October 21, 1996. The stage was set at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore for the third match of the Titan Cup between hosts India and World Cup finalists Australia.
Coming into the game, India had suffered a 47-run loss to South Africa in the opener. Australia, too, had been defeated by the Proteas by 7 wickets two days previously. So both the contestants were looking to get back to winning ways.
Mark Taylor won the toss and decided to bat first on a pitch that was known to assist both batsmen and bowlers. His move seemed to have flopped, as Indian seamer Venkatesh Prasad removed opener Mark Waugh for 4 with the total on 9. The aggressive Michael Slater also fell quickly after edging Prasad to wicket-keeper Nayan Mongia.
Steve Waugh then joined the entrenched Australian skipper and the two began to consolidate the innings, sharing a 92-run stand. Taylor was dour in his approach, while Waugh mixed both caution and aggression as the score passed the 100-run mark.
Right then, left-arm spinner Sunil Joshi induced the right-hander into playing a false stroke, with Ganguly taking a comfortable catch. Waugh contributed 41 to the partnership, leaving Taylor to once again re-build the innings with the hard-working Michael Bevan.
Both left-handers eschewed the big shots, preferring to place the ball into the gaps and punishing the odd loose delivery. Taylor registered his maiden ODI century in his 98th match, before Indian captain Sachin Tendulkar removed him for a well-made 105. Bevan followed soon after, giving Prasad his third wicket. Australia eventually finished on 215/7 in their 50 overs.
Then it was the turn of the Men in Blue.
They got off to a similar start – opener Sujith Somasunder was castled by seamer Glenn McGrath for 7. Dravid followed quickly, with Damien Fleming trapping him leg-before for 6. But it was Azhar’s dismissal that sent the crowd over the edge.
The former skipper played all over a straighter delivery from pacer Jason Gillespie. It rapped him on the pads, and despite numerous replays, the umpire ruled in favour of the fielding side. Azhar believed he had got a faint nick, and walked off, but not without mouthing the choicest of swear words at the umpire – a rare emotional display from an experienced player.
Without warning, the crowd erupted. Bottles, seat covers, whatever they could get their hands on – all of it came pelting down on the ground. Scenes of the infamous World Cup semi-final at Eden Gardens immediately came to mind, and it was a good 20 minutes before the spectators were quietened. Azhar himself returned to the field and walked around the perimeter, appealing for calm.
The disruption didn’t help the home side – Ganguly was run out following a horrible mix-up with Tendulkar. It left India reeling at 47/4. The Indian captain then slowly re-built the innings with Ajay Jadeja, taking the total to 126. Both players ran hard between the wickets and hit the occasional boundaries in a bid to push the score along. It didn’t help that Steve Waugh, after having an LBW appeal turned down, mouthed profanities and sat down on the ground in protest. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, and the game progressed.
The unexpected disruption caused yet another run-out, with Waugh scoring a direct hit at the non-striker’s end. Jadeja, who had set off for the run, collided with McGrath on his follow-through, and both went sprawling. He hung around, waiting for a recall – something that had occurred in the previous game when SA skipper Hansie Cronje had withdrawn his appeal and allowed the batsman to return to the crease.
Taylor declined, and Jadeja walked off in a huff. Nayan Mongia and Sunil Joshi also came and went quickly, putting much more pressure on the Indian captain, who had reached his fifty by then. Watching new batsman Javagal Srinath trying to hit every other delivery out of the park, Sachin succumbed to the pressure and was out lbw to Steve Waugh for a dogged 88.
At this point, a large number of fans switched off their TV sets, as they were wont to do whenever the Little Master was dismissed. Almost everyone believed that the game was finished, with India tottering at 164/8 and two bowlers at the crease.
Anil Kumble, affectionately nicknamed Jumbo, didn’t think so.
He kept on encouraging his state-mate Srinath – knocking some sense into the temperamental player who, till that point, was swinging and missing too many deliveries. Coaxed and cajoled by the leg-spinner, the seamer decided to curb his useless flailing and try to make a charge at the target.
And it worked like a charm.
Srinath struck a couple of calculated blows; the highlight of his innings was a glorious straight six off the grumpy elder Waugh. Kumble kept rotating the strike, exhorting his partner to play out each over calmly. In between, the lion-hearted leg-spinner managed to score a boundary himself.
The Bangalore boys rounded off the win in the 49th over when Kumble turned a Gillespie delivery past mid-wicket for two runs. Hysteria swept through the stadium as the entire Blue squad rushed out on the field to celebrate with the unlikely heroes. Australia had been subjected to their second defeat in two days – a defeat that was scripted by the enterprising ninth-wicket stand between two bowlers.
Srinath finished on an unbeaten 30 from 23 balls, while Kumble chipped in with a 19-ball 16. They knocked off the required 52 runs in just 40 deliveries.
This successful run-chase had a significant impact on the team’s fortunes. Although they suffered a losing streak against the Proteas, the Indians went on to win the tournament and ensured that the Titan Cup did not leave the country. In the context of the series, this game showed that India could pull off successful run-chases.
All in all – another glittering entry in the annals of cricket!