• youtube
  • facebook
  • twitter

ICC World Cup 2023: Two heartbreaks and then …. euphoria!

Jaideep Marar goes back in time and recalls India’s performances in World Cup semi-finals at home ahead of Rohit Sharma & Co’s duel against New Zealand at the Wankhede Stadium

The past has not been perfect for India whenever they have played a World Cup semi-final at home. There were two agonising setbacks in 1987 and 1996 but MS Dhoni’s team broke that sequence in 2011 with a heart-warming win against Pakistan and later sent the nation into raptures by winning the crown at the Wankhede Stadium defeating Sri Lanka in the final.

Once again India are in the semi-finals on the back of a stupendous display and are up against a tricky opponent, New Zealand and it is a good time to reflect upon the past three instances.

Ever since Kapil’s Devils’ stunning display in the 1983 World Cup, India’s one-day teams were always a force to reckon with in global events. The World Championship of Cricket success in 1985 in Australia followed by the 1985 high at Sharjah in the Four-Nation Cup,   the Hero Cup (1993) and Singer World Series (1994) wins increased the following for the sport in the country by leaps and bounds. These multi-event triumphs also meant the expectations from the Indian team at World Cups had also risen exponentially.

Gooch sweeps Indians off their feet

The Indian fan expected his team to win the World Cup every time they participated in the quadrennial extravaganza, especially when they were played at home. It was no different in 1987 for varied reasons. For the first time, the World Cup had moved out of England and was being hosted in the sub-continent but more importantly India were the defending champions. For the players, it was an opportunity to repeat the Lord’s success in front of their home fans. Kapil Dev’s team were on course and topped the group standings to enter the semi-final where they were pitted against England.

The fan interest in this last four encounter at the Wankhede Stadium doubled as just a day before Australia knocked out Pakistan in the first semi-final in Lahore. The Mumbai fans too had their reasons as their favourite son, Sunil Gavaskar, had decided to pull the curtains on a glorious career after the World Cup and it was the last time they would be seeing him play in an Indian jersey. More importantly, a week earlier the diminutive opener had shed his calm demeanour and launched a blistering attack on the New Zealand bowlers during India’s last group match in Nagpur to notch his first century in one-day internationals. Gavaskar smacked 10 fours and three sixes in his unbeaten 103 (88 balls) and ensured he finally had a three-figure mark against his name in his 107th ODI.

A packed Wankhede Stadium greeted the semi-finalists but the Indians suffered a setback when middle-order batsman Dilip Vengsarkar was ruled out of the game due to food poisoning and was replaced by Chandrakant Pandit. There was some consolation when captain Kapil Dev won the toss and put England into bat.

The Indians managed to get opener Tim Robinson (13) and No.3 Bill Athey (3) early but Graham Gooch stood in the way as he took on the left-arm spinners Maninder Singh and Ravi Shastri. The tall batter used the sweep shot to telling effect and blunted the spin threat completely. It was a smart ploy by Gooch, who had planned this to perfection. He had rushed to Mumbai after England’s last league match against Sri Lanka in Pune and called up a few local left-spinners to bowl at him so that he could perfect the sweep shot. It was an effective weapon to nullify the danger posed by the Indian spinners on a dry surface. Gooch scored 115 off 136 balls and hit 11 fours as England galloped to a strong total of 254-6, an above par score in that era.

Mike Gatting, another fine exponent of the sweep shot, too flourished in Gooch’s company and the England captain was the second highest scorer for the team with 56 runs under his belt. Maninder still broke through the English ranks and the classy left-arm spinner, coached by the legendary Bishen Singh Bedi, returned best figures (3-54) for India.

Despite Gooch’s heroics, India remained in the hunt to chase down the England score but a spectacular collapse when they lost their last five wickets for the addition of just 15 runs undid it all.

