India vs Sri Lanka, Wills World Cup 1996 semifinal: A real shame

The game went on smoothly until India, chasing a target of 252 set by Sri Lanka, lost the wicket of Aasish Kapoor. It was at this point that the crowd gave vent to its pent up anger at the pathetic Indian batting.

A section of the crowd at the Eden Gardens during the semifinal match between India and Sri Lanka during the World Cup on March 13, 1996.   -  V. V. Krishnan

It is a shame Calcutta has to live with. Known for its sporting attitude the 1-lakh strong gathering shockingly reacted in a most unsporting manner to stall what could have been a deserving victory for Sri Lanka over India at the Eden Gardens in the first semi- final of the Wills World Cup.

The game went on smoothly until India, chasing a target of 252 set by Sri Lanka, lost the wicket of Aasish Kapoor. It was at this point that the crowd gave vent to its pent up anger at the pathetic Indian batting. When it was clear that the home team would not come out a winner, plastic water bottles and soft drink containers were hurled into the playing arena. With 15 overs to go and India reeling at 120 for eight, it was not possible for the emotionally charged Calcuttans to stand the humiliation any more.

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The missiles continued to rain for almost 25 to 30 minutes after the match referee, Clive Lloyd of the West Indies, and the two umpires, Cyril Mitchley of South Africa and Steve
Dunne of New Zealand, led the teams out giving time for the crowd to calm down.

The game resumed but before the Lankan off- spinner Muttiah Muralitharan could deliver the second ball of his unfinished over, the spectators once again indulged in bottle throwing. The match officials claimed that a few were glass bottles and that was the end of the match. With the situation turning dangerous for the Lankan players to field near the ropes, the match was rightly abandoned and awarded to Sri Lanka.

True, the acts by the crowd were not as serious as in 1967, when a riot destroyed the wooden stands, or in 1983, when the Windies humbled India, the then world champion, at the Eden Gardens.

Yet, the reaction of the spectators was most surprising this time, for India had lost the match even before a ball was bowled by opting to field.

When passion ruled

From hope to despair. From joy to melancholy. The one-lakh strong crowd at the Eden Gardens went through different moods in the course of the semifinal match between Sri Lanka and India.

As India's defeat became imminent the shattered hopes gave way to disappointment, frustration and anger. And finally the emotions poured out in the form of unruly behaviour.

People wept in the stands, unable to see their hopes collapsing with the fall of each Indian wicket. The afternoon began with India picking up three Sri Lankan wickets quickly. In fact, the hopes of India making it to Lahore began in Calcutta with the opening ceremony.

But the joy was shortlived as India's dreams ended at the City of Joy's Eden Gardens amid ugly scenes and derisive comments.

The people were appreciative of India's early success, notwithstanding the Sri Lankan charge headed by Aravinda de Silva, Mohammed Azharuddin's superb fielding and Sachin Tendulkar's batting. Things began to sour after the fall of Tendulkar. The thought of India losing in front of them was something the spectators were not prepared for. The fact that India would not make the final was suddenly on them.

It was at this ground almost a decade back that Australia and England crossed swords after India was shown the door at the semifinal stage. India's campaign in the 1992 World Cup proved to be a disaster.

A string of victories since then at home, particularly at the Eden Gardens, made the Calcutta crowd think that India was invincible at this venue. When the Indian batting fell apart for whatever reason, the crowd could not stomach it. The spectators lost their nerves and temper. They began to believe that the players had let them down. For most of them the technicality of the game was too much to understand. They only wanted an Indian victory.
 

Most of them had planned a night-long revelry. The Bangalore victory had fuelled their ambition. But here word spread that the Indian captain had misread the wicket and so asked Sri Lanka to bat first. Yet, they waited patiently for a miracle to happen. The exit of Ajay Jadeja virtually signalled the end. They waited a little longer till Nayan Mongia and Aashish Kapoor left. Then they exploded.

