This is how I remember ‘That” match after being over a decade and a half old –
India was facing SA in the semi final of Hero Cup. I went to the bus stop where I used to catch my school bus. I stood at wrong side so that I could miss the buss. As I succeeded, I came back home and told everyone – “I missed the bus. It came before time” So, I succeeded in bunking school. I had to do it in order to see the complete match.
The match was in Eden Gardens where, for first time in India, we were going to see a day- night cricket match in a proper cricket ground. We had seen it once in Delhi, but that is not a cricket stadium. If a ground has a sandpit, which is used for long jump, covered with a plastic cover, it just cannot be called a cricket ground.
I had heard a lot about those floodlights. I was really eager to see them – on TV off cource. Even till date, I have never seen an international cricket match on ground. Luckily, broadcasting issued between BCCI and DD were resolved and we were seeing it live on TV.
I was not very hopeful of India’s chances. SA was a really good side, almost everyone was in form and their fielding was just amazing. Azhar, as he has done so often in his career, won the toss and we elected to bat.
Jadeja and Prabhakar opened. Prabhakar pushed the ball to on side and just ran. He kept running till he reached the dressing room because some amazingly agile fielder had broken the stumps before he could cover ¾ of the distance he should have. Rhodes it must be, I thought. But it wasn’t. It turned out to be Cullinan.
In came, Kambli - India’s most prolific batsman in Hero Cup. Those were the days when life was really rosy for Kambli. He had recoved from the shocks of 1992 world cup, had cemented his place in the side courtesy 4 consecutive test tons and he had yet not faced speedy giants from South American ilands. On the other hand, his friend Sachin was woefully out of form. In a league match against SA he took 24 balls to score 3 runs. He looked so bad on the crease that he might well have felt a little relieved when he got out. Perhaps, that was the first time when he was totally out of form in a major tournament. Perhaps that was the only time when some of us thought that Kambli might take over SRT. Perhaps that was the only time when SRT looked totally helpless against any perticular bowler – P De Villiers. Anyhow, Kambli came to the crease. And Off he went. Exactly like Prabhakar. Rhodes it must be, I thought. But it wasn’t. It again turned out to be Cullinan. With in no time we lost 4 wickets with almost nothing at the scorecard.
Eden garden has always been very special for Azhar. He scored his first century here in 1985. 8 years later, he scored 182 against England when he was given a life line for only 1 test match. Azhar played another brilliant innings here. Pity he didn’t score a century. With him was Pravin Amre who, in his stance, used to hit the pitch so hard with the bat that it actually created craters. Sometimes I wondered if this was the reason to play him in tests. He would take his stance 3 yard ahead of the crease and create craters in the pitch. Once the studfarm was ready, it could be used by Anil Kumble. Somehow we managed 195 which I thought was a much below par score for a strong SA batting line up.
SA’s start was not great but they kept scoring. Meanwhile DD shifted to Local news, then Chitrahaar, then national news. We kept watching the news because that was only way to get a glimpse of live action which were to be shown in a 10 seconds clippings. If it was a drinks break, DD showed players taking drinks. We, the cricket fan base in India on which entire world cricket is surviving now, were at receiving end during those days. Whatever DD showed, we accepted gleefully. Thank God they did not show Bhartiyam that night.
Meanwhile, Kumble and Jadeja had bowled 19 overs, given away 60 runs and had taken 4 wickets. As the live telecast resumed, we were in for a surprise. SA needed 45 runs in last 5 overs with just three wickets in hand. Ah, we will win it easily. 3 of our strike bowlers have left more than required overs. We can’t lose it from here – I told my father. He disagreed. We had a youth versus experience argument for a few seconds. As turn of events unfolded in next few overs, I realized how wrong I was. Well, it wasn’t my mistake though. It was only 5th year of my cricket watching career. I had yet not realized our amazing abilities of 90s team – they could lose from any position – no matter how strong it was.
It all came down to the last over. They needed 6 to win. We had leaked 39 runs in 4 overs. They could do it in one ball. Who would bowl the last over? Kapil? Or May be Ankola? Prabhakar could have been obvious choice considering his rich repotoire of slow balls. But I think he was out of question since he had already bowled 49th over. It couldn’t have been Srinath for sure.
Suddenly, we saw SRT setting the field. Yes, he was given the ball to bowl the last over. “What? Him? Last Over? He is not a regular bowler? He hasn’t bowled a single over in this match? He is out of form?” I threw loads of questions at my father as if he had made the decision. “Don’t forget. He bowled a last over in Australia against WI to get us a tie. Remember how you jumped then?” I nodded. In that match, he was bowling the last over when I came back from school. He took the last wicket of Anyd Cummins and I jumped 10-12 times shouting “Tie. Tie”
It was rumoured that our strike bowlers were reluctant to bowl the last over – even the most senior one. May be they didn’t want to become another Chetan Sharma. So Sachin picked up the ball. “Comeone – I will do it.” he must have thought.
Someone made a comment on his bold act of choosing to bowl the last over– “He belonged to the age group which believes it cannot die.”
Sunil Gavaskar, I read it later, said on air – “This descision of Azhar will either turn out to be a master stroke or will be critized to much that he wont be able to bear it” Words of wisdom. But were there any possibilites other than these two?
SRT started to run – slowly. He bowled the first ball. McMillan hit it to long off where Ankola mis fielded. But he recoverd in time and threw it to batting end. De Velliers, who was at non striker end, wanted two. McMillan said no. Third umpire said GO. He was run out and McMillan was thrown to non striker end. Double bonanza it turned out to be.
Vijay Yadav, the keeper, came up to the stumps. Plan was to bowl slower to Donald.
Second ball – he bowled and Donald played back to him or may be he missed. This continued on third, fourth ball.
Yes. They need 5 off two balls now. “All we need to do is bowl a dot ball here. Donald is just not good enough to hit a boundary on last ball. Just Keep McMillan off strike” I thought. McMillan had played brilliantly for his 48 till now.
Fifth Ball – they some how steal a single. “Damn. 4 of 1 now” I thought. I looked at my father. Both of us were down the memory lane - Circa 1986, Sharjah. “No. It won’t happen this time.This is Sachin” He said. He was a big fan of Sachin right from his debut series.
There was a big team meeting at the pitch. McMillan stood alone. So did Donald. But everyone in Indian team surrounded SRT. Surprisingly, SRT had the most confident look amongst his other team mates. Vijay Yadav went back to his normal keeping positions – few yards back.
SRT started to run. His run up barely took a few seconds. But those seconds looked like hours. India’s nail consumption must have gone up by millions in those few seconds. India was playing SA. But in my mind, that Sharjah match was being replayed.
And he bowled. McMillan moved towards legside and SRT followed him. It was really slow and had no bounce at all. McMillan missed it, Yadav collected it and came running towards the stumps. SRT started celebrating. “Le li saale ki” was written all over his face. Even though he didn’t score much in the tournament, he still ran away with the most remarkable moment of the tournament. India has won very few more-than-three-nations tournaments. But we don’t remember Hero Cup for India’s rare victory. We remember it for “that” last over.
India has won very few more-than-three-nations tournaments. But we don’t remember Hero Cup for India’s rare victory. We remember it for “that” last over.
PS: After checking the video of the match on youtube, I realized that there are a few factual errors in this post - like DeVilliers had hit it to cover in last over and there was no fumble etc. But, let it be. I have written purely based on my memory which has been ageing fast.