"Shall we swing by the Chinnaswamy?"
This was an oft-used query in my vocabulary while growing up in Bangalore. Once I joined UVCE (University Visvesvaraya College of Engineering) - a convenient five-minute ride away from the KSCA's M.Chinnaswamy stadium - the ground was just around the proverbial corner. The use of that query during those days could have referred to anything from catching up with an absorbing day of a Test match, a quick visit to watch an hour of Karnataka's Ranji game, checking out the pre-match practice sessions or attending the book fair at the stadium, which was also an annual ritual for folks like me to simply sit on the empty Eastern stand just to admire our field of dreams.
The particular use of that query "Shall I swing by the Chinnaswamy?" on one fine occasion in 1996 rewarded me with an experience of a lifetime.
It was a tense evening around 7pm in Basavanagudi, as I finished my study session with friends for upcoming exams and started my motorcycle ride homewards towards North Bangalore.
This happened during early 1996 and with the World cup all set to kick off in a few days, the city was gripped with cricket fever. A few days earlier, we had meticulously eye-balled the KSCA advertisement in Deccan Herald, which announced the sale of tickets for the second quarter-final match of the Cricket World Cup 1996. Ticket counters were supposed to open at 9am. Along with some friends, we came up with a robust plan to take everyone by surprise by showing up at the counters at 5am! Of course, we expected everyone to show up at 7am. An air-tight plan, if ever there was one. Or so we thought!
On my way home, I rode past National College Basavanagudi and in the unlikeliest of places/time of the day, that compelling question sprung up: "shall I swing by the Chinnaswamy?"
While the ticketing strategy for the following morning was already set in stone, my sixth sense urged me to run a quick reconnaissance. Although the commute time to home had almost doubled, I willingly took the detour and as I turned left on Queens road, I had to re-visit my lowly standards on "taking everyone by surprise". There were already long lines of people in front of every ticket counter and this was more than 12 hours before the counters opened for a game that potentially would not even involve India. I panicked at the thought that I might not have the chance to watch another World Cup game at the ground for decades, if at all.
I was stuck with my college backpack and had no way to send out an alarm to the rest of the group (I had no pager, wasn't an amateur radio operator and this happened before mobiles were a thing). Immediately, I rode home as fast as I could and headed straight to my brother's room with the alarming news. After a bunch of frantic calls to alert all the friends and dinner, which lasted five minutes at most, we were out again, heading to the Chinnaswamy. By the time we got there, just after 9pm, a few of our friends were already in the line and we joined them.
As evening turned to night, our group had grown to 30-plus and although, the city traffic trickled down, the whole place around the stadium was abuzz with people. We sat on the pavement in our line on Cubbon road. As the night wore on and got colder, folks within the group ran various errands such as get food from an all-night highway Dhaba, get cups of hot tea along from a local vendor or in my case, I walked along to MG road to get a fresh-off-the-press copy of the Deccan Herald newspaper. This long night out was also a good opportunity to catch up with friends. Amidst all the potential match-ups for the A3 Vs B2 encounter on March 9th, the teams discussed were mostly West Indies, Sri Lanka and South Africa. Just myself and one more person (don't recall who anymore) in the group even brought up the potential of an India-Pakistan match.
Around sunrise, the crowd was out of control and the single-person lines of the previous night had bloated many times wider. While we were extremely apprehensive about tickets running out before we made it to the counter, we finally did get our tickets by 9.45am and these were the 150 Rs tickets for the newly built Eastern upper galleries. Forget the distant dream of an India-Pakistan line-up. To watch a World Cup quarter-final under the newly installed floodlights in our home ground left us absolutely thrilled! Everything else was a bonus. I distinctly remember a bunch of us standing on the broad road divider on Cubbon road, intensely admiring our tickets, as morning work commuters whizzed past caught up in their honkathons. That would have been quite a selfie/Instagram moment in today's world.
The tournament kicked off a few days later and the Indian team initially appeared to be on cruise control. At the India-Australia game at the Wankhede Stadium, a thrilling chase ensued and the hosts ended up short despite Sanjay Manjrekar fighting hard, like he unsuccessfully did at the Gabba four years earlier. With India slipping up further against the toast of the season, Sri Lanka and South Africa being clinical in their chase against Pakistan, the low probability of an India Pakistan match-up actually turned into reality.
