9 wickets remaining and scoring above the required rate. But what happened on next ball was truly unexpected and has since been a part of folklore of Indian cricket. Trying to smash Prasad again through covers, Sohail missed the ball and it rattled his stumps. Prasad ran towards him, hurling expletives and gesturing to go back to the pavilion! The noise in the ground was unbelievable. I got goose bumps right now while remembering that incident which I saw ‘live’ as a 9-year-old. It was a moment which demonstrated that Indians will not take aggressive behaviour lying down and will give it back to the opposition, an attitude which was mastered by Sourav Ganguly while at the helm of Indian cricket few years later. But its foundation was laid on that night in Bangalore by a seemingly quiet and lanky bowler.
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This lack in concentration by Sohail while trying to get into a verbal fight with the bowler cost his team dearly. The following batsmen were not able to create any kind of partnership which could take them closer to the target. Even though Javed Miandad tried to resist, he seemed like a shadow of his former self, consuming 64 balls for his 38 runs before being run out, in his last ODI for Pakistan. Rashid Latif tried to make a match out of it with some lusty blows, but Indian bowlers, led by Kumble and Prasad, restricted Pakistan to 249 thus leading the team to a semi final clash against Sri Lanka in Kolkata and giving Indians an occasion to celebrate a memorable win.

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Description automatically generatedThe third quarterfinal sprung up another surprise in Karachi, with West Indies facing the South African challenge. Batting first, West Indies scored  264/8 riding on a Brian Lara masterclass of 111 runs off just 94 balls. Lara came into form at just the right moment. In reply, the South Africans were going well with half centuries from Hudson and Cullinan, but they lost their way in the middle overs upon the introduction of spinners Roger Harper and Jimmy Adams, who took 7 wickets among them. South Africa got all out for 245, thus losing a match which really no one expected them to lose, against a demoralised West Indian team. Probably the biggest mistake made by the Proteas was to play the spinner Paul Adams in place of their pace bowling lynchpin Allan Donald. Lara milked both the spinners Adams and Symcox well, even scoring 22 runs in an over by Symcox. It was another world cup event which ended for the South Africans in misery, when they promised so much and were probably the best team of the tournament.
The fourth quarterfinal was between the trans-Tasman rivals Australia and New Zealand in Chennai. It proved to be a high scoring affair. Batting first, the Kiwis scored 286/9, largely due to a 168-run partnership between Chris Harris and captain Lee Germon, who scored 130 and 89 runs respectively. The Kiwis were in with a very good chance to seal their second consecutive world cup semi-final spot. But the Aussies had other plans. Buoyed by yet another majestic century by the classy Mark Waugh (his 3rd in the tournament, equalling the record for most centuries across world cups) and useful contributions by his twin Steve, Ricky Ponting, Shane Warne (sent in as a pinch hitter) and Stuart Law, the Aussies reached the target with 2 overs to spare.
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The two semi-finals were contrasting in nature of how they played out. While one proved to be a one-sided affair, the other was a nail biter. The first one was between India and Sri Lanka at Eden Gardens, Kolkata. By now, the whole nation was in a craze, and an Indian win was both being anticipated and prayed for. Indian team was wary of the Lankan attacking batting, especially the openers as India’s bowlers had been at the receiving end of their onslaught in Delhi. That is why it surprised one and all when Indian captain Azharuddin chose to field first after winning the toss. The intention was to not let Lankans do what they are best at doing – chasing totals. His gamble paid off, when Javagal Srinath got rid of both the openers in the 1st over with just 1 run on the board. This was a dream start, which one could not possibly even imagine! Aravinda de Silva, the experienced campaigner for the Lankans, though played one of the finest counter-attacking innings of his life. He scored a quickfire 66 runs off 47 balls, putting the pressure back on Indians. Although he got out when the score had reached just 85, it gave enough confidence to the players like Mahanama, Ranatunga, Tillakaratne and even Chaminda Vaas, to provide valuable contributions and make the team reach a total of 251/7. It was a very good recovery given the terrible start suffered by the innings.
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Description automatically generatedIn reply, Indians hopes were dependent on Sachin Tendulkar once again. And he did not disappoint. After the early exit of Sidhu, he got together with Manjrekar and was playing fluently. When India had reached a score of 98, a delivery hit his thigh pad and deflected. Assuming that the ball had rolled away, Sachin started off for a run. But the ball was near wicketkeeper Kaluwitharana, who was quick to collect it and dislodge the bails. It was a crucial moment in the game, as the Lankans also knew that this is the prize wicket. The whole of India, and everyone on the ground waited for the decision with bated breath.
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Description automatically generatedThere was a collective gasp of horror in the ground and households across the country when the red light flashed. Sachin was run out for 65 runs. It was what the Lankans were looking for. They went for the kill. India lost its next 6 wickets for 22 runs, and the score read 120/8. Azharuddin scored a duck, and only Kambli reached double figures. The pitch had totally crumbled and so had the Indian batting and the hopes of millions. The ball was spinning like a top and it was virtually unplayable. Seeing the loss of their team imminent, most of the crowd of more than 100,000 people at Eden Gardens started moving out, but the ones in the ground showed their displeasure by throwing bottles on the ground. This disrupted the play for some time. Upon resumption, a section of the crowd started fire in the stands.
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Description automatically generatedThis caused the match referee Clive Lloyd to stop the match and award it to the Lankans. It was the first instance of any match being awarded to a team like this. The sight of a desolate Vinod Kambli leaving the ground in tears made the whole of India cry. It was a sorry night for Indian cricket, and a journey which promised so much ended in such a despair.