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The crowd was not in a mood to understand that the name of the country was being tarnished by its behaviour. But the damage was done. There was a lull as the makeshift stage was taken to the middle of the ground in preparation for the prize distribtuion ceremony.


Someone realised the mistake because the stumps in the middle were still not drawn. People were cleared from the field after the goof-up. The crowd realised that the
game was about to restart. But it was in no mood to relent.


True, the behaviour of the crowd was disgraceful. For many the action of the spectators was something to be ashamed of. It was a black day in which the city's great sporting tradition took a beating. Amidst all this, no one raised a voice against the Sri Lankans.
 

"Azhar hai hai, India hai hai" shouted the crowd, as the Indian team trooped back to the dressing room after the function.

"Chor Chor," shouted another section. Then there was a banner that read "We are sorry.
Congrats Sri Lanka."


An hour after the match, as the Lankans made their way to the team bus, they were applauded by a small turnout near the Dr. B. C. Roy Club House. Shouts of 'Congrats Aravinda', 'Good luck Lanka', 'The World Cup should remain in the subcontinent' clearly indicated that the spectators were angry only at the Indian team.


Former India off-spinner E.A.S. Prasanna wrote in a local daily that India should have adopted safety first tactics and ought to have batted first on winning the toss.

But the Indian think-tank had different ideas. In retrospect, the Indians' decision to field first was more psychological than one borne out of careful planning.

Indian skipper Mohammed Azharuddin confirmed it at the post- match press briefing when he said: "We did not want Sri Lanka to chase." He also blamed the pitch for India's debacle when he said: "We did not expect' the wicket to turn like this."

Lack of application on the part of the Indian batsmen also hastened defeat. The most stunning piece of information came from the grounds- men who knew what to expect of the Eden Gardens pitch.
 

"We told the captain to opt for batting on winning the toss because we expected the ball to turn square in the second session. It was a newly laid wicket and this was the first international to be played on it. Also, the bowling side would get much advantage from the heavy atmosphere in the late Calcutta evening," said one of them.
 

Whatever may be the reason, there was no denying the fact that Sri Lanka was the better side. The Lankans had a bad beginning - one run for two wickets, those of Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana- and a little later were tottering at 35 for three, with the exit of Asanka Gurusinha.

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The splendid start for India gave the packed stadium much to shout about, but vice- captain Aravinda de Silva and Roshan Mahanama had different ideas. Without compromising on the run rate, the two batted with aplomb as the Indian bowling fell to pieces.
 

De Silva, adjudged the Man of the Match, stole the thunder with his immaculate batting and clean hitting for a fantastic 66 (47 balls, 14 fours).

He and Mahanama (58, 111 balls, six 4s) repaired the early damage and put Sri Lanka firmly on the path to recovery. After De Silva fell, captain Arjuna Ranatunga joined Mahanama and the pair plundered runs at will.
 

Calcuttans apologise to Ranatunga

Calcuttans, ashamed by the unruly behaviour of a section of the capacity crowd at the Eden Gardens were keen to repair the damage. The Round Table, a social service organisation along with the FM radio network, organised a signature campaign for a letter of apology on behalf of all Calcuttans to the Sri Lankan skipper, Arjuna Ranatunga.
 

Calcuttans, who felt the same way were requested by the organisation to collect as many signatures as possible from their neighbourhood, offices, schools, colleges and clubs.
 

The text of the apology letter is: "Dear Arjuna, we Calcuttans have earned a reputation over the years of being excellent hosts, who have always received guests with warmth
and affection. We are also very proud of the fact that we understand and care for sport better than most. Sadly, we lost our composure and, with it, our reputation that night at
Eden Gardens. We are extremely ashamed of our behaviour and wholeheartedly apologise to you and your wonderful team. We congratulate your team on its superb
performance and look forward to an opportunity for rolling out the red carpet and winning back our reputation."