Suddenly the group of 30-odd friends - called "Park boys" because of the daily meeting point at a park in Rajajinagar - who had the tickets for the quarter-final, felt like lottery winners! An emergency meeting was called. What have we got to support our team, besides loud throats and arms to wave around? Everyone pooled in and decided to get a huge flag for the day. It was a 10-m flag and had to be specially ordered. Box ticked.
Indian Jerseys? Oh well, that 90s gripe can be a separate story altogether. As replicas weren't available back then, each of us picked up a white T-shirt from our respective wardrobes and got the Indian tri-colour printed on them. We were excited to finally sport tri-colour at the cricket, albeit smelling of printing ink.
While all of that was happening on the outside, my bedroom was the location of an elaborate activity spread across three-four days. On multiple layers of cardboard, I had laid out a 3x2m white cloth banner and spent days painting a bull's eye with a red centre. It had "Hit Here" in big letters on the top of the bull's eye and underneath, I announced "Prize: Audi A4".
Finally, the last bit of the accessory involved music. Back in the 90s with neither the budget nor a pressing need to buy a bugle myself, I was lucky to be able to borrow it from my Physical Education teacher at VVS High School. With all of these boxes ticked, we warmed up for the big day.
March 7th, 1996
Two days before the game, the flag was ready. The "Park boys" decided to meet for a flag march. An upcoming thriller and we surely had one of the bigger flags in the ground. We went around the park with our flag, singing songs and chanting. Fun times!
March 8th, 1996
The evening before the game, we went to the stadium with a hope of catching up with some players. But the place was packed with fans like us, hoping to get a glimpse of the practice session under lights.
The light towers were installed at the Chinnaswamy ahead of the World Cup and the lighting accessories themselves were previously used at the Gabba in Brisbane. Those were times when Indian cricket's pockets weren't as deep as they are today. The background details notwithstanding, we stood on Queen's road admiring our beloved stadium bathed under artificial lights and the roads around it shone as bright as day. The feeling on that evening is hard to put into words, but it suffices to say that we were beaming the whole time with genuine pride!
March 9th 1996, Match day
Although the game was set to begin at 2.15pm, my day started very early. The banner was dried and folded, the bugle had long tricolour ribbons attached to it to sling around and all that was left was to apply face paint. Before my mom left early for her work, she had made some 20 chapatti rolls with stuffed potatoes and as was standard for all stadium visits, and my dad prepared a huge box full of spiced curd rice before he left for work. Both asked me to enjoy the game and stay out of trouble.
Until the crowd trouble happened later during a 1996 ODI game against Australia, one could take along food into the Chinnaswamy stadium without any issues.
Instead of jostling for a parking spot with 50,000 others near the stadium, we rode instead to UVCE and decided to leg it from there. As we walked past the Vidhana Soudha, many fans were headed in the other direction after seemingly visiting in the morning to take in the atmosphere around the stadium. A group of fans came over and said "Sir, here please take some banners" handing us some 4/6 placards to signal boundaries. They went on in English asking us "Which country are you from?"
With our long hair hanging below our shoulders, beach glasses, ripped jeans, jazzy arm/headbands etc, they thought we were visitors from abroad. My response of "Thanks ree. Naavu illinavre. Nim hesralli torusthivi" (Thanks mate. We are locals and we will display these placards on your behalf) was met with chuckles.
The area around the stadium was clogged, much more than the typical match day in Bangalore. The line for entry into that stand was almost a kilometre long. As is always the case, the line moved slowly, and as the clock hovered around 12:30pm, the crowd started to get apprehensive about missing the start of the game and the line then started to move aggressively forward. After braving the near-stampede like conditions, we finally reached the gate with 45 minutes to go. Security checks were precise and the cops saw my bugle. That got confiscated as they thought that it was a potentially dangerous object for the players. The negotiation didn't work. Due to the absence of a cloakroom, I wrapped the bugle in my spare T-shirt and hid it in between sacks of cement that lay there (as the construction of the eastern upper stand was completed a few weeks before the game).
My first glimpse of the ground was at 2pm and it sent a chill up my spine. It was my first entry to the new Eastern upper stand, which is the highest in terms of elevation among all the stands, giving a spectacular and almost-bird's eye view of the action. As I turned to the right, the electronic scoreboard displayed "India won the toss & elected to bat". I was shocked! How could we even dream of containing an almost ATG batting line up of Sohail-Anwar-Inzamam-Ijaz-Malik-Miandad-Akram and under lights? As the teams were shown on the scoreboard, we noticed that the Sultan of Swing, Wasim Akram, was not playing. A good omen right there!
