Last Saturday, the 9th of March , marked the 23rd anniversary one of the most inspirational cricket comebacks by a bowler – Venkatesh Prasad vs Aamir Sohail. Only those Cricket fans who have watched this moment live either in stadium or TV will be able to appreciate the magnitude of this moment.
The 1996 cricket world Cup was the first one for me. My dad used to subscribe to The Sportstar magazine. I loved their colourful sports visuals. I remember the 96 Cricket World Cup exclusive edition where it had profiled all 12 teams playing the World Cup. The Sportstar was rooting for an India Pakistan final. It used the words “mouth-watering contest”. I could not fathom why an India-Pakistan cricket match was being hyped so much. But I was sucked into all the hype as I started following the World Cup and hoped to see an Indo-Pak final.
Powered by Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, India finished third in Group B having won against Kenya, Zimbabwe and the West Indies. Sachin’s heroics went in vain against the Aussies and the Lankans. Pakistan in Group B had defeated everyone except South Africa. So, on the 9th of March 1996, a Saturday , A2 and B3 squared off against each other. The Hindu’s sports page headline screamed “The match of the tournament today!!” I just couldn’t understand what the hype was all about.
Mohammed Azharuddin won the toss and decided to bat. The crowd at the Chinnaswamy Bangalore had already let out a huge roar when the coin fell in India’s favour. I just couldn’t get why cricket crazy fans went berserk at just the toss. Sachin and Navjot Sidhu got India off to a great start. India had gone to 90/0 in 21 overs when disaster struck. Sachin chopped one on to his stumps off Ata-ur-Rahman. At 90/1, with Sachin gone, I almost wanted to switch off the TV. But Indo-Pak matches were just not about one individual. Navjot Singh Sidhu, decided to play one of the best innings of his career and made 93 fighting runs. By the time Sidhu got out , India were 168/3 in the 36th over. Azhar was looking extremely good but he fell to a great catch by the keeper Rashid Latif off Waqar Younis. The score was 200/4 in the 42nd over. In those days , 270 plus was a decent score. In walked Ajay Jadeja at 6. Vinod Kambil got out at 234/5 in 46.3 overs. With 21 balls to go, 30 runs was a decent achievement against Waqar and co and 265 was something which could have given the bowlers a chance. Jadeja was losing partners at the other end. India had plummeted to 239/6 at the end of 47 overs.
Waqar Younis, in those days was feared world over for his toe-crushing yorkers. Anil Kumble, the local boy, lofted Waqar over mid off for a boundary. The roar was back at the Chinnaswamy. The legendary Tony Greig screamed “Anil Kumble – Get ready for a blistering Yorker on middle stump”. I guess Kumble heard those words. The length was just two inches short of a Yorker. Kumble played a glorious flick through mid-wicket for four. Waqar was clearly rattled. Kumble took a single the next ball. Waqar decided to bowl a Yorker on the off side to Jadeja. Jadeja creamed it along extra cover for four. The first 5 balls of the over read 3,4,4,1,4. 16 off 5 balls against Waqar Younis. Jadeja was not finished yet. Waqar with all his might bowled a toe-crusher on middle stump. I thought Jadeja’s middle stump would be uprooted. But Ajay Jadeja was in a different zone that day. He had read Waqar’s mind , took a step back on the crease , created the elevation and flicked the ball over mid-wicket for six. The Chinnaswamy was in raptures. 22 off Waqar’s over and India had moved to 258/6 after 48 !!! The 49th over produced 11 runs and India were 269/6. It was a good score already, but Jadeja was not done yet. Waqar steamed in. The ball was a length ball on off stump;Jadeja moved to the leg side and caressed him over point for four. The next ball was despatched over long off for 6. 10 off 2 balls. Waqar had lost the plot. Jadeja with his unconventional feet movement of moving to the leg side had got the better off Waqar. He got out the next ball but Ajay Jadeja’s 26 ball 45 with 2 sixes and 4 boundaries (all off Waqar’s bowling ) till date, remains one of the most inspirational cameos in World Cup history. India ended with 287/6. Pakistan were fined an over for slow over rate and their target was 288/6 in 49 overs. What a finale to the Indian innings !!!
The Pakistani openers Aamir Sohail ( stand-in captain for the injured Wasim Akram) and Saeed Anwar, got the team off to a flyer. 50 came in the 7th over, 84/0 at the end of 10. The bowlers were being flayed to all parts of the ground. The Chinnaswamy had gone silent. I almost wanted to switch off the TV, but always had a hope that all it takes was one wicket to get India back into the game. It had been a miserable start by the Indian bowlers. Saeed Anwar got out to Srinath at 84/1 but Aamir Sohail was still going strong. Pakistan crossed 100 in the 14th over and Sohail got to his 50. Sohail was slowly but surely taking away the match from India. 14 overs 104/1 . 185 off 35 overs required ( less than 6 runs per over). I felt sad for Jadeja, Sidhu and all the others who had helped India reach 287.
