Looking back: A memorable victory against Pakistan at Lord’s 25 years ago

India defeated Pakistan in the final of the Lombard Under-15 Challenge Cup at Lord’s in 1996. Sodhi and Kaif from that squad went on to play senior international cricket for India.

The Indian squad which won the Lombard U-15 Challenge Cup in 1996. Mohammad Kaif and Reetinder Singh Sodhi went on to play senior international cricket.   -  Special Arrangement

They also made history, only it is not celebrated annually. They do it, quietly, wishing each other, reliving the day and retelling the stories of the Lombard Under-15 Challenge Cup 1996 when they beat Pakistan in the final at Lord’s – 13 years after Kapil Dev and his team achieved an epic distinction at the same venue.

The boys, now following different streams but cricket still their binding force, credit it to coach Sarkar Talwar and his dedicated method of preparing them for the event. “It was the one-year preparation that ensured we were ready to take on the world ,” said Mohammad Kaif, as he prepared to leave for Dubai for the Indian Premier League (IPL).

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The 25th year of that wonderful achievement was launched on August 20 when they reminded themselves of their hard-earned win. “The training was rigorous and purposeful. Every detail of the game was attended to. Every member of the team was given his due space. We knew our collective strength and that is what really propelled us when we took the field in the first match (against England),” remembered Reetinder Singh Sodhi, skipper of the team.

Sodhi and Kaif were the only players from that squad of 14 to play senior international cricket. “It was a talented bunch, very disciplined, and keen to perform. I never had to repeat my instructions. The boys were eager to absorb whatever they were told,” said Talwar, who had guided Haryana to its only Ranji Trophy and Irani Cup title wins in 1991.

“The credit for me playing in the World Cup goes only to Talwar sir,” emphasised Kaif. He had been rejected after the first round of camp and it was only Talwar’s insistence that led to the Uttar Pradesh batsman being recalled. “I was told he was a poor fielder. I pursued the selectors to bring him back and I am grateful they obliged me,” remembered Talwar.

For Sodhi, the tactical inputs from Talwar made the difference in key situations. “We were not at all experienced and Talwar sir’s reading of the game guided us,” he said. Talwar, who took 357 wickets in 106 first class matches, had a span of 20 years in competitive cricket. “They were a wonderful bunch to work with. Their motivation was so infectious.”

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Talwar used only 12 of the 14, playing Maninder Singh Bola in the first two matches against England and West Indies. “Agam Pandit and Rajan Gupta had to sit out,” Talwar added.

Incidentally, Gupta had come into the squad at the expense of a certain opening batsman called Gautam Gambhir. The victory against England, achieved with one wicket and three balls to spare, set the tempo for the Indians. Wins against West Indies, Canada and Zimbabwe set up a semifinal clash with South Africa.

The target of 262 in 55 overs appeared stiffer when India lost openers Gaganinder Singh and Ravneet Ricky at nine. “I took the decision of promoting Pradeep (Chawla) to join Sodhi and they pulled us out of trouble (by adding 96 runs). We also discovered a winner in Bhuwan Chander (Hardola). His quickfire knock (43), after the fielder at mid-on dropped a sitter early in his innings, left the South Africans stunned,” said Talwar. The affable Bhuwan could not play first-class cricket and is now serving as a constable at Dehradun in Uttarakhand Police. “We worked as one unit and none of us took any individual credit for whatever we achieved,” said Bhuwan.

The final against Pakistan created a huge awareness of the match in England. “Pakistan had three stalwarts, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Mushtaq Ahmed at the practice session but let me tell you our boys did not feel any stress,” remembered Talwar. “Once we got them (for 222) I was confident.” Sodhi crafted an unbeaten 82. “One of my best innings. I remember every thing about that knock vividly,” he said. The excitement in his tone undiminished.

From the opposition, seven members played senior cricket for Pakistan – Taufeeq Umar, Hasan Raza, Bazid Khan, Faisal Iqbal, Yasir Arafat, Kamran Akmal and Shoaib Malik.

The final was won with plenty to spare and the team was feted on its return. India remains the undisputed champion. The Cup has not been held again in 25 years.

The Indian team
  • Reetinder Sodhi, Gaganinder Singh, Ravneet Ricky, Mohammad Kaif, Bhuvan Chander Hardola, Ishan Ganda, Vivek Mahaj, Gulzar Inder Singh, Pradeep Chawla, MS Bola, Rakesh Raman Jha, Rajiv Jolly, Agam Pandit and Rajan Gupta; Coach: Sarkar Talwar.

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