 

Ranatunga (35) was adjudged leg before to Tendulkar and this brought in Hashan Tillekeratne. Mahanama retired due to dehydration, but Tillekeratne (32) and Chaminda Vaas (23), at No. 9, enabled their team to finish at 251 for eight.

This, one thought, gave the visitor a fighting chance. Ranatunga later admitted that he was looking for a total around 275-280, but thought a score of 220 would be enough after finding the ball spinning when he was at the crease.

"I knew the wicket was crumbling and was happy to see the score go past the 200 mark."

"We could not restrict Sri Lanka after such a fine start," rued Azhar. The fire the Indians displayed at the beginning of the Sri Lankan innings was doused by the end and it was left
to Sachin Tendulkar to give India a rousing start.

The spectators realised that India's passage to Lahore was in the hands of Tendulkar and the little big man of Indian cricket gave a lot of hope as long as he was at the crease. The early departure of Navjot Sidhu did not bring about despair as Tendulkar and Sanjay Manjrekar took the score to 98 for one. Then disaster struck in quick succession. Tendulkar was the first to go, stumped off left-arm spinner Jayasuriya for 65 (88 balls, nine 4s).

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For the addition of just another run, Azhar left, caught and bowled by Kumara Dharmasena for no score.

Manjrekar (25), who looked solid in his 48-ball innings, left being bowled by Jayasuriya and an Indian victory looked distant. Javagal Srinath was promoted over Ajay Jadeja to give company to the left-handed Vinod Kambli and to add muscle to the Indian innings.

But he was run out for six. Jadeja left for no score after playing 11 balls. He was bowled round his legs by a vicious turner from Jayasuriya and the writing wason the wall.

With the dismissal of Nayan Mongia (1) and Aashish Kapoor (0), falling to De Silva and Muralitharan respectively, it was all over bar the baying for blood by the spectators.
 

Scorecard

Sri Lanka: S. Jayasuriya c Prasad b Srinath 1; R. Kaluwitharana c Manjrekar b Srinath 0; A. Gurusinha c Kumble b Srinath 1; A. De Silva b Kumble 66; R. Mahanama (retd. hurt) 58; A. Ranatunga Ibw b Tendulkar 35; H. Tillekeratne c Tendulkar b Prasad 32; K. Dharmasena b Tendulkar 9; C. Vaas (run out) 23; P. Wickremasinghe (not out) 4; M. Muralitharan (not out) 5; Extras (b-1, lb-10, w-4, nb-2) 17; Total (for eight wkts. in 50 overs) 251.


Fall of wickets: 1-1, 2-1, 3-35, 4-85, 5-168, 6-206, 7-236, 8-244.


India bowling: Srinath 7-1-34-3; Kumble 10-0-51-1; Prasad 8-0-50-1; Kapoor 10-0-40-0; Jadeja 5-0-31-0; Tendulkar 10-1-34-2.
 

India: S. Tendulkar st Kaluwitharana b Jayasuriya 65; N. Sidhu c Jayasuriya b Vaas 3; S.
Manjrekar b Jayasuriya 25; M. Azharuddin c ; b Dhannasena 0; V. Kan-ibli (not out) 10; J. Srinath (run out) 6; A. Jadeja b Jayasuriya 0; N. Mongia c Jayasuriya b De Silva 1; A.
Kapoor c De Silva b Muralitharan 0; Extras (lb-5, w-5) 10; Total (for eight
wkts. in 34.1 overs) 120.


Fall of wickets: 1-8, 2-98, 3-99, 4- 101, 5-110, 6-115, 7-120, 8-120.
 

Sri - Lanka bowling: Wickremasinghe 5-0-24-0; Vaas 6-1- 23-1; Muralitharan 7.1-0-29-1; Dhannasena 7-0-24-1; Jayasuriya 7-1- 12-3; De Silva 2-0-3-1.

 

This article was first published in The Sportstar (issue dated: March 23, 1996)