An early setback was in store when India began their innings when Gavaskar (4) was bowled by pacer Phil DeFreitas with just 7 runs on the board. It was a disappointing end to a storied career of one of India’s finest batters. Mohammad Azharuddin (66) and Kapil Dev (30) then kept India’s ship afloat despite the asking rate rising to 6 an over. There was still hope when these two were are the crease but once Kapil fell going for a big hit against the 38-year-old off-spinner Eddie Hemmings, playing his 10th ODI, everything went south for India. Hemmings made the most of the situation picking four wickets.

 Trouble in Eden

India got a chance to redeem themselves in the 1996 edition. The stage was set after a glorious victory against Pakistan in the quarterfinal in Bangalore. And now they were to face the brilliant Sri Lankans, whose openers Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana grabbed the headlines with flying starts.

The Eden Gardens filled with 100,000 passionate fans, waiting in anticipation of an Indian win, formed an ideal setting for the Indians. Mohammad Azharuddin, won the toss and put Sri Lanka to bat on a crumbling pitch. Reports about the pitch not being up to the mark had been floating around after a disastrous opening ceremony ruined further by rain had damaged the playing surface.

India went in with a plan of opening the attack with fast bowler Javagal Srinath and leg-spinner Anil Kumble, instead of pacer Venkatesh Prasad, to negate the threat posed by the Sri Lankan openers. But Srinath dismissed the dangermen Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana in the first over and Sri Lanka were down to 1-2 with just four balls into the match. Oddly, India continued with Kumble despite the dismissal of the openers.

‘Mad Max’ Aravinda showed his mettle and put the Sri Lankan innings back on the rails with a classy 66 off 47 balls, that included 14 delectable fours. The Sri Lankan middle-order cashed in on the foundation provided by Aravinda with Roshan Mahanama (58), captain Arjuna Ranatunga (35) and Hashan Tillekaratne (32) chipping in to power the Islanders to a healthy 251-8.

Ranatunga was to say later that once his team crossed 200, he was sure the match was in his bag due to the crumbling pitch. Right enough, the Indian innings flickered well until two of their best batters against spin bowling — Sachin Tendulkar (65) and Sanjay Manjrekar (25) — were at the crease but once their defences were breached by left-arm spinner Jayasuriya it was a freefall.

From a relatively comfortable position of 98-1, India lost 7 wickets for the addition of just 22 runs. The stunning collapse infuriated the fans who went berserk in the stands, lighting up fires, throwing water bottles on the field and other things they could lay their hands on. All pleas by the organisers and umpires fell went unheeded and eventually Match Referee Clive Lloyd awarded the match to Sri Lanka “by default”.

The image of an inconsolable Vinod Kamble, who was stranded at one end, unbeaten on 10, reluctantly walking back to the pavilion marked a poignant end to the Indian campaign.

In both the 1987 and 1996 semi-finals, India were upstaged by smart moves of the opponents. They faltered despite being in dominant positions and eventually succumbed to pressure.

Finally, sweet success

There were no such issues in 2011 with a charismatic captain MS Dhoni at the helm. It was another high-pressure game accentuated by the presence of the Prime Ministers of the two countries. Pakistan premier Yousuf Geelani accepted the Indian premier Manmohan Singh’s invite to attend the match as the leaders used the game to mend the relations between the two countries.

Opener Sehwag’s fluent 38 off 25 balls set the ball rolling for India after Dhoni won the toss and decided to bat first. Pakistan fumbled badly in the field and dropped five catches, four off Sachin Tendulkar (85 off 115 balls), who encashed upon the rivals’ largesse to emerge as the top scorer for his team. Suresh Raina’s cameo (36 not out off 39 balls) aided India’s cause as they ended up with 260 runs on the board.

Pakistan started well with openers Kamran Akmal (19) and Mohd Hafeez (43) adding 44 runs in 8.6 overs but the disciplined Indian bowlers’ then took charge and picked up wickets at regular intervals and bowled out Pakistan for 231. All five bowlers shared the spoils picking up two wickets each.

The Indians handled the pressure and hype around this game well and came out trumps while Pakistan returned home humbled.