Blog by: Thunder Dog
14th of March 1996. India had just been shown the door by an upbeat Sri Lankan outfit in the first semi-final of the 1996 World Cup. The second semi-final, to be played on this date, between Australia and West Indies was, therefore, expected to be a low-key affair with the Indian cricket fraternity mourning the death of Indian cricket – in all ways possible – at the Eden Gardens. But the cricket-crazy public of Mohali had other things in mind as they thronged the PCA stadium on a hot and sweltering March day in Punjab.
Prior to this tournament, West Indies had long gone into decline. Their tour of Australia just before the World Cup was, to mildly put it, an embarrassment. Add to that the in-fighting between Brian Lara and the captain Richie Richardson and the Windies were not expected to come so far. More so after they were handed a shock defeat by Kenya in their very first World Cup campaign – chasing a modest 160, West Indies were bundled out for 93.
But they defied odds to reach the semi-final as a superlative nelson by Lara choked the red-hot South African team in the quarter-finals. They were one step from the final and chance to reclaim lost glory.
Australia, on the other hand, was the form team of the World Cup along with Sri Lanka. Not only had they beaten the West Indies in their own backyard, they had quelled off strong challenges by Pakistan and Sri Lanka at home before winning the Benson and Hedges tri-series. A third World Cup final appearance was a foregone conclusion. Or was it?
The Australian captain Mark Taylor won the toss and elected to bat – a rather surprising decision as the Mohali pitch is one of the rare ones in the subcontinent to offer some juice upfront to the fast bowlers. And no one would make better use of it than the mean demon Curtly Ambrose.
It took him two balls to take out Mark Waugh, Australia’s man in form with three centuries in the tournament. Clearly Australia was not used to this – in no time they were in a lot of trouble. Ambrose sniped out the Young Turk Ponting while Ian Bishop took out Taylor and Steve Waugh. At 15 for 4, Australia were facing the prospects of an early dinner.
Enter Stuart Law and Michael Bevan. Both were relatively inexperienced and Bevan still hadn’t attained fame and fortune as a middle-order game changer although some months back against the same opposition he had taken his team to the shore in a nerve-shredding thriller at Sydney. Plan A had long gone out of the window; Plan B was surviving Curtly Ambrose.
Eventually Ambrose ran out of fire and brimstone and the Windies brought on the likes of Gibson, Adams and Harper. Sensing an opportunity, Law-Bevan put a foot in the door. Soon enough they would slam it open.
By the time Law was dismissed in a tired mix-up of a run out, he had made 72. Bevan perished soon after for a well-made 69 in an effort to up the ante. It took a cheeky 31 from Ian Healy to take them past the 200 mark. A vast improvement from 15 for 4 but a middling effort from 0 for 0.
To upset Australia’s bowling plans, Richardson sent out Courtney Browne to pinch hit his way to World Cup glory. In response Taylor introduced Warne’s guiles in the 6th over and was promptly rewarded with Browne’s wicket.
The other opener Chanderpaul and Lara would not be tamed so easily though. Slowly but steadily they built a platform till Lara was castled by a peach from that part-timer Steve Waugh. Out came Richie Richardson in his floppy hat – a far cry from the helmet-ensconced batsmen of the day. The World Cup was to be his swansong and it coaxed him to put in that bit extra. With Chanderpaul he took West Indies to 43 runs from the target with plenty of balls then.
It was then a rare brain freeze from Chanderpaul made him throw his wicket away. As a last-ditch option, Taylor had pulled the field up from the boundary for Chanderpaul forcing him to go for shots. Dehydrated and cramping, Chanderpaul obliged by spooning one to mid-off off the bowling of McGrath.
It was then that Taylor brought Warne to pull out one last round of tricks from his bag. Warne responded and how as the Windies middle order crumbled against his wizardry. When Bishop fell to Warne, West Indies needed 14 from 12 balls with Richardson still at the crease. It was to come down to 10 off the last over.
Richardson smashed one off Damien Fleming to bring the equation down to 6 needed from 5. A cakewalk by today’s standards but this was the 90s. Off the next ball, Ambrose inexplicably ran himself out going for a non-existent single. Chris Martin’s predecessor with the bat Courtney Walsh came out and was promptly cleaned up first ball. Australia had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Or, more accurately, West Indies had pushed them aside and jumped into the jaws themselves.
One could feel for Richie Richardson though. Being a part of many a winning side from the 80s to 90s, he was a stranger to the current shambles West Indies cricket found itself in. He had toiled manfully though from his end and a World Cup victory or, at least, a Final appearance would have been a fitting denouement. Instead he was left stranded by his teammates on a symbolic 49 not out. Disappointed and disgruntled, Richardson took his leave from the game on this unsavoury note.