By Rajesh Tiwary
Growing up in the early 1990s, kids of my generation weren’t unfamiliar with Indian cricketing superstars. We had known batting demigods, larger-than-life all-rounders and world class spinners. We could have happily traded a couple dozen quality spinners for a genuine fast bowler, of course, but we weren’t short of heroes. We weren’t short of heartbreaking results either, especially against Pakistan, especially in Sharjah.
Some of these were games I saw on a grainy Doordarshan feed and then on better quality, but equally heartbreaking, cable TV feeds. Some games were just part of stories I had heard in gory details from my dad and uncles.
The impact of the stories was somehow bigger than TV visuals. The most ominously painful and continually retold story was about Chetan Sharma bowling a full toss when Pakistan needed four to win off the last bowl and Javed Miandad hitting it out of the ground/out on the streets/out over the back of a camel walking in the desert!
Details on how big that six was depended on the level of the raconteur’s imagination. I could relate to that story completely even if the details seemed hyperbolic. I knew that despite having heroes and superstars, our team didn’t have what it takes to deliver under pressure against our neighbours.
Whether it’s a game played in playgrounds, maidans, alleys or backyard, a bowler under pressure in the last over was often reminded, "Bhai Chetan Sharma mat ban jaana."
There was that win in 1992 World Cup, of course, but it seemed like a complete fluke from a team that couldn’t beat any other team except Zimbabwe. A few Saeed Anwar square drives and dropped Azharuddin shoulders later, we faced off again for a place in 1996 World Cup semi-final. Played 3, lost 3, all in Sharjah since that 1992 game.
We all remember that 1996 match for various reasons. My personal memory is a slap across my face when I abused in unison with Venkatesh Prasad as Aamir Sohail’s off stump went for a walk on Bangalore’s MG Road. Elder brother seemed more stunned than appalled. What I had lacked in shortage of curse-vocabulary, I had compensated with sheer passion, pitch and loudness.
Our neighbours can attest.
Miandad was still there, of course. A slightly bloated shadow of his past self. Reputation, respect, and his ego his only allies at the crease. Lower-quality cameras and less keen cricket watchers meant that when Rashid Latif hit those two towering sixes, the family and neighbours went, "Maar diya daad ne phir se."
Reputation and fear often bring undue admiration. Huffing and puffing his way to a curtain call at a strike rate of less than 60, Miandad was put out of his misery by an agile and accurate Ajay Jadeja. There was poetic justice in the way this tragic war veteran walked back to the pavilion for the final time in his career.
For me, it was also the first sign of an Indian team that had more belief against Pakistan. So much belief that we even beat them in Sharjah the same year, scoring 300 for the first time in an ODI match.
Brighter days were still in store with a victory in 1999 World Cup. Even then the Pakistan team had dominated us in the lead up and were a much stronger team, but the World Cup was always going to be India’s stage.
2003 should have been declared a technical knockout after that Sachin upper-cut off Shoaib. India was now the dominant side of that decade both in terms of clout and confidence. You could now back this team every time it stepped onto the field against the arch-rivals. Even in Pakistan, where we clinched both ODI and Test series in 2004. We didn’t just have match winners, we even had a bully who could take on a fielder at the rope to reach 300 with a six.
Then there was the T20 chapter of this rivalry. If this new format was a theatre, then a stage with India and Pakistan playing the final was its Broadway. Lead cast of this theatre was a man from a small town with long hair, a rookie captain who looked more calm in this emotional, high octane drama of a match than he was entitled to be.
The jury will forever be out on his intuition, luck and tactical genius. On that night it was a bit of it all, ably helped by an epic brain fade. T20 had arrived and India were champions.
A few more customary World Cup wins later, we are still undefeated against Pakistan in World Cups in 2016. The venue is Eden Gardens (finally!), larger in size than the combined ego of BCCI honchos and loud enough in voice to send a strong message to sensationalist politicians on both sides of the border.
The small town boy who looks more suave and sagely now has a Bollywood biopic. Having won every prize in the game, many consider him India’s greatest captain already. Kids of current generation who are fortunate enough to have not heard of Javed Miandad and Chetan Sharma story, call upon Dhoni for inspiration in a tight last over finish in a galli cricket match.
The legacy is unquestionable now. But that won’t take anything away from the pressure of being the first Indian captain to lose a World Cup game against Pakistan.