- Fans had flooded Eden gardens in anticipation that India will cruise through to world cup final
- As soon as fans started to sense that India is losing, they started to create ruckus in stadium
- Later, various accusations and counter-accusations followed, but nothing could be proved
Ask a cricket fan, what would they choose, exhilarating big hits or place in world cup final? A Place in world cup final would be answer anytime. This is what Indian fans vouched for when they turned up for India-Sri Lanka match on 13 March 1996. Alas! It turned out to be a black day for them.
India to ‘bowl first’
In their heads, Indians on the eventual day were all set to see their team thrashing Lankans to enter into finals. Even Lankans having beaten India in league matches had no impact on Indian fans; after all they had Anil Kumble and Sachin Tendulkar to represent them. Both were leading wicket takers and run scorers in the tournament respectively.
Eden Gardens was jam-packed with fans flooding the stadium from morning itself. Mohammed Azharuddin won the toss and decided to bowl first. The rational was that the island nation was best chaser in the tournament. The decision to bowl also stemmed from the fact that Sri Lanka had shown no fuss in chasing down India’s score of 271 in league match.
Srinath ran through Sri Lanka top order
Soon, Javagal Srinath, India’s old war-horse proved his captain right by dismissing explosive Jayasurya and Ramesh Kaluwitharana at the total score of 2. Sanjay Manjarekar had later revealed that team had done extensive preparations to chalk out a strategy for dismissing both openers. Dismissing them in the tournament was like winning half the match.
Indians celebrated like lions. However, India’s problem of laxity after success was their biggest mental block in the tournament. Same story was repeated in this match as well. After Srinath took the third wicket at 35, Team India went into the relax mode and the Lankan middle order was too good to allow them some breather.
Laxity by India
Slowly and steadily, Aravinda De Silva and Roshan Mahanama turned the tide with their steady fifties. Later handy thirties from captain Ranatunga and Hashan Tilakaratne ensured than Sri Lanka had a base to launch themselves in final overs.
Surprisingly, final overs’ hitting was provided by Chaminda Vaas and Lankans posed a decent score of 251 on batting friendly Eden Gardens.
Chasing 252 on Eden gardens was never going to be tough. However, India lost a wicket early when Navjot Sidhu was dismissed by gentle seaming delivery of Vaas. The onus of taking India towards victory gate fell was on all important Sachin Tendulkar. Sanjay Manjrekar joined in to support the ‘Little Master’.
However, Manjrekar could never get going. It was proving to be difficult for him to get bat on ball. This led to mounting pressure on Sachin. Tendulkar replied back with fierce intensity and scored a fluent 65 off 88 balls with 9 boundaries. Uncharacteristically, he was dismissed in 20th over with the team’s score at 98.
Sri Lankan’s spin web
This was precisely what the Lankans were waiting for. India’s ‘cricketing Hanuman’ had fallen. For some mysterious reasons, team got paralyzed. Azhar who was known for his big hitting could not get bat on ball and spent 6 deliveries without scoring a run. Azharuddin got out as if he was giving catching practice to Lankans.
India sent in Javagal Srinath for his pinch hitting abilities, only to witness his needless run out dismissal. Sanath Jayasurya, Muthiah Muralidharan and Kumar Dharmasena waved a web of spin around Indian batting order. Within 22 runs, India had lost 7 wickets and the only recognizable batsman left was Vinod Kambli.
Describing the moment when Manjrekar realised that match had slipped from India’s hand, he wrote, “Kumar Dharmasena bowled an off-break to Azhar that pitched outside off and ended with Kaluwitharana down the leg side – he had to collect it chest high. It was called a wide; I will never forget Dharmsena’s smile – to me it was the smile of the devil, but he had perhaps realised that the match was theirs now”
Riot and Sri Lanka win
As India kept losing wickets, the crowd went jittery. They started to throw every dispensable object towards the playing area. Though it was the frustration towards their own players, Indian fans unintentionally started hitting Lankan players and ball boys with bottles, cans, plastic bags etc. Soon, the anarchists of the bunch started to burn things in stadium itself, leading to abandonment of play.
Arjun Ranatunga then complained to the officials and the Sri Lankan players refused to take the field. Later, match referee Clive Lloyd handed over the match to Sri Lanka. When the game ended Vinod Kambli and Anil Kumble were at the crease.
Match fixing accusations
Kambli’s devastated crying face still reverberates on TV screens. In his later years, Kambli accused that the match was fixed. He accused Azharuddin of going against the management decision of batting first. Accusations and counter accusations followed but nothing substantive could be proved.
Meanwhile, the unruly crowd made a permanent dent on India’s image which took 15 years to whitewash when India hosted the 2011 World Cup According to legends, fans had nothing against Sri Lankan players, they were angry with their own players.
Apparently, one of the fans had written on his placards, “Congratulations Sri Lanka…. We are sorry”