Under the captaincy of Sachin Tendulkar, the Indian team that had shown much promise at the end of 1996 was now expected to kick on and begin a new era under their master batsman.
But it all went wrong. India were on the receiving end of one world record score after another, as batsman upon batsman punished them and opposition bowling attacks crushed the demoralised Indian batting order. It was a worryingly familiar pattern throughout much of 1997.
In a year full of heavy defeats, it is unnecessarily cruel to pick the lowest of them. Nevertheless, it is a somewhat hyperbolic assertion, the nadir came during India’s Pepsi Independence Cup encounter against Pakistan on May 21.
The game was a test of endurance as much as skill in hot and humid weather conditions. Chennai was as much an opponent of the two sides as each other, but Saeed Anwar shone with a record innings of 194 – the new highest score in ODIs.
INDIA IN SHAMBLES
It was after their disastrous tour of the West Indies that the Indians returned home for the Independence Cup. Besides India, it was an ODI mini-tournament featuring Pakistan, New Zealand and Sri Lanka.
Played on a points-per-game basis, with two teams advancing to the finals, the critical game was the India-Pakistan encounter at Chepauk. Once again, it all looked to be going wrong for the home side.
Pakistan won the toss and elected to bat first in the day/night encounter. Shahid Afridi fell early to Abey Kuruvilla with just eight runs on board, giving India brief hope that an early collapse could be engineered. Pakistan’s next wicket, however, did not fall for another 89 runs.
Skipper Rameez Raja entered the field of battle, providing a 51-ball 22 in his supporting role even as Anwar took over. Everyone else from that point onwards was secondary to the opener; Raja fell to make it 97-2 and was simply replaced by the next supporting act.
Ijaz Ahmed came in at number four, sharing the most significant partnership of the innings with Anwar. At 116 runs for the third wicket, it was the second most fruitful partnership of the match, behind that of Vinod Kambli and Rahul Dravid.
Ahmed mustered 39 runs off 55 balls, while the next man in, Inzamam-ul-Haq, recorded an identical score, but off fewer deliveries (33) and also finished unbeaten.
ANWAR, THE MAN IN CHARGE
But Anwar was a man totally in control. He dominated the bowling, played delightful strokes and displayed ample quantities of what Wisden described as “controlled aggression”. It was stirring stuff, but the Chennai heat eventually took its toll on Anwar. With a well-established track record of illness prior to the game, the opener was heavily taxed by fluid loss and heat exhaustion.
This is where the Indians’ charity perhaps swung the game irreversibly in Pakistan’s favour and helped Anwar to achieve a world record score. At the end of the 18th over, Anwar, then on 75, called for a runner in the form of Afridi. Tendulkar allowed him that courtesy (although, interestingly, the Pakistanis objected when Tendulkar tried to do the same for Rahul Dravid), and having a teammate to do a lot of the heavy lifting for him was doubtlessly a factor in Anwar reaching this immense score.
When the physical strain of running shifted onto Afridi’s young legs, Anwar added another 119 runs to his score. No less than 118 of his eventual 194 runs in the innings came from boundaries. With his timing as impeccable as ever, Anwar got into a flow and a rhythm that was only disturbed by his dismissal.
Anil Kumble was carted for a staggering, 26-run over in which Anwar smashed him for three straight sixes. There were 22 fours and 5 sixes in all, and the Pakistani would easily have got to a double-hundred had it not been for a top-edged sweep that saw him caught at fine leg in the 47th over. His conqueror was Tendulkar – the man who replaced Anwar as the holder of the same world record for the highest score in ODIs a full thirteen years later (barring Charles Coventry’s brief ouster of the Pakistani on a technicality; his 194 was unbeaten).
A DIFFICULT CHASE
Pakistan’s huge total of 327 for 5 was imposing. It was a difficult task to begin with, and India’s anxiety was compounded when Tendulkar was first out for 4, with only nine runs on the scoreboard. Caught superbly by Inzamam at mid-wicket, it was now left to Dravid to give India a fighting chance. He recorded his maiden ODI hundred in this game, 107 off 116 balls, and his stand with Vinod Kambli (65) for the third wicket was worth 134 runs.
Assisted by a couple of cameos from Sourav Ganguly (33) and Robin Singh (35), India made a fist of it. That they eventually fell short by 35 runs was more a sign of Pakistan and Anwar’s achievement than a knock on them; Saqlain Mushtaq had Venkatesh Prasad caught behind to knock over the last wicket with four balls to spare in the last over. India had mustered a respectable 292.
Aaqib Javed (10-0-61-5) was the pick of the bowlers with his five victims, while Mushtaq also picked up two wickets. Anwar could not even make it out to field for India’s innings, such was his exhaustion after a spectacular batting display. He was replaced by Mohammad Wasim, who even took a catch for good measure.
But nothing could touch one of the iconic one-day knocks. It is perhaps fitting for an innings so magnificent that the crowd, stunned by Anwar’s decimation of Kumble, rose to applaud the man who broke Viv Richards’ previous record score of 189.
Pakistan’s victory confirmed their place in the final against Sri Lanka. The islanders, however, were continuing their fine run of form since World Cup success the previous year and comfortably beat the Pakistanis to win the Independence Cup.