There were allegations of this match being fixed by Azharuddin when his name came up in the match fixing scandal in 2000, but he has stated again and again that decision to field first upon winning the toss was taken in the team meeting, to negate the threat of Lankans chasing ability. However, seeing the dusty state of the pitch in the first innings itself, one can easily say that it was not a wise decision.
The second semi-final also panned out very unexpectedly. Electing to bat first on one of the fastest pitches in India, Australia suffered one of their worst starts to an innings. They were reduced to 15/4 with 2 wickets apiece for Curtly Ambrose and Ian Bishop. Their prolific opener Mark Waugh was out for a duck, and Aussies were in all sorts of trouble. Stuart Law and Michael Bevan came together for a 138-run partnership and steered the innings to some sort of respectable score. Some good hitting in the end by Ian Healy took the score to 207/8. In reply, the West Indies innings was off to a good start, courtesy Shivnarine Chanderpaul and contributions from Lara and Richardson. At 165/2 at the end of 42nd over, the match was as good as over. But that is when the unbelievable collapse happened. Once Chanderpaul got out, Roger Harper and Ottis Gibson, the lower middle order batsmen were mysteriously promoted above the batsmen Jimmy Adams and Keith Arthurton. A magical spell by Shane Warne, in which he picked up 3 wickets and the wickets taken by other bowlers restricted the Windies and they needed 10 off last over, with 2 wickets in hand.
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Description automatically generatedThe good thing for them was that skipper Richardson was still at the crease. He hit the first ball for a four, but tried to pick up a single next ball, resulting in Ambrose getting run out. This made the player with the most infamous reputation with a bat in hand come out and take the strike – Courtney Walsh. They say there has never been a bigger bunny than him when it comes to batting. He needed to somehow get to the other end and give the strike back to Richardson. But Damien Fleming bowled the perfect delivery to hit the off stump, and helped Australia register a most famous and unexpected victory. The Windies had let go of a golden opportunity to make their fourth cup final, and they are still waiting for another chance.
The ironic fact about this semi final was that either of the teams would have faced Sri Lanka in the final, who they decided against touring in the group stage. It was to be the culmination of a perfect plot, and the Lankans were waiting to defeat whoever they faced in the final. In fact, before the cup had started, Arjuna Ranatunga had quipped that he would like to face Aussies in the final, given the hostility faced by the Lankans when they toured ‘down under’ before the world cup and their spinner Mutthiah Muralitharan was repeatedly called for ‘chucking’ by Aussie umpires Darrell Hair and Ross Emerson. At that time, people were puzzled seeing Arjuna’s confidence because no one really gave a chance to the Lankans to reach the final of the world cup. But now, it was a reality, and the Lankan lions were raring to go one on one against the Aussies.
The final of the world cup was held in Lahore’s Gaddafi stadium on 17th March. Since Sri Lanka was the Asian neighbour of Pakistan (and who had defeated Pakistan’s arch rival India in the semi-final, thus kind of avenging Pakistan’s loss against India in quarter-final), all the support was for Sri Lanka. After winning the toss, Arjuna Ranatunga opted to bowl first. It was a strange decision, seeing what had happened with India in the semi-final on fielding first. Also, history suggested otherwise because all five previous world cup finals had been won by teams batting first. But Arjuna had full faith in his team. The match started well for the Lankans and they removed the dangerous Mark Waugh early. Captain Mark Taylor looked in good touch and scored a fine 74. Apart from 45 from Ricky Ponting and 36 not out by Michael Bevan, there was no major contribution from any other batsman. Australia scored 241/7, with the pick of the bowlers being Aravinda de Silva, who snarled 3 wickets. The total was very good given the pressure of a world cup final.
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Description automatically generatedSri Lanka needed a brisk start to calm the nerves, and they didn’t get it. Both the openers fell cheaply with the team score on 23, and now all the pressure was on Aravinda de Silva. He did not disappoint and used all his experience and played risk free cricket. He later mentioned that in the match against India, he played attacking cricket as all others had failed and he had nothing to lose. But in the final, it was all on the line, and he did not give even a single chance to the Aussies. He formed a 125-run partnership with Asanka Gurusinha, who scored 65 runs and then got together with skipper Arjuna, who scored an unbeaten 47 off just 37 balls. Aravinda completed a match winning century and remained unbeaten on 107. Arjuna scored the winning run with a nudge to the third-man boundary and won the cup for his country. Sri Lanka thus became the first team to win a world cup final while chasing and the first host nation to win the trophy. Interestingly, before this world cup triumph, Sri Lanka had just won a total of 4 matches in their previous 5 world cup campaigns! That is why this victory was even special, because no one really gave them a chance, but they remained unbeaten throughout the tournament. Arjuna, along with coach Dav Whatmore, had devised a strategy for his team and they implemented it to perfection. This world cup was the start of the Lankan domination in world cricket which continued for next 2 years across the globe in both the formats.
This world cup is very special for me, as it made me understand the game and made me interested in following it. I still have vivid memories of the first match I watched completely (India vs Australia) and how that innings of Sachin mesmerised me. I followed all the matches of the tournament and felt a newfound joy and excitement with every game I watched. The fact that my uncle was doing cricket commentary for Sky Sports helped too and seeing his name on the TV screen made me realise that I have a close connection with the game. The joy of watching Sachin batting in his element, the explosive hitting of Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana, the ecstasy of India’s win over Pakistan, followed by the utter sorrow of the manner of defeat against the Lankans, the see-saw nature of the semi-final match between Australia and West Indies, and seeing the Lankans win the final made me the Diehardcricketfan that I am today. World Cup 1996 is surely the reason why my love for this great game started, and it only has only grown more and more.
DHCF Nishant Raizaday for diehardcricketfans

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