Rahul Bhattacharya had his list of greatest India-Pakistan moments. Here is my list of 12 greatest moments. Mind you, these are of matches I have seen….I am sure the Asif Iqbal-Miandad run out in Calcutta would have been here had I witnessed it.
1) The 1981 series in Pakistan. Imran Khan bowls to Gundappa Viswanath. Vishwanath was India’s most technically accomplished batsman in the 70’s (yes according to purists and Gavaskar himself)—-for you young kids he was the Rahul Dravid of the generation. Old timers stil swear by his exquisite square cutting of Andy Roberts on his way to 97 on a terrifying Chepauk pitch. But here he had met his match. His feet pinned to the crease, he tries to bring his bat down in defense. The ball swings late and by the time his bat comes down, his off stump is cartwheeling. The Indian batting went down without a whimper in that series and our bowling was taken apart by Zaheer Abbas, Miandad and Mudassar. That moment symbolized the series for us—-a total rout. Viswanath never played again.
2) The 1985 Benson and Hedges cup in Australia. The final billed by disgruntled white people as “bus drivers vs tram conductors”. Laxman Sivaramakrishnan, thin and wiry with a whippy action bowls one to Miandad. He comes forward to drive, ball pitches right in front and viciously spins away across the face of the bat. Miandad’s face grimaces and in a flash Channel 9’s stump microphones catch the whoooooooshhhh of Sadanand Vishwanath’s amazing reflexes kicking in as his gloves take off the bails in a heartbeat. A classic leg spinner’s dismissal in a one day match ! The world takes notice of the power of spin. India becomes the best one day side in the world.
3) 1986. Sharjah. The day the hegemony ended and the Dark ages began. Everyone knows about it—Chetan Sharma, full toss. Javed Miandad, six and then the smiling run. From then on, for years India was cursed—–even when they had the match totally sewn up, someone or the other from Pakistan (Salim Yousuf, Salim Malik, Manzoor Elahi…. )would turn it around. India knew they could just not beat Pakistan.
4) 1987. Bangalore test. It was a minefield of a pitch with India batting 4th innings. Winner takes all and Tauseef, the Lionel Ritchie look-alike, and the portly Iqbal Qasim have India in a spin. Only Sunil Gavaskar, playing one of the greatest innings I have seen, is standing between Pakistan and victory.
Iqbal Qasim floats one in. It hits the dustbowl…pieces of the pitch fly off. Gavaskar stretches out his front pad defensively when the ball spins like a top and suddenly bounces up alarmingly. A brute of a ball and a sure dismissal delivery. Not for Gavaskar. He just drops his gloves at the last minute clear of the line of the ball, and the ball rises up, beats the keeper and the slips and goes for 4 byes. The greatest shot of the series was the one that was not played at all ! Gavaskar goes for 96 and the rest of India capitulates. The sun had set.
5) The 1989 tour of Pakistan. A reduced over charity match. Pakistan plays it with its full intensity—India as usual lackadaisical and relaxed. India have no chance of chasing Pakistan’s total, everyone is going through the motions. No not everyone. A short, baby-faced, curly haired person has an intense look on his face. He looks distraught as Srikanth goofs off. And then he single handedly swings into action. Sixes rain like gunfire from a Kalashnikov—the bowlers to suffer are Abdul Quadir and Mushtaq. India still lose but everyone has taken notice. Sachin Tendulkar had arrived—–a new era in Indian cricket is about to begin.
6)1991. World Cup. India vs Pakistan. Javed Miandad, the “angel” of cricket, at the receiving end for once. Miffed by the verbals from Kiran More, he complains “Insaan khel rahe hain janwaar nahin” (Human beings are playing not animals)———-the classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. And during the drinks break, he loses it. Miandad starts jumping up and down, face distorted imitating Kiran More’s appealing. A sight to behold. Pure comedy. Pakistan loses the match but go on to win the cup.
