New Delhi:The climax of the Bangladesh Independence Cup was a heart-stopper, and then some. Those who witnessed the Dhaka final of the tri-series - incidentally the last triangular featuring India, Pakistan and Bangladesh - would remember the sequence of events. The wet start, the blazing hundreds, the fading light, intense drama, an unlikely hero, and finally, a world record to cap an unlikely win.
It was the third week of 1998. Mohammad Azharuddin was handed back the captaincy after a calamitous year for India. The ex-captain Sachin Tendulkar, 24 years old and unshackled, was about to commence his finest year in cricket. Rahul Dravid was many months away from shrugging off the Test specialist tag. Anshuman Gaekwad had arrived to coach India into their most successful year. Nobody had heard of Yuvraj Singh yet, and T20 was not even a blip on cricket's radar.
The making of a thrilling plot
It was the third 'Independence' Cup in a year, after India and Pakistan, and no host team had won it. The unusual format - three league games and a best-of-three final - reduced the lowly Bangladesh's participation to a formality. As expected, India and Pakistan played in the finals.
Tendulkar, with an unburdened mind and a license to kill, had hit top form on the Bangabandhu's dead pitches. In one of the league games, India hit Pakistan for 91 runs in the first ten overs. That kind of scoring is not unusual today but largely unheard of then. Then, India had also Azhar, Navjot Singh Sidhu and Sourav Ganguly - all in crisp form - while Javagal Srinath was working magic with both the new and old ball.
In the first final, Tendulkar and Ganguly's meaty opening partnership put India 1-0 up. In the next final, Pakistan sprung a surprise on their old foes, playing Mohammad Hussain, a little known slow left arm bowler, who took four wickets in the game to set up an easy chase. The score was 1-1 and the action was stretched into the grand final.
The mountain of runs
India were favourites to win the title in this 48-over per side match, but here's where Pakistan turned on the heat. Saeed Anwar (140) and Ijaz Ahmed (117) ravaged India dry to add 230 runs for the third wicket. Both scored hundreds at quicker than run-a-ball.
Anwar benefitted from a couple of dropped catches but he was all style otherwise. A shot that stood out was an on-drive against Srinath, who was the best bowler on show. Anwar lifted the ball over mid on with effortless grace, almost like he was in the nets with a second-rate bowler, and the ball completed its journey in the stands.
It left India staring at a mountain of runs. 315 was the number. Only once before in the history of 1200-odd ODIs had a team made more than 300 and won. It looked game over, but India's response took everyone's breath away.
Tendulkar led the assault. He dismantled Aaquib Javed and Azhar Mahmood's seam bowling, while Saqlain Mushtaq's introduction was met with a first-ball six. The punch gave Pakistan a nosebleed, but they recovered. A smart ploy to get Shahid Afridi into the attack paid off as Tendulkar - 41 from 26 - mistimed a loft. But he provided India the extraordinary start they needed.
The drama unfolds
India had a trick of their own. Robin Singh was promoted up the order. The athletic 34-year-old pushed the young Ganguly into running impossible singles and doubles. In retrospect, Robin never got the credit he deserves in impelling Ganguly to play out his skin. When the boundaries dried up, the runs came with some hardcore sprinting. India sat pretty at 159-1 in 20 overs.
Then, just to add to the drama, the light faded away. Ganguly and Robin were offered to walk away but they chose to bat on. The run rate rose steadily as did the pressure. Memories of Anwar's 194 the previous year were ripe. Would India falter in another chase? Just to make things even more dramatic, the local association had to switch on the floodlights - and this was a day game.
Saqlain, after an initial hammering, clawed back into the game with three wickets. Ganguly scored 124 - the second of his 22 ODI hundreds - and perished going for broke. Robin made 82 from 82. It all came down to nine from the last over, and after four nerve-wrenching balls, the people of three countries watching on TV were on the verge of collective heart failures, as the equation came to three runs from two balls.
On strike was Hrishikesh Kanitkar, and he swung Saqlain to deep midwicket while the portly Inzamam-ul Haq gave chase. But he couldn't get there. The ball rolled over for a four. India had a new hero in Kanitkar and the new record for the highest chase in one-day cricket.
It began a great year for India in ODIs. Azhar led them to five triangular trophies that year with Tendulkar piling up 1894 runs - a record that has stood for ten years now - while the emergence of a genuinely quick Ajit Agarkar provided India the firepower in bowling. But that glorious summer started on a murky noon at the Bangabandhu Stadium and those who saw it would never forget.
Things are different now. Tendulkar is India's seniormost player, Dravid is back to being a Test specialist, Ganguly has been dropped and Robin is India's fielding coach. Pakistan remain unpredictable and are on a major winning streak. Bangladesh are a hugely improved side. Can they trump these Asian giants this time around?