Rajesh Kannan shares some thoughts on the 1996 edition.
1996 – Bill Clinton v Bob Dole
As we start the tenth edition of the World’s 2nd most watched single sport event, here are some ramblings on one such event held before Google was born.
The ’96 World Cup was the first one without Imran Khan, the greatest of the Holy Quartet. And it was the first one which started without anyone having any clue whatsoever about who was going to win.
This is not meant to be a recap of that tournament – these are just some armchair impressions. Since that armchair belonged to my Dad, I’m necessarily constricted by the fact that this was a Great World Event happening at EXACTLY the same time as my Board examinations – equivalent to A or O level exams, and in cutthroat Indian academia, a single stolen glace towards the TV was equal to a lifetime of drudgery as a clerk.
So we were told. Still, this was the World Cup. And Sachin was now a man, all of 23, and pretending to grow a moustache. So, obviously India didn’t have any worries. All of Sri Lanka’s opponents, on the other hand, I still pity. Some of the finest matches I’ve seen in this format happened during that month, and were no doubt responsible for my abysmal academic record ever since.
Take the quarters between NZ and Australia, for instance. Lee Germon and Chris Harris had just won the game for the Kiwis in Chennai (this is pure stream of consciousness, so excuse the statistical lapses). There was no way even Australia was chasing 287 under lights in Chennai. Well, of course, that’s what Mr I’m-As-Good-But-Actually-I’m-Better-In-This-Form Waugh did. Yea, his parents really struggled, naming him that.
Take Manoj Prabhakar, for instance, vs Sri Lanka in the group stages. Any time you’re defending 271 in the 90s, it’s a safe bet you are being aggressive, as a bowler. Well, Mr Prabhakar was, for all of 3 deliveries, before he was forced to cut down his pace. And when that didn’t work, he was ordered to become a spin bowler. Which worked as well as a decision as Gatting’s reverse sweep did in 1987.
The best game in that tournament was, no doubt, the semi in Mohali, the game which sealed Warnie’s legend as a one-day magician. I remember Richie Richardson’s defiance, and his stupid belief that his pace bowlers were good for at least one run. But I also remember Stuart Law – the forgotten man of Australian cricket, the man who, if he’d been playing for any other nation, would have racked up 20 Test centuries. Australia, when you remember your heroes, don’t forget the man without a Test average, for Stuart Law was instrumental in seeing you win from the abyss of 15/4 in 1996.
And now we come to the India Lanka semi. A common thread runs through Indian limited overs triumphs of the early 90s – the finals are all at Eden Gardens, and India has always batted first in these inevitably day/night games. Remember Sachin’s insanely cool over against South Africa? That was the semifinal, the final of which India won, by batting first, same as the semi. A year later, in 1994, South Africa destroyed India and Australia in the group stages of an ODI series, before succumbing in the final. Against India, at the Eden, batting second. Mohammed Azharuddin was the captain in all these cases. Mohammed Azharuddin was also the man who knew the Eden more than anyone else did – he had scored a memorable post-riot , nation healing century there in 1993, and he knew that the one surefire way of winning in a day/night game at the Eden was to bat first, and let the Hooghly water table (the river which runs near Calcutta has a high water table which softens the Eden pitch as the match goes on) take care of matters in the second innings.
So when I saw Azhar win the toss that day in 1996, I was delirious with joy…only to be gasping in horror seconds later as he chose to field. TO FIELD! I couldn’t fathom how on earth he could have fielded, knowing all he did about the Eden, especially in a day/night game.
One over later, both Jayasuriya and Kalu were gone, thinking this was one of the puny gounds they smacked sixes in. But then Aravinda came in, and proceeded to hit one of the greatest counter-attacking innings I’ve ever seen. I think he ended up with 66 off 50 balls or something, but what it did was put the fear of God in Srinath and Raju and the rest, and enabled the 250 Lanka made.
The Indian reply was, of course, dismal, with Vinod Kambli adding to his Paul Gascoigne-like credentials with a teary display. Seems crazy to me, and read between the lines if you will, that an honest captain – with his knowledge of the Eden – could have chosen to field. That is all.
But this World Cup was about one team. And three men. One was the enabler – the man who made sure Lanka had the runs, or chased them down, and in double quick time. Another was one of the all time great players, the only man who has been Man of the Match in both the semis and Final of a World Cup. But the third was the unlikeliest of them all. Possessing no great cricketing talent himself, he managed to knit his team into one cohesive unit of warriors, using the best of Alex Ferguson and Brian Clough to propel them all the way to glory.
In 1996, Sanath Jayasuriya may have been the Player of the Tournament. Unprecedently, Aravinda de Silva might have been MotM in both the semis and the Final. But the Man of the Tournament was, without a doubt, Arjuna Ranatunga.
If we have half as successful a tournament as that now, and a winning leader a quarter as magnificent as Arjuna was, this will be a month to cherish and record for posterity.