Every time the calendar moves to the 1’st March, I need little spiritual me-time. No single date on the calendar has affected the sports fan in me, as much. 11-year-old me watched a cricket match on a 1’st of March only to have faith and passion ripped out in the most brutal fashion imaginable. 22-year-old me watched a cricket match on a 1’st of March only to have faith and passion rewarded in the most glorious way possible. Here below is a recollection of two glorious games of cricket which share not much more than a date……
March 1’st 1992 –
The Indian team had been in Australia for nearly four months. They had defeated the Aussies only once in eleven tries. However both teams came into this game winless. It was a crucial game because the round-robin format meant every remaining game became quite the must-win if this one ended in a loss. Australia won the toss and chose to bat. India put up a decent display with the ball and on the field highlighted by a catch for the ages by a youngster named Jadeja and a ball for the ages by a young genuine quick named Srinath. Dean Jones played a lone hand and ran hard. Australia finished with 237/9 in 50 overs, a total that seemed just about par for course.
India batted nine-deep and were familiar with the conditions and the Aussie attack. Moreover, injury to Ian Healy meant David Boon would be keeping wickets for Australia. David Boon was a lot of things, but a good keeper he was not. Krishnamachari Srikanth’s tournament of misery continued as he was out for a duck but skipper Azharuddin promoted himself to #3 and looked in pristine touch as the shepherd of the run chase. Ravi Shastri struggled to get the ball off the square and wasted precious deliveries as a thunderstorm stopped play for about 30 minutes. (Those watching the game then would not have fathomed how much impact the rain and the ensuing rain rule would have on the world’s biggest tournament and stage. While the number of total overs was reduced from 50 to 47, India’s target was reduced only by 2 runs. This is hard to fathom in this age of analytics and big data but the rule for the tournament stated that the target would be reduced by the number of runs scored in the three least expensive overs of the Australian innings. The rule made no sense then and doesn’t today. If this incident happened a few years later,the clout of the BCCI may as well have resulted in secret beheadings of the architects of the rule. Unfortunately this was still 1992 and the game moved on.)
Sachin Tendulkar and Kapil Dev would indulge in brief cameos that would help undo some of the damage that Ravi Shastri’s painstaking 25 caused. Azharuddin and Manjrekar though were India’s knights in shining armor as the two played delightful shot after wristy stroke to get India within 42 of the winning total and with five overs and six wickets to spare. In the previous World Cup, India had lost to Australia by one run. A year prior to that they had tied in a test match. Surely this one would end less hauntingly for my team!
37 year old Allan Border begged to differ and had one last special in him in front of his home crowd as he unleashed a direct hit for the ages to run out his counterpart. The unstoppable force of Mohammed Azharuddin was cut short by a direct hit. India’s late order fought gamely but two more run outs meant Kiran More would be asked to score 13 off Tom Moody’s final over. More resuscitated Indians everywere with back-to-back boundaries to suddenly make the ask 5 runs off 4 balls. Surely nothing will go wrong now? Surely I was mistaken as Moody yorked More to change the equation to 5 runs off 3 balls with two wickets in hand. Javagal Srinath had the unenviable task of scoring 4 off the last ball. Srinath’s hoick would miss the boundary by the length of his bat and go straight into Steve Waugh’s hands who would somehow drop it but retain enough of his composure to recover and unleash a great throw thru to David Boon who would dislodge the bails just in time to dismiss Venkatapathy Raju as India would fall one run short of sharing the points with Australia in a World Cup game for the second tournament in a row. It is a passage of play about 15 seconds long that felt like eternity and still gives me the creeps after all these years.
An intuitively wrong rain rule that had escaped public scrutiny, four run outs and untimely dismissals of two batsmen in roaring form all culminated in a loss by mere inches. If Venkatapathy Raju were a touch quicker or if Javagal Srinath had started eating meat a touch earlier, March 1’st is nothing more than a footnote in this Indian cricket fan’s book of memories. Instead it was the game that made me want to run towards sports atheism. It made me wonder if it was worth spending 8 hours on a Sunday watching adults throw, hit and catch a cricket ball? This was a cricket match that I will never forget and one I will always point to, when someone tells me sport is not a metaphor for life. You’re telling me that punches to the gut don’t happen in life?
Life lessons in the form of sport. This is why I watch. Self-flagellation, thy name is cricket.
March 1’st 2003
11 years after that painful day in Brisbane, India met Pakistan in Pretoria. Both teams came in needing a win to cement a place in the Super Sixes phase of the competition. Pakistan batted first and scored 273 in 50 overs. India’s bowling was vanilla and uninspired as arch-nemesis Saeed Anwar scored yet another ODI hundred versus the Indians. 274 was a stiff target against an attack that had Akram, Akhtar, Razzaq and Younis.
I remember saying a prayer between innings. I did not pray as much for an Indian win as I did for a painless second half. My mind repeatedly went back to March 1’st 1992. “Gods, give me a win but if not can you please make sure they lose by a lot?”, I muttered. This made no sense then and doesn’t now.
Sachin Tendulkar played the greatest ODI innings of his life as he tamed the Pakistani bowling with exceptional strokes all around the ground. He put India way ahead of the required rate before falling to a Shoaib Akhtar snorter in the 28’th over. Sachin’s batsmanship that day was exceptional. He attacked independent of the situation and paid no attention to the context, pressure and a level of expectation from fans that may never be seen again. India needed less than 100 when Sachin got out and had three premier batsmen including Rahul Dravid waiting in the wings. The journey from that point A to victory point B was as excruciating and tense as any my cricket mind has traversed. Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh calmly steered the ship home and removed any last-minute surprises from the game.
It was a day that ended well. It was a day that brought out the very best from the greatest batsman of my lifetime against one of the great bowling attacks of all time. It was a day that I will never forget. It was a win over an arch-rival achieved with panache, patience and passion. It was an once-in-a-decade sporting event that made the 800 other games I watch, worth it.
This is why I watch….Unbridled joy, thy name is cricket!