January 28, 2002

An odds-defying English victory

When India faced off against England in the Reliance Cup semifinal at Bombay in November 1987, rarely could they have taken the field in a one-day international with so many factors in their favour. The defending champions, they were playing at home, had won five successive games, and were up against opponents who had many limitations. Pakistan had beaten England twice in the group matches, and everything pointed to India registering a one-sided victory.

Kapil Dev won the toss and sent England in to bat. Graham Gooch dominated the scoring from the start, but India still claimed two wickets for 79 in 22 overs. Mike Gatting then joined Gooch and the two added 117 runs for the third wicket in 19 overs. Both batsmen adopted the bold policy of sweeping and pulling the two left-arm spinners Maninder Singh and Ravi Shastri. As future events proved, this was the major turning point.

Gatting on 56 finally swept Maninder onto his leg-stump; he faced 62 balls and hit five fours. In his following over, Maninder removed Gooch as well, but the opening batsman had scored 115 off 136 balls with 11 boundaries. Allan Lamb countered the double blow by hitting an unbeaten 32 off 29 balls, and England were able to post a highly respectable 254 for six in 50 overs.

India suffered an early blow when Philip DeFreitas bowled Sunil Gavaskar (4) with the total on 7. This was to be Gavaskar's last appearance for India in international cricket. Krishnamachari Srikkanth (31) and Navjot Singh Sidhu (22) put the innings back on track with a second-wicket partnership of 51 runs. The run-rate, however, could not be improved, thanks to accurate bowling and brilliant fielding, and neither Srikkanth (55 balls) and Sidhu (40 balls) managed a single boundary. Neil Foster removed both and, at 73 for three, India were in some trouble. But Mohammad Azharuddin and Chandrakant Pandit (in for Dilip Vengsarkar) initiated a recovery process by adding 48 runs for the fourth wicket. After Pandit (24) became Foster's third victim, Azharuddin and Kapil gave a fillip to the scoring rate with a flurry of strokes.

At 168 for four, India seemed well on course to victory. Both Azharuddin and Kapil were settled, there was plenty of batting to come, and the required run-rate was below six an over. There was no need for any mock heroics, but it was at this stage that Kapil executed a stroke he was to regret all is life. Carried away by his own impetuosity, the Indian captain, who had hit 30 out of the fifthwicket partnership of 47, heaved Eddie Hemmings high and straight to Gatting who had just then stationed himself on the mid-wicket boundary.

In retrospect, this shot cost India the match. Even though Azharuddin and Shastri took the score to 204 before the sixth wicket fell, the Indians were strangely directionless. Hemmings, who had been hit by Azharuddin and Pandit for 27 runs from his first three overs, now struck back with a vengeance. He had Azharuddin leg-before for 64 (74 balls, seven fours). Shastri was still determination personified, but panic and recklessness now set in. With five wickets gone and 10 overs in hand, India were looking for five runs an over. But in a flash, Kiran More (0), Manoj Prabhakar (4) and Chetan Sharma (0) left, and Shastri too finally gave in. When on 21, he swung at Hemmings, resulting in a skier that was gratefully accepted by wicket-keeper Paul Downton.

Astonishingly, India lost their last five wickets for 15 runs in five overs, and the end came with a suddenness that was shattering for the packed Wankhede stadium crowd, as well as millions watching on television all over the world, to stomach. Hemmings, who had looked so innocuous initially, took four for 21 in 34 balls and England, scarcely believing their good fortune, trooped out exultant victors by 35 runs.