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HindustanTimes Thu,23 Oct 2014

Cricket Columns

The magnificent contest of March 9
Atul Sondhi
March 09, 2007
First Published: 13:38 IST(9/3/2007)
Last Updated: 13:44 IST(9/3/2007)

For many Indians, March 9, 1996, exactly eleven years ago, may not be as fondly remembered as June 25, 1983 when they vanquished the mighty West Indies in the World Cup final, but in terms of sheer intensity of the contest, the ''battle of Bangalore'' can equal any of the ODI battles that India have fought in the history of the game.

The excitement and tension in the atmosphere was building up for days. Ever since Australia edged India out to third place on run-rate in Group A, and Pakistan ended up second in their pool, all eyes were starting to get focused on Bangalore.

It is not that India had not beaten Pak in some critical encounters at a big stage before. In the 1985 Benson and Hedges World Championships they had convincingly beaten Pak by eight wickets in the final, and in their first ever meeting in a World Cup in 1992, India had again come out on top. 

But this time it was different. The World Cup was in the subcontinent and both India and Pak were strong favourites. To add to the nervousness, it was a knockout battle. A battle where winner takes all.

Indians were little apprehensive as Pakistan had two records to protect. First, they were the defending World Champions, and second,  Pakistan had not lost to India for good four years - the last one coming in the 1992 World Cup

Pakistan did look unbeatable with the quality at their disposal. What else can you say about a team with dashing openers in Aamir Sohail and Saeed Anwar, and tremendous middle order guided by the experienced duo of Javed Miandad and Salim Malik. 

The bowling attack that landed in India for the quarterfinal tie was one of the most lethal ever seen in a World Cup after 1983, spearheaded by Waqar and Akram, and ably supported by Aaquib Javed and spin Wizard Mushtaq Ahmed.

India needed some divine intervention and they did get one when Pakistan skipper Akram, their best bowler, was ruled out unfit. Probably, the lady luck was on India's side but still there were miles to go.

The atmosphere in noon on March nine certainly can't be called electrifying as most roads in Delhi had turned empty by then! I still remember waiting for one hour for an auto to go to a local hospital where my sister-in-law had been blessed with a son earlier in the day. Nothing else could have moved us from the confines of our homes that day.

Fortunately for us, the staff had switched on the TV set in the hospital lobby while banning it from the patients' rooms considering the noise and disturbance the cracker of an encounter would have generated. 

The lobby, predictably, was full of relatives eager to get the latest on the match. It was funny to see even some patients, with minor ailments, leaving their beds to catch some action - such was the tension in the air.

India had the cracker of a start with Tendulkar and Sidhu helping India to 90 before the master blaster fell to Ata-ur-Rehman. India kept on building steadily but for this Pakistan side, any score was chaseable. A collapse looked imminent when Azhar, Kambli and Mongia fell in a space of 36 runs. At 236 for six, and with just five overs to go, crowd at Chinnaswamy stadium threatened to fall silent.

That was before Jadeja's pyrotechnics! India's world had come alive after his magnificent assault on Waqar Younis. As many as 40 runs of Waqar's two overs (18 and 22) did the trick. 

Jadeja, in hitting 45 runs off just 21 balls, simply turned the match on its head. His ''never-seen-before'' anticipation against Waqar's inswinging Yorkers, otherwise the most lethal of deliveries, was simply too perfect resulting in his two sixes.

The Indian batsman was in the zone in a knock later described by some Pakistan newspapers as the ''deadliest ever on Waqar''. Till now, ''Waqar treatment'' is a word which is an integral part of any Indian conversation on Indo-Pak encounters.

When Jadeja was on, I can still recall the aged head nurse coming and sternly asking the relatives to curb their screaming and shouting for the sake of the patients. Funnily, for a second, she too looked at the scorecard and left with a contended smile!

Everyone obliged till Venktesh Prasad castled Aamir Sohail. Thereafter, there was not stopping the celebrations. Screams and clapping inside the lobby, and defending sounds of Crackers in the locality outside were heard with unerring regularity as one Pak wicket fell after another. When Miandad got out, the match was virtually all over.

In the end, a target of 288 off 49 overs (Pakistan were penalised one over for slow over rate) was too tough to chase for the beleaguered Pakistan side.

I have been forgiven by my Nephew, today eleven year old, for spending close to seven hours watching the match and sparing not even seven minutes to have a look at him. His parents have not!

Ambu, however, takes pride in the fact that he was born on a day when India fought and won one of the most important India-Pak ODI encounters in the history of the game.

Hopefully, the memory of that encounter will help India convincingly beat the West Indies on Friday night, and get them in the best of the mood before they kick-start their campaign for the Cup in the Caribbean.


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