One of the most beautiful aspects of sports is that no record would remain permanent. The adage 'records are meant to be broken' applies uniformly across all sporting events. What does the holder of a existing record feel when it gets broken? What did Don Bradman feel when Sunil Gavaskar broke his record of 29 Test centuries? What did Gary Sobers feel when Brian Lara broke his record for the highest individual score in Test matches? These were longstanding records; both Bradman and Sobers were dignity personified as they congratulated the players who broke these records. They could do this gracefully as they knew very well that no record would remain unbroken forever.
When it comes to records of teams, the similarity is limited to the applicability of the above mentioned adage. Here the disappointment would be greater as performances of teams are followed more intensely and passionately by fans of the concerned sport than achievements of individuals. Hence it is unlikely that fans would take the results with the same amount of detachment and sportsman-spirit as individuals do, when records are broken. And longer the period for which a record is maintained, the greater would be the disappointment and angst when it is finally broken.
The record run begins
One of the longest surviving records in international cricket has been the dominance that India had achieved over Pakistan in major limited overs’ cricket tournaments. Hence, when Pakistan finally broke this unique record by making mincemeat of their opponents in the finals of Champions Trophy 2017, it was only natural that one’s thoughts went back to the first occasion when the two teams had met in the finals of a limited overs’ cricket championship involving Test match playing teams from all over the world.
Also read: When Kapil's Devils brought the nation together
This had taken place during the Benson and Hedges World Championship of Cricket held in 1985 in Australia, when India defeated Pakistan in the finals convincingly.
India had gone into that tournament with hardly any hopes. The cricket season of 1984-85 had started with plenty of hope but it soon turned into despair as India went down 1-2 to a weak England side. Even worse was the drubbing that India received in the One-Day International matches that followed. The team look a disjointed and dispirited side, rumors were rife about differences between Gavaskar and Kapil Dev and there were open calls for the sacking of Gavaskar as captain. The general mood of despondency was such that when Doordarshan announced that they would be staying away from live telecast of the matches, there were hardly any protests!
Appointment of Gavaskar as captain for this tournament did not go down well with almost the entire media and large sections of the public. But, in a surprise move, prior to the team leaving for Australia, Gavaskar announced that he was resigning from captaincy after the tournament got over.
Like in the 2017 Champions Trophy, India faced Pakistan in the first match in 1985 also. Pakistan, under Imran Khan, were a strong side and not many fancied India’s chances against them. But Indian bowling suddenly fell into its groove and superb spells by Kapil Dev and Sivaramakrishnan ensured that Pakistan were dismissed for 183. Imran reduced India to 27 for three wickets but a brilliant unbeaten 93 by Mohammad Azharuddin and a half-century by Gavaskar helped to see India through, for the loss of only one more wicket.
If one thought that India’s win against Pakistan was a flash in the pan, the victory over England convinced lovers of the game in the country that this was a different side from the one that had played miserable cricket during the previous three months. The sudden change in fortunes of the side lifted the spirits of fans in the country so much that Doordarshan decided to have live telecast of the last pool match against Australia, which also India won convincingly - this time by a margin of 8 wickets.
India faced New Zealand in the semifinals, while Pakistan, who had come behind India in the pool took on the mighty West Indies. India limited New Zealand to 207 but had to face some anxious moments as they found runs difficult to come by against some disciplined seam bowling by Richard Hadlee and company. However, a magnificent assault on the New Zealand bowlers by Kapil Dev, who was promoted in the order, and Dilip Vengsarkar, helped India to reach the finals comfortably.
Tackling the burden of expectations
Meanwhile, Pakistan sprung the biggest upset of the championship by defeating West Indies in the other semifinal. Batting first, West Indies was wrecked by the medium pace of part-time bowler Mudassar Nazar who took five wickets conceding only 26 runs. Chasing a target of 160 runs, Pakistani innings was held together by Rameez Raja and Qasim Umar, who took them to victory with seven wickets in hand.
Pakistan won the toss and batted first in the finals. However, Kapil Dev quickly had them on the back foot by dismissing their first three batsmen cheaply while Chetan Sharma chipped in with the wicket of Rameez Raja. Javed Miandad and Imran stemmed further collapse but they were unable to force the pace of run getting as Indian bowlers, backed by excellent ground fielding, kept them on a tight leash. Imran was dismissed while attempting a cheeky single, while Miandad was stumped by Sadanand Viswanath when he stepped out and tried to hoist Sivaramakrishnan out of the park. Both these dismissals showed the extent to which the batsmen were frustrated due to tight bowling by the Indian attack. After this, Sivaramakrishnan ran through the tail, restricting Pakistan to 176/9. India chased this target with ease, losing only two wickets in the process. To add icing to the cake, Ravi Shastri was selected as the Player of the Tournament and gifted a sleek Audi car.
When one looks at the various title triumphs by India, this will emerge as the best and the most comprehensive one till date. At no stage during the tournament did India appear likely to lose a match. The bowling was of sufficiently high caliber to dismiss their opponents within the allotted 50 overs in all matches while the might of the Indian batting line up was seldom tested. In fact, during the whole championship, Mohinder Amarnath and skipper Gavaskar were required to put on their batting leg guards only twice! Indian fielding was a revelation as our players chased and threw themselves on the ball demonstrating high levels of athleticism and commitment. One major factor behind this excellent performance was the dynamic presence of Sadanand Viswanath behind the stumps. Apart from contributing brilliantly with the gloves, he was a constant source of motivation for all his colleagues with his constant chatter and words of encouragement. The team thus gave a perfect parting gift to Gavaskar, who was able to sign off his innings as captain of the national team in style.
Pakistan end it, after 32 years
What went wrong with India in finals of Champions Trophy 2017? Unlike in 1985, the performance of the team was not consistent during the tournament. After starting with a rousing victory over Pakistan in the first pool match, India went down tamely to Sri Lanka in the next match, where the weaknesses in the bowling department had stood exposed. Poor batting performance by South Africa in last pool match and an easy outing against Bangladesh in semifinals had perhaps made the side slightly overconfident.
Thus the side had not been really tested in any match except the one against Sri Lanka that they had lost. On the other hand, Pakistan, after losing the opening match to India, gradually found their groove and went from strength to strength, as evidenced from the convincing win against England in semifinal.
Hence, when they met in the finals, Pakistanis were a battle hardened lot whereas India looked jaded and off color. Pakistan fast bowlers were able to extract pace from the wicket and move the ball while their spinners got turn and bounce. Indian bowlers, on the other hand, could get little help from the pitch and leaked runs, to set a target of 339 runs, which was too steep for their batsmen.
The credit goes to...
Like India in 1985, Pakistan came to the tournament as rank outsiders with little hopes of winning it. It is to their credit that the young bowlers in the side such as Hassan Ali, Shadab Khan and Mohammad Amir rose to the occasion. Shadab, in particular, brought memories of Sivaramakrishnan for the manner in which he mixed the leg breaks with googlies, with scarcely a change in his bowling action. Their batting too came good in the knock out phase, as their opening pair of Azhar Ali and Fakhar Zaman hit brilliant form and gave them rousing starts, which was built upon by those who followed them. And they were ably led by Sarfaraz Khan, who marshaled the resources available with him in an admirable manner.
In the final analysis, India lost the final to a team that outplayed them in all departments of the game. Pakistan were the deserving winners and they also showed themselves to be worthy of breaking the long held record of India of not losing to them in a major international tournament. Let us doff our hats and bow to them; they deserve our applause and accolades.
(The author is a former international umpire and a senior bureaucrat)