7)1996. World Cup. Bangalore. Amir Sohail is no Miandad. But he tries to be. With Pakistan firmly in control, he smashes Venkatesh Prasad, the timidest of bowlers, to the cover boundary. And then walks upto him, shows him the bat and gestures where he will send the next one. And then the cobra strikes. Prasad, with his two variations—the slow and the slower delivery, pitches it up, Sohail goes for a heave and his furniture is re-arranged. Camera on Prasad. Face swamped with adrenaline, he shows Amir Sohail the dressing room. The crowd erupts. At that moment ,we could have won back POK. Miandad gets run out and is shamefully booed off by the Bangalore crowd….India wins….the ghost of Sharjah is fully exorcised.
8) 1997. Lahore ODI. India is totally decimated by bunker-buster butcher of Lahore—Ijaz Ahmed. I have seen India drubbed many times—but this was THE most brutal attack on our bowlers. Had it been a boxing match, the referee would have stopped the fight. Ijaz Ahmed struck 9 sixes and 10 fours in a 83 ball 139. Abey Kuruvilla runs into bowl. Ijaz is standing there like a woodcutter swinging his axe. He stops. Adjusts the field. Brings in fine leg. Pushes back square leg. Brings mid on up. Camera on Ijaz. He is not even looking at the field placings–his eyes are on the off side. Kuruvilla bowls and the next thing the ball has gone into orbit over mid wicket —-Kuruvilla stands hands on hips. A shy almost apologetic smile on Ijaz’s face. Total domination.
9)1998. India-Pakistan ODI international final at Dhaka. Chasing a mammoth score of 315 in 48 overs (thanks to flawless centuries from the tried-and-tested firm of Anwar and Ijaz), Ganguly cracks 120 odd, Robin Singh a run-a-ball 82. But the defining moment is when Azhar refuses to leave the field and sits on the pitch when the Pakistan fielders go off for light (if the match had been stopped India would have lost). It is a defining moment of quiet defiance from a much-maligned cricketer and when, in very poor light, Kanitkar seals victory with a mid wicket swipe, India had won a true thriller where the cricket throughout the day had been of stupendously high standards.
10)1999. Chennai test. Afridi had just played a hurricane of an innings setting India a target of 271 runs on a crumbling pitch with Saqlain mystifying batsmen with his doosra. At 82-5 it is all over bar the shouting till Sachin plays one of the defining innings of his life that symbolizes his legacy—sublime genius with a tragic inability to finish it off. Wracked with back pain, he loses the plot with 17 runs to go…the rest of the batting folds up inside 2 runs of his dismissal.
11)1999. Kolkata test. India is coasting along when the newly selected, long hair flopping in the breeze, full-shirted Shoaib Akhtar bowls to Dravid. Raw searing pace and banana inswing…..the Wall is blown apart. Shoaib airborne, fists pumping. A freak ball opined the wise men in the stands. Not so. An encore delivery next ball uproots Sachin’s timber. India does not recover from the twin blows.
12)2003. Centurion Park, South Africa. Pakistan has set India a stiff target of 273. Everytime India have beat Pakistan in World Cups, Pakistan had been chasing. Here the pressure is on India. Starting the world cup disastrously , they had been pilloried by the press and public—but they were fighting back. This was the defining moment. A fast and bouncy pitch—-with Pakistan having Wasim, Waqar and Shoaib Akhtar in their arsenal. Pakistan comes out—full of aggression. It’s history—-when Pakistan raises their aggro, India mews like a kitten and licks its tail meekly.
But that’s history.
4th ball of Akhtar’s first over is short and outside off stump. Sachin sends it for 6 over third man. The next ball he compensates and bowls marginally on his legs. Sachin whips it to backward square leg for 4. Waqar comes in and tells Shoaib something. The next one he swings into Sachin—he gets into line and launches his trademark firm mid-on push and the ball screams for another boundary. Genius at work—fire is met with fire. No longer push-overs, no more Mr Nice Guy.
That ends the 12…..of course there are many many more thrilling moments to write about. But for me, these are it. Pure and simple magic.