Sportstar's all-time sports classics: Paes in 1996 to Fergie Time

As the coronavirus pandemic forces a temporary halt on sporting events, Sportstar revisits classic matches across sports.

Leander Paes, India's only medal winner in Atlanta Olympic Games 1996, cuts a cake at DLTA Stadium in New Delhi.   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

The coronavirus pandemic has forced cancellations or postponements of most major leagues. If the lack of sporting action has left a void in your day, here's something to satiate that hunger - our pick of five classic matches from the years gone by that you should revisit.

Cricket | 2001, India v Australia, Kolkata, 2nd Test: "Is this actually happening?," was the overwhelming reaction of cricket fans around the country. From staring at a huge innings defeat, Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman stood firm and batted on, and on, and on. With every flick every through mid-wicket, and every drive through extra cover, Laxman and Dravid slowly planted seeds of hope.

This reporter, who a few weeks later would face certain disaster in the II PUC Board exams, gleefully put the textbooks aside to watch cricket. Parents, though rightfully worried, made an exception to allow the excitable teenager to stay glued to the television. A historic occasion was unfolding at Eden Gardens. Board exams, engineering admission and other frivolous matters could wait.

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All sorts of nationalistic fervour was unleashed when Harbhajan Singh dismissed Glenn McGrath to wrap up a most unlikely win. A celebratory punch to the father’s gut was unnecessarily aggressive, and before long, it was back to the textbooks. Laxman and Dravid could not, however, provide enough inspiration to overcome the academic challenge, as this reporter fell to a humiliating innings defeat at the hands of the board exams.

Cricket | 1999, India v Pakistan, Chennai, 1st Test: The generosity of a kind Madras Cricket Club (MCC) member offered a free ticket to this terrific match. But with the 10th standard board exams only a few months away, only the foolhardy would dare choose a seat at the M. Chidambaram Stadium over the back-benches at school.

Come match-day, this choice was easily made. Instead of taking the Burkit Road and Doraiswamy Bridge route to school, this reckless teenager rode his cycle in the opposite direction to Chepauk.

The risk paid off. The action reached a crescendo over the weekend, with Sachin Tendulkar and Nayan Mongia standing between victory and defeat. Things were going great for India, until Mongia and Tendulkar fell attempting wild slogs. From a winning position, India crumbled to a shocking defeat. The famous never-say-die spirit of the Pakistan team was on full display. Fighting back tears, the big crowd spontaneously gave the visitors a big round of applause. Wasim Akram and his men deserved every bit of appreciation showered by the good folk of Madras.

Sachin Tendulkar in action against Pakistan in the Chennai Test in 1999.   -  FILE PHOTO/V.V. KRISHNAN

 

This match provided great momentum to a debate that raged on for years to come. Was Tendulkar a true match-winner in Tests? With just 17 runs to get for victory, why charge down the track to attack the dangerous Saqlain Mushtaq? Sure, Tendulkar batted through unbearable back pain, but having already done all the hard work, why not play sensibly for another hour to finish the deed?

The anti-Tendulkar brigade cited West Indian Brian Lara to make their point. In that same year, Lara had single-handedly deflated the touring Australia with match-winning second-innings knocks. If someone had to bat for your life, who would you choose? Lara or Tendulkar?

Football | UEFA Champions League final, 1999, Manchester United v Bayern Munich, Barcelona: In the late 90s, European club football was fairly new to the Indian audience. With live telecast having begun in 1996, the English Premier League (EPL) was only starting to gain popularity.

In the space of just a few frenetic minutes at Camp Nou, Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer ensured that Manchester United and English football built a cult following across the nation. Injury-time goals from Sheringham and Solskjaer pulled Manchester United back from the dead, paving the way for a historic treble season (FA Cup, English Premier League and UEFA Champions League victories).

It was the berth of ‘Fergie Time’ - a simple glance at the watch from manager Ferguson which signalled an all-out attack approach in the final minutes of a match. More often than not, just the idea of facing the ‘Fergie Time’ onslaught was enough for opponents to wave the white flag. The Red Devils, despite a recent big dip in fortunes, still remains one the most popular clubs in the world of football.

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Tennis | 1996, Atlanta Olympics, Leander Paes: Hockey, shooting, boxing, wrestling, badminton - it is realistic to think that India can win Olympic medals in these sports. But tennis singles? That is inconceivable. Leander Paes did the unthinkable in 1996, in what must rank as one of the greatest achievements in Indian sports history. A wildcard entrant, Paes cut through the draw with upset victories over a couple of seeded players.

In the third round, Paes delivered a straight-set win over third-seed Swede Thomas Enqvist. In the quarterfinal, he took out Italian Renzo Furlan, then a formidable top-20 player. Top-seed and eventual gold medalist Andre Agassi proved to be the better man in the semifinal, recording a 7-6, 6-3 win over Paes. It all came down to a tense bronze-medal playoff match against good friend and Brazilian top-100 player Fernando Meligeni. Paes battled through ruptured tendons in his wrist to record a famous 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 win.

Paes recalls that he dodged a bullet, having initially drawn American heavyweight Pete Sampras in the first round. As luck would have it, Sampras withdrew due to an injury, paving the way for Paes’ momentous run.

Basketball | 1998, Game 6, NBA Finals, Chicago Bulls v Utah Jazz, Utah: The game that featured ‘The Shot’. With a crossover and a gentle push to nudge Byron Russell out of the way, Michael Jordan set the stage to sink a 20-feet jump shot to end his Chicago Bulls career in glorious fashion. The game-ending play gave the Bulls a 4-2 win in the NBA Final over Utah Jazz, claiming their sixth title in eight years.

Michael Jordan.   -  THE HINDU PHOTO ARCHIVES

 

It would also be the sixth and last of Jordan’s championship rings, and the end of a decade dominated by the Bulls. Jordan would make a comeback with the Washington Wizards a few years later, but he could not reach the heights of his Bulls avatar.

(This is a part of a daily series where Sportstar's correspondents will pick their five favourite sporting moments worth revisiting. Reader contributions are welcome. Send in your picks to sportstar@thehindu.co.in)