Mahesh and I settled right at the top row of the eastern stands with the Bulls-Eye banner hanging right above the top entrance. The players walked in and we were thrilled to finally see an ODI in coloured clothing in Bangalore. I recall asking, "will we ever again get to see players in blue and green in our stadium again?" That was an obvious reference to the long-standing tension between the two countries.
Sachin Tendulkar and Navjot Sidhu started off sedately and did not take many risks. Sidhu appeared in good nick and kept the scoreboard ticking over at four-five runs per over. As the score neared 100, Tendulkar played on of Ata-ur-Rehman and this was indeed a huge blow. Manjrekar came in and the game slowed down well to a point that the crowd were chanting "We want sixer" in jest suggesting him to get a move on. Sensing a lull in proceedings, I took the opportunity to run down to try and get my bugle. As I went to retrieve it, a constable loudly commented "Thuthuri" (Kannada for bugle) and asked me to speak with the top cop, who was comfortably seated close by. As a student, I couldn't afford a huge spike in expenses (if the bugle was lost), when my allowances were mostly being used up for fuel. After some discussion and listening to my honest explanation, he was convinced that my intent was to add to the atmosphere and could also understand my fear of eventually losing the bugle. He allowed me to take the bugle along in the end. I excitedly ran back up the flight of stairs and once I got to my spot, the music began.
The mid-innings was steady but unremarkable, as Sidhu fell for 93 and Mohammad Azharuddin and Vinod Kambli scored quick twenties. With 40 overs gone, we hoped for 70-plus runs in the final 10 overs to get a fighting 260, although my estimation of a defendable total for this Pakistani batting line-up was well north of 300. Both Azhar and Kambli did not convert their starts and although Ajay Jadeja had smashed Zimbabwe in the previous game, our hopes on him getting India to a huge total against this world-class attack weren't high.
With three overs to go and with two overs left for Waqar Younis, 260 seemed distant. However, Anil Kumble started the unlikely final assault with two consecutive boundaries. As the six by Jadeja off the final ball of the over landed in the stand below us, there was absolute mayhem in the stands. That six probably needed another 20 meters elevation and distance to have had a chance at winning the Audi A4, which I had generously put on offer! Javagal Srinath, the local boy, came in and started off with a boundary against Aaqib Javed. The estimate of 260 had slowly crept up to an unbelievable 275 in the making.
Jadeja had other plans and continued his assault on Waqar in the final over. Over in the stands, the crowd was absolutely delirious. Having seen countless matches before and since in stadiums around the world, the atmosphere on the day was incomparable. Although Jadeja perished attacking, Srinath's enterprise got India to a mammoth total. Given the score after 40 overs and with Waqar and Aaqib leading the attack, the final score of 287 was far beyond dreams of grandiose proportions in those times.
Since Azhar's dismissal, I had agreed with the anti-jinx measure in the stands that the bugle be blown only when there are more than two runs scored. I almost didn't stop during the last few overs. A touch out of steam at the halfway stage, but high on adrenaline, we still vociferously celebrated the Indian batting.
During the innings break, the floodlights started to take over from the daylight. Ian Chappel's commentary has been an integral part of growing up for my generation. His "under lights, it's a magnificent sight" illustration of the Chinnaswamy that evening was an apt one, as I realised having watched countless ball-by-ball reruns of this game. We sat there admiring every tiny detail of the spectacle, including even the shape of the towers.
Given the manner in which the Indian innings ended, it felt as though the intimidating crowd belted out Welcome to the Jungle, the big hit by Guns N' Roses, as the Pakistan openers walked into the arena.
However, Anwar and Sohail soon hushed the packed crowd with their aggressive stand. After about eight overs or so into the chase, I saw a group of UVCE seniors make their way to the exit. When I put my arms up as if to signal "what the heck", they responded before leaving, "This game is done, we'll go get a few drinks and cool off." Famous last words!
