Everybody remembers that game. The India-Pakistan 1996 World Cup match where Ajay Jadeja spanked Waqar Younis for a couple of overs and overnight became a poster boy. For generations hockey and cricket have served as proxy platforms of war. That game was meant to settle every issue of national pride and manhood. Much before the first ball was bowled, the air was charged with dynamite. And everyone was ready to be blown over.
In Pakistan, everybody seemed to be on speed: energized, excited and chatty. The joke was that doctors treating hypertension had long queues outside their clinics. There was no overtly anti-India frenzy on the street. But it was evident that losing wasn’t really an option.
It was a day when the other one crossed the line of control. Especially 55,000 people in the Chinnaswamy Stadium, who were fortunate to see from the ropes one of the greatest dramas in modern times. A simple Indian victory alone that day would have driven Bangalore mad. But the quarter-final chose to be nerve-shattering. The first tremors of the impending battle appeared when Aamir Sohail walked out for the toss instead of Wasim Akram. There had been rumours a day before the quarter-final that Akram may not play but Indians may have told themselves that good things don’t happen to them. Yet on the match day, it seemed God was on leave. Akram will not play. As though to make up for the deficit, Waqar Younis bowled a fierce first spell.
Sachin Tendulkar, who even then felt the burden of the entire nation though it had not reached the one billion mark yet, looked ordinary. It was the brave Navjot Singh Sidhu who let his bat do the talking—typical of Sidhu articulation, its effect was damaging. Despite an injury and employing a runner, he scrambled to 93 at a good strike rate. He would eventually become the man of the match, but sadly for him, such was the game that even in retrospect it hoists dramatic heroics of the day above sober heroes. It was all about moments. There seemed to be none till the final slog overs started. India was heading towards a respectable total at a Hindu rate of growth. Then Jadeja walked in to rudely rewrite the predicted-scores chart. He hit three consecutive fours and a six from Waqar’s ninth over that eventually went for 22 runs, almost making the fast bowler a subject of a constitutional inquiry.The bowler’s consolation was that in the last over of the Indian innings, he claimed the wicket of Jadeja who had by then scored 45 in 25 balls. The last over, despite the retribution, went for 18 runs. India had scored 57 from the last four overs. And Chinnaswamy stadium was only nearing hysteria, if you take its mental balance at the end of the match as total insanity.
When the Pakistani innings began, a hush fell on the stadium—that’s the way Aamir Sohail and Saeed Anwar responded to the challenge. They were scoring at over eight runs an over when Anwar fell. Then came what some call the turning point of the match. Sohail was plundering the Indian bowlers then. After another boundary, he looked at Venkatesh Prasad and seemed to make fun of him. Prasad came back and bowled him. Eyes blazing and his mouth frozen wide open in a sustained war cry, he asked the Pakistan captain to “get out”. From then, the momentum of Pakistan’s innings slowed down dramatically. After two more wickets, on the dirt-track now were two men whom India feared most. Salim Malik and Javed Miandad ambled along as though they had some devious plan in their minds. But as it transpired, the two old men didn’t have a plan. Just a past.
Salim Malik was trapped leg-before by Bangalore’s own Kumble. Suddenly, it all looked possible, if not real. India was in sight of victory. Miandad, who made many Indians weep when he hit Chetan Sharma for that infamous last-ball six in Sharjah, was still lurking. But he was just a ghost of his own reputation that day. It seemed that he just could not raise the game. When the score was 239, he was run out. As he walked back to the dressing room, wounded, defeated, he looked like a soldier who only did his duty in Sharjah but was being hung today by India. And that man who fell in Chinnaswamy stadium will rise never more.