India and Pakistan came together in 1996 to help Sri Lanka for the sake of cricket. A combined India-Pakistan cricket team played together to showcase the highest level of sporting spirit.
In the current age of IPL and other franchise leagues, players from different teams playing together are a common feature throughout the year. In the ongoing Big Bash League, Chris Lynn was opening with Brendon McCullum in some of the matches for Brisbane Heats. This IPL, he will come to open with Sunil Narine for KKR.
During ’90s such matches were not frequent, except for some exhibition matches players from multiple teams used to come together and play. Especially seeing the players from India and Pakistan in the same squad was something unthinkable for cricket fans.
India and Pakistan Came Together
India and Pakistan fought multiple wars post their independence. There were long gaps when bi-lateral cricket was absent between these two nations. Post India’s tour of Pakistan in 1989-90 the bi-lateral matches were stopped. They used to play ODIs in Sharjah and also played a very entertaining match during the 1992 world cup in Sydney.
Both India and Pakistan shared the 1996 cricket world cup organizing responsibilities along with the small island country Sri Lanka. During the mid-90’s Sri Lanka was not a safe place as the militant groups were quite powerful. There was a blast just outside the team hotel of the touring New Zealand cricket team during 1992. Once the 1996 world cup schedule was out Australia and West Indies expressed their concerns over visiting Sri Lanka to play their respective group league matches. Zimbabwe and Kenya were okay to visit and Sri Lanka’s other group league match was against India at Feroz Shah Kotla, Delhi.
ICC was not willing to make a change of venue. Sri Lanka requested India and Pakistan to help. Fortunately, those two countries decided to send a combined team to Sri Lanka to play a match against the Sri Lankan team and show the world that there was no concern regarding security.
Moment to Cherish
It was a great moment and once in a generation opportunity for cricket fans to see top players from India and Pakistan to play as part of the same team. Both the countries also sent their top players and the final playing eleven looked like this,
Sachin Tendulkar, Saeed Anwar, Aamir Sohail, Mohammad Azharuddin[C], Ijaz Ahmed, Ajay Jadeja, Rashid Latif, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Anil Kumble, Ashish Kapoor.
The Sri Lankan team was also a strong squad led by Arjuna Ranatunga, although Aravinda de Silva was not playing. Both captains expressed their excitement in playing this special match.
On February 13, 1996, the match began with Sri Lanka batting first and Sri Lankan keeper Romesh Kaluwitharana was first to go, caught Sachin bowled Akram. It was a peculiar thing but something which was thoroughly enjoyable by cricket fans all over the world. Although Gurusinha and Ranatunge both scored 30’s, the Sri Lankan squad kept losing wickets on regular intervals. It was a great combined performance from players from India and Pakistan. Six bowlers were used, three from India and three from Pakistan. Anil Kumble was in great rhythm and finished with 8-1-12-4. Sri Lanka could master only 168 for 9 in their allocated 40 overs.
Also Read: The day when Kumble did the Jumbo
Combined India and Pakistan XI (Called Wills XI) had a good start as Tendulkar and Anwar added 53 but Sri Lankan spinners put on the breaks. Muralitharan, Dharmasena, and Chandana shared five wickets between them. Tendulkar’s 36 was the highest score in the match but at 126 for five, Wills XI still required 43 to win. Ajay Jadeja and Rashid Latif came to rescue and added 38 runs in the partnership. Jadeja could not finish the match and was out to Vaas with only five runs required which were duly scored by Waqar Younis. The Wills XI got the Wills Solidarity Trophy but with the background of the match, cricket was the real winner.
What Followed Next
Unfortunately, all these still did not convince the Australia and West Indies to travel to the island country. They forfeit their matches and Sri Lanka ended with full points from the group stages. Sri Lanka reached the final of the world cup by beating England and India in knockouts. The other finalists were Australia who beat the West Indies in the other semi-final. In the final, Australians could not compete with a sound Sri Lankan outfit and Aravinda de Silva’s century during the chase ensured Sri Lanka’s maiden world cup win.
But the wonderful sportsman spirit and camaraderie displayed by the two bitter rivals just before the world cup was an enormous incident and still remembered fondly.