Venkatesh Prasad came running in to bowl the 15th over. Ijaz Ahmed took 5 runs off the first 2 balls Pak 110/1 at 14.2. Quite fittingly, the two commentators on the mic were Ravi Shastri and Imran Khan. The next 2 balls were dot balls.
14.5 Prasad bowled a back of length ball. Sohail flat-batted it between point and cover for a four. However, Sohail did something which stunned everyone. Sohail walked down to Prasad, pointed his finger in the direction of the boundary either in arrogance or in triumph. He did not know the impact of that small action on various individuals in the minutes, months and days to come. Little did I imagine that Aaamir Sohail’s seemingly innocuous act would change the game for me forever. At this point, I was feeling angry for Sohail’s act. I felt that Sohail was pointing a finger at Indians. I felt I was Venkatesh Prasad and I was being embarrassed. I never thought I would get so involved in an innocuous match. Now I started to understand why The Hindu headline screamed “The Match of the Tournament today”. I really wanted to slap Aamir Sohail if he was right in front of me at that moment. The fact that India Pakistan as neighbouring countries had a tense history only added fuel to the fire and added to the drama. I am sure every Indian cricket fan watching the match seriously would have wanted to beat up Sohail for his seemingly arrogant act. My dad was frowning. The crowd was somewhere between booing and shouting. Amidst all this Ravi Shastri screamed “What is Prasad going to do?”
Ball 14.6 India vs Pakistan – World Cup quarter-final – March 9th 1996 – Venkatesh Prasad against Aamir Sohail….
Prasad came in running, Sohail tried to move away and repeat the previous boundary shot and missed the length. Credit to Prasad, he held his nerve and bowled a “you miss, I hit “ ball and the rest as they say is history. Venkatesh Prasad sent Aamir Sohail’s stumps cartwheeling out of the ground and gave him a fitting reply – he signaled him off to the pavilion. The Chinnaswamy erupted. My dad jumped from his chair and angrily clenched his fist and said “BC .. bahut akkad mey tha Sohail.. Ab kya ukhaadega Pakistan”. Ravi Shastri screamed “And he’s bowled him!! India are right back in the game”. I was like a fool jumping up and down with joy with both my hands raised. I went to my dad and gave him a hi-fi. I had never done this before and after. This was like a Eureka moment for me and I felt like I had conquered Mount Everest. I could not imagine that a cricket match could invoke so much emotion in me. Post Sohail’s wicket, Pakistan fell like a pack of cards. When Sohail departed, their run rate was 7.16 per over and the required rate was 5.23 per over. But Sohail’s lapse in concentration ensured he not only gifted his wicket, but also gifted the momentum to India. Rashid Latif, Salim Malik and Javed Miandad tried to make a match of it but Venkatapathy Raju, Kumble and Prasad ensured India had the last laugh. Navjot Sidhu was adjudged ” man of the match ” for his valiant 93 but to me, Venkatesh Prasad for his 3/45 off 10 was the “Inspirational Indian of the Match “.
Like in every match, there’s always a turning point in one’s life. The difference between movie heroes and sporting heroes is that sports heroes are for real. When the going gets tough, those who are mentally tough keep calm and continue to do the basics right. They put their past behind and work on the next ball. Thinking about the past is of no use as it is already gone. Those who hold their nerve under pressure, when their backs are to the wall ,and do the simple things right stand out in a crowd.
Venkatesh Prasad became one of my all time favourite bowlers, because in the highest-pressure cooker situations, he would save his best for Pakistan. In the 1999 World Cup, he took 5/27. Prasad, Sachin, Kumble and Sourav would always reserve their best for Pakistan. Venkatesh Prasad is a highly under-rated but a highly inspirational medium fast bowler India has produced. He may not have the highest wickets like Kapil or Anil, but he has a special place amongst cricket fans who have followed Indo-Pak World Cup matches.
Venkatesh Prasad – you have given me one of my most inspirational cricketing moments. You made me forget who I was and what I was doing for those few minutes. If somebody can do that, it means s/he has impacted you. That’s why I love watching sports live as sport is so unpredictable and the sheer joy of watching David win over Goliath is amazing. I felt lucky that I had watched this inspirational moment live on TV. Luckier were those who were there at the Chinnaswamy. India lost in the semis to Lanka but for most Indians, the World Cup was already won in their hearts as we had beaten Pakistan. God’s 98 off 75 at Centurion, Desert Storm, a Very Very Special 281 and Dhoni’s 6 to finish off 2011 WC come close but nothing has surpassed this for me.
If God had given me a wish to become someone for a few minutes, I think it would have been Venkatesh Prasad in the 15th over on March 9th, 1996 .