As the ball soared over the fence at extra cover, Indian players rushed to the ground to hug Dinesh Karthik, who had achieved the stupendous task of scoring the maximum possible runs off the last ball of the match to clinch a near impossible victory. India needed 34 runs off the last two overs against Bangladesh in the final of the Nidahas Trophy tri-series T20 when Karthik strode to the wicket. He smashed 22 runs off the penultimate over which brought the requirement to 12 from the last. Soumya Sarkar, who was given the difficult task of bowling the last over, gave away only seven runs from the first five balls, thus bringing his side to the doorsteps of a win. The trophy appeared well within the grasp of the Bangla Tigers when an ultra cool Karthik decided to have the last laugh by hitting a ball pitched on the good length spot outside the off stump for a six.
The cameras that zoomed to the Indian dressing room showed an elated Ravi Shastri hugging skipper Rohit Sharma before rushing to the field. It would not be difficult to decipher the thoughts of the Indian coach when Karthik struck the winning runs. After all he was one of the 11 Indian players who left the field in deep disappointment at Sharjah 32 years ago when Javed Miandad hit Chetan Sharma for a six off the last ball of the Austral-Asia Cup final. The memories of Miandad hitting that six would have crossed the minds of all Indian cricket lovers who had watched the nail-biting match played on April 18, 1986.
The Indian side that met Pakistan in the final was arguably the best in the world in the limited overs format during that period. They had won the Prudential World Cup in England in 1983 and followed it by lifting the World Championship of Cricket in Australia in 1985. The victories in these two tournaments, where all Test playing nations had taken part, established India as one of the leading sides in the world. At Sharjah also India had an excellent record, having won the Asia Cup in 1984, followed by the Rothmans Cup triumph in March, 1985. In the first match of Rothmans Cup India had won an amazing match against Pakistan after being bundled out for a paltry score of 125. Indian bowlers struck back to dismiss Pakistan for a mere 87, thus scripting a 38-run win. While the Indian team was on a roll, Pakistan had not won even a single tournament in the international arena, despite possessing some of the most talented players in the world. This was mainly due to lack of consistency on the part of players, whose mercurial character also led to infighting and disputes among each other.
Imran Khan, one of the best all-rounders that the game has seen, had returned as Pakistan captain in 1986, the post from which he he had stepped down following a stress fracture to his shin three years ago. Imran was an inspirational leader who could bring about an element of cohesion among Pakistani players and the performance of the side went up by several notches when he was at the helm. India was led by Kapil Dev, the skipper who had lifted the World Cup in 1983. He had lost captaincy in 1984 but was reappointed as skipper in 1985 after Sunil Gavaskar stepped down from the post.
Five nations - India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Australia and New Zealand - took part in the inaugural edition of Austral-Asia Cup. These tournaments were organised at Sharjah keeping in mind the large number of cricket loving expatriates from India and Pakistan living there. Industrialist Sheikh Abdul Rahman Bukhatir used to take a keen interest in the game and he was assisted by Asif Iqbal, former captain of Pakistan. A brand new stadium with top class amenities was constructed in the desert and the huge purses paid to top players as part of Cricketers Benevolent Fund Series (CBFS) made this venue a popular one with cricketers as well. After the preliminary matches and semifinals, India and Pakistan qualified for the title clash.
Imran won the toss and invited India to bat first on a pitch which did not provide much help for the bowlers. Gavaskar and K Srikkanth, the Indian opening batsmen, quickly got into their stride and put together 117 runs for the first wicket before the latter was dismissed for a stroke-filled 75. Dilip Vengsarkar joined Gavaskar and the duo was associated in a 99-run stand with the former striking an elegant 50. However, the Indian innings lost momentum after the fall of the second wicket. Kirti Azad, promoted in the order, went for a duck, while Kapil could not get going and made only eight. Imran and Wasim Akram returned to bowl tight spells with the old ball during the end overs and this led to wickets tumbling in a heap as batsmen threw their bats at everything in an attempt to push the score along. Gavaskar was the last man to be dismissed, off the final ball of the innings, for 92, made off 134 balls, with six hits to the fence.
Indian total of 245 runs for 7 wickets in the allotted 50 overs was a fighting one those days when scores exceeding 250 were very rare. Pakistan were pushed onto the back foot soon after the innings commenced as opener Mudassar Nazar left in the second over. Rameez Raja was dismissed when the score was 39 but it was the loss of Mohsin Khan, who was striking the ball well, that set Pakistan back in a big way. Miandad, who had come in at the fall of second wicket, and Salim Malik took the score to 104 when the latter was run out for 21.
At this juncture, with match slipping out of his hands, Imran made an inspired move and promoted Abdul Qadir in the batting order. Qadir was known for his big-hitting abilities and he started attacking the Indian bowlers straightaway. Miandad, on the other hand, focused on stealing singles and twos rather than going for big hits. The duo scored at a fast pace which had the effect of increasing the decibels emanating from the large contingent of Pakistani supporters in the stadium, while the Indian fans slowly started falling silent.
Sensing the potential danger if the pair remained unseparated when the total crossed 200, Kapil brought himself on. Qadir took one mighty slog on a good length delivery from the Indian skipper and the resultant top edge was caught by substitute Raman Lamba running in from the fence at deep midwicket.
Imran, the next man, was kept under check by the Indian seamers before Madan Lal broke through his defences. When Mansoor Elahi too followed him almost immediately thereafter, Pakistan appeared to be in dire straits with their score at 215 for the loss of seven wickets.
