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Cricket’s Closest Contests: India vs Pakistan Independence cup final


The Setting:  India took on Pakistan in the 3rd and deciding final of the Independence Cup played in Dhaka. It’s a match also known as the ‘Kanitkar’ match.

January, 1998. It was a time when every single cricket match played between the sub continental arch rivals ensured that traffic, business and even the Indian Parliament came to a standstill. It was a time when Pakistan was winning against India more often than not, and undoubtedly it was because they had a better side.

To celebrate the silver anniversaries of their respective Independence, India and Pakistan took part in a competition aptly named as the ‘Independence cup’. It had been 50 long years since the two countries achieved independence. And yet, tensions were still running high between the two. The tournament also had a third nation in it which, at that time, had been the punching bag of the world of international cricket – Bangladesh.

After Bangladesh’s role in the competition was all but over, it was time to decide the champions of the Independence Cup. A best of 3 finals had been laid out in order to decide the winners. India had won the first final quite comfortably and it was once again Sachin Tendulkar who had taken India home. After India posted a less than modest 189, it was Pakistan who hit back in the second final.

This meant that the focus shifted to the third final. It was a cold foggy morning in Dhaka which was the setting for the decisive contest between the two neighbours. The stadium was packed soon enough and a worldwide TV audience tuned in to watch the drama unfold. It being a Sunday meant students did not have to bunk classes and those who worked did not have to call in sick. Indian captain Mohammed Azharuddin had won the toss and had asked Pakistan to bat first. A decision he would soon regret in around 4 hours time.

Pakistani innings: Openers Saeed Anwar and Shahid Afridi walked out into the middle hoping to post a challenging total. Two dismissals by the time the score reached 60-odd, including the prized wicket of Shahid Afridi, meant that things were looking good for India. However, Pakistan went on to pile runs and misery on the Indian bowlers as centurions Saeed Anwar and Ijaz Ahmed took them to the cleaners. The partnership between the two batsmen went on and on, filled with brilliant stroke play and some massive hits over the ropes. The Indians were once again reminded about the recent horror show they watched in Chennai that Saeed Anwar had starred in. Pakistan raced to 200 in no time and things were looking very bleak for India. The onslaught was so harsh the Indian fielders must have thought they were playing a match of test cricket in coloured kits. Once the milestone of 200 was achieved, the Pakistani duo stepped on the accelerator and it was soon raining sixes.

Saeed Anwar, for the second time in his innings, mishit the ball only to be caught by a rather glum looking Indian captain Mohammed Azharrudin as the scoreboard read 296/3 with more than 2 overs to go in this 48-over a side contest. He knew it wasn’t over. Pakistan had already crossed the score of 300, which in those days was an extremely huge total. Azhar Mahmood and Mohammad Hussain helped Pakistan to a mammoth total of 314 in 48 overs.

The dejected lot of Indians walked back slowly to the pavilion staring down the barrel as no team in the history of one day cricket had, at the time, successfully chased such a gigantic total. Many television sets got turned off in India as the match was all but in Pakistan’s kitty.

The Indian fight back:  Two men dared to think otherwise as openers Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly walked into the centre with a fearless attitude. It was the last ball of the 3rd over when the little master Sachin Tendulkar stood tall and smacked Aaqib Javed to long on for India’s first boundary. That opened the flood gates as both Ganguly and Tendulkar took the attack to the Pakistani bowlers. It was a stormy knock from the Little Master as he scored a memorable 41 in just 26 deliveries. Those were the days when the Indian batting line up crumbled when Sachin Tendulkar got out. But that day was not one such day. After Sachin’s dismissal, Robin Singh came to the crease and played a solid innings. Scoring singles and rotating the strike, he also scored the occasional boundary and a couple of sixes to ensure that India was still in the hunt.

At the other end, the Prince from Kolkata played one of his best knocks ever in one day cricket. Middling the ball, he went on to score a great 124, which included 11 fours and a six. The duo went on to put up a partnership of 179 which frustrated the Pakistanis into submission. Robin Singh’s innings of 82 came to an end as the score read 250/2. Mohammed Azharrudin did not provide much company to Ganguly as he disappeared after a soft dismissal when India needed 47 off 41 deliveries. The demise of the God of offside came soon after as he found himself castled by Aaqib Javed.  The world saw glimpses of what a legend he would one day become as he made it back to the pavilion to a standing ovation. As the Indians suddenly started to wobble, the onus fell on Jadeja and Sidhu. However both failed to see India through as they lost their wickets to the seemingly deadly Saqlain Mushtaq, having scored a boundary each.

The Cliffhanger: With India needing 19 runs from 13 balls, Nayan Mongia joined Hrishikesh Kanitkar at the crease. Tension began to build up rapidly but the Indians heaved a sigh of relief as Mongia dispatched the first ball of the second last over for a much needed boundary. Despite tight bowling from the Pakistanis, the two managed to scramble for singles and the odd double as the match headed for that stage where some fans, who couldn’t handle the stress, stopped watching. Mongia found himself in an unnecessary runout as India found themselves needing 9 from the final over.

The ball had been handed over to Saqlain Mushtaq. A single of the first ball saw a nervy Javagal Srinath on strike as India now needed 8 off 5. Srinath took on the spinner and went for the big one only to scramble for a double. With 6 needed from 4 deliveries the experienced Srinath tried to become an unlikely hero and smashed the ball high in the air without any distance on it. Srinath’s heart must have been in his mouth as he watched three Pakistani fielders all running towards the ball at mid on. If this was caught, an entire nation would blame him for the loss to Pakistan, something which at that time was an unpardonable sin. He and the rest of India thanked their stars as the Pakistani fielders comically allowed the ball to bounce right in the middle of the three fielders!

With hardly any nails left to bite, India now needed 3 from 2 balls. Hrishikesh Kanitkar had the weight of an entire nation on his shoulders as he took his stance to face the Pakistani spinner. One clean strike would make him an instant hero. The heavens wanted exactly that as Kanitkar smashed the delivery to deep midwicket for a boundary that would etch his name in golden letters in the minds of every Indian cricket fan. An intense cliffhanger had come to an end and it was the Men in Blue who had emerged victorious.

A memorable win for India as Sourav Ganguly picked up a well deserved trophy for the Man of the Match. Sachin Tendulkar would go on to win the Man of the series as India celebrated another famous victory on a cold January day in Dhaka.

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