One of the biggest rivalries in sports is when India and Pakistan face each other on 22 yards. Although political tension between these countries in the last 72 years reduced the number of cricket matches, for cricket lovers India- Pakistan matches are still on the top priority.
From Miandad’s last ball six in Sharjah to Kohli’s T20 masterclass in Kolkata, there are many India-Pakistan battles which have stayed in the mind of cricket fans for the ages.
20 years ago, on 31st January 1999, these two teams were engaged on another epic battle. Although the climax in semi-dark MA Chidambaram Stadium was heartbreaking for one set of fans it is still remembered as one of the memorable test matches.
The background of the series made it even more attractive and followed by the global media. India and Pakistan were going to play a test series after more than nine years and the relationship between these two countries were not great and went downhill since the last few years. From a cricketing standpoint, both teams looked equally balanced with many legends and future legends in the team.
The touring Pakistanis were led by legendary Wasim Akram, who along with Waqar Younis and Saqlain Mushtaq would take care of the bowling. For batting, they had Inzamam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Yousuf, a young Shahid Afridi and Saeed Anwar, the owner of then ODI highest score of 194, scored against these opponents in the same venue couple of years back.
Mohammad Azharuddin was leading the Indians. Sachin Tendulkar was leading the batting pack along with Ganguly and Dravid and also the exciting home boy Sadgopan Ramesh was making his debut. The bowling saw an all-Karnataka attack involving, Srinath, Prasad, Kumble and Sunil Joshi.
As expected between two strong teams, the match was a see-saw battle and no one could manage to hold the advantage for long enough. Pakistan won the toss and elected to bat first. Indians came with early strikes and Pakistan were 91 for 5 just after lunch. Yousuf and wicketkeeper Moin Khan led the recovery. Two fifties from them and some valuable contribution from skipper Akram took them to 238, much less than they would expect. Debutant Ramesh started briskly and by the close of day one, the Pakistan lead was cut down to 190 without any wicket. But again as the flow of the game, Pakistan made a strong comeback and got hold of both openers before Saqlain got Tendulkar for naught. Dravid and Ganguly formed a 50-run partnership before the former was gone for 53. Ganguly batted with the tail patiently and his 54 and Joshi’s 25 were the key reasons for India taking a slender 16 run lead. Pakistan had a slow start but Afridi lit up the ground on the 4th day with his 141 and with 275 for four, Pakistan looked in pretty good shape. But the lanky Venkatesh Prasad had a different plan and in a wonderful spell of 5 wickets for zero runs resulted in Pakistan losing their last six wickets for only 11 runs.
The target for India was 271 for a famous win. The openers were gone with the score at 6. Tendulkar came out to bat determined and played out the day with Dravid. The fifth day started with India needed 231 runs and Pakistan needed eight wickets to win the match. It was promised to be a memorable day and it was. Dravid was soon gone by a magic delivery from Akram, a ball which pitched on leg stump and swings late to take the off bail. Tendulkar kept playing shots but lost Azhar and Ganguly from the other end. Ganguly was given a wrongful dismissal after the ball clearly touched the ground. With India 82 for 5, the end looked near.
But Tendulkar found his ally in wicketkeeper Nayan Mongia. The duo added 136 runs and slowly brought the advantage back to India. But at 236 for 5, with a personal score of 52, Mongia tried to hit Akram and was caught by Waqar. The subplot forming in the other end was the back pain for Tendulkar who by then passed a century. He looked visibly uncomfortable with every passing over and was mostly playing with his will power and skill. He could not bend properly to play his shots but still held one end up. At 254, with only 17 runs to get, Tendulkar hit a lofted shot of Saqlain and got caught by Akram. It was a masterful inning of 136 but he could not finish the match for India.
Once Tendulkar was gone the Pakistanis attacked the tail. Akram got Kumble, and Saqlain got Srinath and Joshi to finish with 5 for 93 along with the 5 for 94 in the first innings. India were close but not close enough to win the match. Finally, India lost the test match by just 12 runs. These are the times when sports become a part of life. Indian fans on the ground were heartbroken but they showed their sporting face and cheered for the Pakistanis who a small victory lapped to accept the praise.