After ten overs Pakistan had raced to 84 and made the target look much smaller. Then, to borrow tennis parlance, came an unforced error. Anwar succumbed to Srinath while trying to work a ball to the leg side. We were on our feet for the first time in more than 30 desperate minutes of sitting on those steps in the eastern gallery. There was hope in the air and the crowd had gotten chirpy. That man, Sohail, though, was quick to quell the upsurge as he slammed a few more big shots on the way to a fantastic half-century.
Eventually Venkatesh Prasad, another local lad, sent Sohail's off stump cartwheeling and pandemonium ensued in the stands. This match itself is still famous for that Prasad-Sohail incident.
Normalcy was restored thereafter, with Prasad accounting for Ijaz Ahmed and Inzamam-ul Haq. Malik and Miandad then got together and Miandad, in particular, was struggling to time the ball. Around the 27 or 28th over of the innings, I noticed that required run rate on the electronic scoreboard was incorrect. About three-fourths of the "Park boys" were Engineering students and an incorrect calculation quickly brought up intense discussions. A close analysis was followed by raucous celebrations in our area, much to the bemusement of everyone else in our stand, who were unaware of the reason for a random celebration during a quiet but intense stage of the game! My calculation of the asking rate was lower than the number shown on the scorecard. Upon a review of the differences, it came about that Pakistan had only 49 overs to get to the target! There were no announcements in the stadium to that effect and the scoreboard did not specify it.
Kumble finally got rid of Malik and we were absolutely ecstatic. With Miandad still struggling and Wasim Akram not fit, the optimism among the crowd was high. This was only helped along as Rashid Latif and Miandad poked around after Malik's dismissal. The mood of the crowd unexpectedly turned into panic, as Latif hit the biggest six of the day. As the ball went high into the clear night skies, it seemed like clearing the ground, but eventually hit the edge of the roof right next to the BEML stand and bounced back into the ground. The chase was back on and it seemed that Pakistan had potentially found yet another hero in the making. Javed joined in with a boundary of his own and we were back on our bums and that bugle fell silent. Pakistan were still in with a real chance as it was about 72 to get off eight overs.
Despite being hit around by Latif, Venkatapathy Raju held his nerve to gently flight the ball, beat Latif and got Nayan Mongia to whip the bails off in a flash. The intense celebrations resumed.
Miandad's ageing legs then gave way while attempting a risky single. As we awaited the TV umpire's decision, we could see that Miandad was already halfway down to the Pavilion. He knew the outcome! The "Park boys" were elated to see the signal and so was the entire crowd. The eastern upper stand trembled as the crowd jumped around berserk. Now, this was surely it! The stadium turned deafening as the chants rang out, loud firecrackers went off in random places and the musical instruments, including that VVSHS Bugle, were in full blast.
Pakistan just about avoided being bowled out and after the final ball was bowled, the cheers from the crowd swelled to a crescendo. We could see the post-match presentations go on, but could hear none of it. Reluctantly we started to make our way outside the stadium, stopping to hug and dance with various other groups along the stairs. This was simply pure joy. Cubbon road was packed with people and there were some folks with boxes of sweets.
After partying in the city centre, we decided to head homewards. While walking along the Raj Bhavan road close to midnight, there was still a steady stream of excited folks on two-wheelers screaming into town for the after-party. A couple of us broke off from the group and headed back to UVCE. Much to our delight, the college canteen was still open amidst their own celebrations. After a long day under the blazing sun, we got some cool drinks to fix our dehydrated bodies and took a crate along to cool off the boys, who walked home as there were not enough tuk-tuks around. We caught up with them at Seshadripuram to deliver the cold drinks. Some of the cola bottles were sprayed around as though it was champagne and why not! It reflected the mood of the hour. I eventually got home after 2am.
As requested, my mother had come home early from work and had recorded the entire game on VHS tape. Needless to say, I watched the entire Indian innings, forwarding some parts, and the Pakistan wickets well past 5am on March 10th, before I decided to call it a night. Despite being in the stadium, I properly saw the Sohail-Prasad incident only about eight hours after it happened! Imagine life without internet, on-demand TV, social media etc.
The hangover of the game lasted for a long time and I am glad to have asked myself that question on that evening in Basavanagudi.
Sudhindra is an electronics engineer and a sports buff based near Frankfurt. He treasures his cricket tie collection, which dates back to the 1975 World Cup. He co-founded Dresden CC (now Rugby Cricket Dresden) and captained the side to the Bundesliga divisional final in their debut season.