Miandad, who was batting patiently till then decided to take charge from this point onwards. In the company of Akram, he launched into the Indian bowling, hitting Madan and Chetan for sixes. As the asking rate came down to 15 runs off 12 balls, Kapil decided to bowl the 49th over, knowing fully well that if runs were leaked at that juncture, game was over for all practical purposes. Miandad was wise enough not take liberties with Kapil and only four runs came off that over. Thus when one over remained, Pakistan were 235 for seven, with 11 runs needed for winning the match and most importantly, Miandad was on strike.
Indian players went into a huddle in the middle of the pitch. The first question was who should bowl the last over. Both Shastri and Chetan, among frontline bowlers, had overs remaining. Though Shastri was more experienced among the two, Kapil plumped for Chetan as Miandad was known to be a brilliant player of spin bowling. Moreover, the wisdom that prevailed at that point of time was that spinners should not bowl at the start and end of the innings. Thus, it fell on Chetan’s shoulders to bowl the final over of the tournament.
The first ball of the over was pitched on a spot just short of good length, out side the off stump and Miandad took a mighty swipe, which sent the ball in the direction of long on where Kapil was fielding. The batsmen completed one run and started for the second even as Kapil picked up the ball and threw it to the bowler. Chetan collected the throw calmly and took off the bails with Akram still miles from the crease. Thus Pakistan lost their eighth wicket and the equation came down to 10 runs off five balls. The positive aspect for them was that Miandad had retained the strike.
Miandad made amends for not capitalising on the first ball to the full extent when Chetan ran in to bowl again. This time Miandad moved his right foot fully across early and neatly picked up the ball pitched just short of good length on the off stump and carted it to the fence in the gap between mid wicket and square leg. This brought the equation to six runs off four balls and the momentum had swung in favour of Pakistan again. But, Chetan, who learnt his lesson well, bowled the next ball fuller in length and closer to the stumps so as to deny Miandad the width he needed for slogging at it. The ball struck the inside edge of the bat and as all eyes swivelled to the boundary, Roger Binny, fielding at short fine leg, made a brilliant stop diving full length to his left. Binny followed this with a quick throw to the wicketkeeper and batsmen could only scramble for a single. Thus Binny’s superb effort not only denied a boundary but also took Miandad off strike.
Zulqurnain, who had come in when Akram was dismissed, took strike with five runs needed from three balls. Chetan pitched one on the block hole which beat the batsman all ends up and clean bowled him. Miandad met the new batsman Tauseef Ahmed and told him to block the next ball and run, come what may. Tauseef defended the next ball from Chetan and took off for a single as instructed by Miandad. However, Mohammad Azharuddin, by far the best among Indian fielders, ran in from cover, swooped down on the ball and picked it up with both batsmen in the middle of the pitch. In an action that indicated the stress levels on the field, Azhar decided to throw down the wicket at the bowler's end even as Chetan implored from near the stumps to pass the ball so that he could effect the run out. Unfortunately Azhar’s under arm throw missed the stumps and Pakistan got the single they needed badly to stay in the match.
Thus Miandad, unbeaten on 110, took strike to face the last ball with four runs required. Chetan had decided to bowl a yorker as advised by his teammates. Besides he had bowled one only a couple of balls back to dismiss Zulqurnain. When he started his run up he saw Miandad standing square chested two feet outside the crease, as if expecting to receive a yorker. Chetan stopped in his tracks and went back to the top of his mark, confused whether he should change his strategy and bowl a short-pitched ball. When he ran in again he found that Miandad was standing in the same position. However, at the final instant he decided to stick to his original plans and attempted to bowl a yorker. This confusion, where tension also played a huge role, led to the delivery being a low full toss on the leg stump, the easiest offering any batsman could expect. Miandad coolly put it away over the midwicket boundary for a six to seal the victory in style.
Pakistani players rushed to the ground to hug Miandad and Tauseef while the 11 Indian cricketers left the field with their head hung low. There was deathly silence in the Indian dressing room and Chetan, in particular, was inconsolable. In a gesture that acknowledged the stellar role played by his star batsman in scripting the victory, Imran requested Miandad to receive the trophy on behalf of the side. Miandad was elevated to the level of a national hero and the last-ball six at Sharjah soon became the stuff of legends in the annals of cricket history.
This defeat not only brought to an end India’s unbeaten run at Sharjah but also created a huge psychological barrier whenever they faced Pakistan again in that venue. In the post-1986 phase, India could defeat Pakistan only once during the numerous times they met at Sharjah since then. Somehow Pakistani players always appeared to possess not merely an extra ounce of energy but also additional slice of good fortune whenever the two sides met there.
Poor Chetan took the maximum flak for the loss with debates ranging all over the country as to how he should have bowled the last ball. Kapil was also criticised for bowling the penultimate over, which caused Chetan to be pitted against the rampaging Miandad. Critics failed to realise that if Kapil had not bowled the 49th over, the last over would have become redundant given the murderous mood that Miandad was in. It was also forgotten that Chetan had bowled a very good last over, with no loose deliveries, till the last ball and conceded only seven runs off the first five balls. The fact that India could have won the match if Azhar had not panicked and tried to throw down the stumps when Tauseef and Miandad attempted the suicidal single, was glossed over. Binny’s contribution in the last over when he made the brilliant stop at short fine leg also got the short shrift in the aftermath of the loss.
There would be post-mortems in Bangladesh in the aftermath of the narrow loss. However, critics should desist from blaming the poor bowler, who in this case did not do anything wrong. It was just that Karthik got it right and it was his day (or night) at Colombo; there was little that Soumya Sarkar or anyone else could have done to stop him from winning the trophy for India.
(The author is a former international umpire and a senior bureaucrat)