Bangalore: “And that’s out. Yes, it’s all over this time. Lost his nerve in the end, did Michael Holding.” More than 29 years on, those Indians who managed to hear the words over their own screams of delight have not forgotten them. We love sport because it throws up such moments that remain seared in the mind forever.
One such occurred in Kiev last Sunday. With Italy 1-2 down in the penalty shootout, Andrea Pirlo – the best player on the pitch by a distance – produced a delicate chip of such impudence that England never recovered. Quiet and soft-spoken, Pirlo chose the big stage and a cacophonic atmosphere to illustrate how star players leave their imprint at the most opportune moments.
That 1983 final turned India’s way with a moment of genius in the field. Kapil Dev’s running catch to send back a rampaging Viv Richards transformed the game, just as Javed Miandad’s last-ball six in Sharjah three years later changed the course of a rivalry. Later that year, India were at the receiving end of another magic moment, with Greg Matthews wheeling away in delight after trapping Maninder Singh leg before in the second tied Test.
In 1992, Wasim Akram summoned up two unbelievable deliveries to wrest the initiative for Pakistan in a World Cup final, but the match was also memorable for Imran Khan taking the final wicket. Whatever your feelings about his post-match speech, his influence on the world game and his country’s team was undeniable and the World Cup a fitting reward for someone whose allround skills were second only to Sir Garfield Sobers.
Sachin Tendulkar, the man who succeeded him as Asian cricket’s standard-bearer, has contributed a fair bit to the highlights reels. At Chennai in 1999, as he walked off after a heroic 136, the pain was etched on his face.
Four years later, at Centurion, the expression was very different as he smashed Shoaib Akhtar over third man for a six that felt as game-changing as the Pirlo penalty with India chasing a daunting total.
Shoaib himself was proof that it’s not victory or defeat alone that contribute to the memory bank. One of the highlights of the 1999 World Cup was a bouncer to Sherwin Campbell that flew off the top edge for six. With the Caribbean production line slowing down, it was a welcome reminder that there are few sights more thrilling than raw pace being used to rattle a batsman.
An inside-edge decided the Edgbaston Test of 2005, but it was what followed that became an iconic image, with Andrew Flintoff going down on his haunches to console Brett Lee. There was no such solace for the Indian team at Port of Spain two years later. Dumped out of the World Cup by Sri Lanka, the golden generation was left to shed tears in the dressing room. Only Tendulkar would find redemption four years later.
At the Twenty20 World Cup a few months later, Yuvraj Singh smashed six sixes, but it’s Misbah-ul-Haq’s mistimed scoop off Joginder Sharma that remains the most indelible freeze-frame. Millions on both sides of the border could hardly breathe as the ball ballooned up towards Sreesanth, and when it was held, it changed the course of cricket history. Without two gripping India-Pakistan games, the Yuvraj salvo and a cracking semifinal against Australia, it’s doubtful whether fans would have taken to the Indian Premier League as wholeheartedly as they did.
The moment I’ll recall most vividly arrived early the following year, in Perth. The sun was setting and most in the press box had already left after filing copy about India’s stunning victory. Mike Coward, who had been on the beat nearly four decades, sidled up to me and said: “More than a generation since a team other than West Indies beat us here. Who’d have thought that it would be India?”
The journey that began there culminated in the No.1 ranking after victory at the Brabourne Stadium against Sri Lanka in December 2009. If you were there, you’ll never forget the look on the faces of India’s seniors. Whatever the quirks in the ranking system and the itinerary, for them it was the final step in a journey to respectability that had taken a decade.
Sixteen months later, MS Dhoni clubbed the ball into the Mumbai night to ensure that it wouldn’t only be Kapil’s catch that was replayed endlessly each time the World Cup came up for discussion. This time, it was Ravi Shastri, who celebrated the 1983 triumph with fish and chips in Trafalgar Square, that provided the soundtrack. “Dhoni finishes off in style! A magnificent strike into the crowd. India lift the World Cup!”
It was Aldous Huxley that wrote: “Every man’s memory is his private literature.” If you’re a sports fan, the library will never be less than well-stocked.