Jadeja's blitz, Prasad's triumph and Miandad's last gasp
India 287 for 8 (Sidhu 93, Jadeja 45) beat Pakistan 248 for 9 (Sohail 55, Anwar 48, Prasad 3-45, Kumble 3-48) by 39 runs
For subcontinental fans, every World Cup has two narratives: the one about who actually wins the tournament; and the equally important one of who wins the encounter between India and Pakistan. For that one match, the tournament goes beyond sport and into nationalism. A defeat in the tournament can be forgiven; a loss against the neighbour cannot.
In 1996, controversy set in before the match began, when Wasim Akram, Pakistan's captain, decided not to play because of injury. (His house was to be stoned later after the defeat.) Aamer Sohail took over the captaincy and promptly lost the toss. Mohammad Azharuddin, India's captain, chose to bat.
Waqar Younis began with a hostile spell first up, as Sachin Tendulkar batted with a restraint befitting of the importance of the occasion. But the longer innings he set himself up for did not materialise. Instead, it was Sidhu who was to be the fulcrum of India's innings. Batting with a runner because of a leg injury, he gritted his way to an invaluable 93 before Mushtaq Ahmed got him with a flipper.
A score of 250 seemed likely, but all that was transformed at the end of the innings. Ajay Jadeja, who had once harboured dreams of opening the innings for India, came in at No. 6 and seized the day, and the momentum. He smashed 45 off 25, as Waqar's last two overs went for 40. Those were decisive runs.
India's 287 was a daunting total in those days, but Pakistan began well. Sohail and Saeed Anwar added 84 in 10 overs before Anwar was out for 48, off just 32 balls. Then came a defining moment of the game, as hothead met hothead. Sohail, having smashed Venkatesh Prasad for a four to extra-cover, indicated to the bowler that the next ball would disappear there as well. Prasad, a mild-mannered man outside the field of cricket, glared at him, strode back to his mark, and rushed in. Sohail tried to make room for the shot he had promised, and the ball middled the off stump.
That was the decisive turning point. Prasad, mixing it up beautifully, then took the wickets of Ijaz Ahmed and Inzamam-ul-Haq, and Anil Kumble had Pakistan on a leash after that. Javed Miandad, playing his last one-day international, came out at No. 6, but his day was done, and so was the game. India won, in the end, by 39 runs.
Firecrackers went off across India. A different kind of welcome awaited the Pakistanis at home.