Dalmiya’s ultimatum in 1999

Dalmiya’s ultimatum in 1999

Venkatesh Prasad at the 1999 World Cup

“Haarna nahin hai, Geeta” (can’t lose, Geeta) became an iconic dialogue from Aamir Khan’s hit Bollywood sports biopic Dangal. In the English summer of 1999 here, a similar sounding “ultimatum” was quietly passed on to the Indian cricket team when they were in the middle of a match against Pakistan.

The late Jagmohan Dalmiya, multiple-time BCCI president, was then the first Asian chairman of International Cricket Council but the rivalry between the two hostile neighbours had been so intense that the emotions cut across professional barriers. Both the nations came to a standstill and depending upon the result, the moods of the people on either side of the border shaped up. It was war minus the shooting, so to say.

In the last decade or so, as India started dominating the contests between the two archrivals, it had helped soften the jingoism in the country. There was some sort of acceptance that it’s just a sport and that there is more to look for Indian cricket than just a victory over Pakistan. Following the heightened tensions between the two nations, however, there’s renewed edge to their contest. There were calls in India to boycott the match in the aftermath of Pulwama attack in Kashmir, but better sense has prevailed. It was a similar situation back in the 90s, there was no room for sporting gestures. A win led to a spontaneous national celebration while a defeat cast a pall of gloom.

“Aaj jeetna hai,” Dalmiya told former India pacer Venkatesh Prasad as the team was on its way to lunch hall after posting a modest 227 here at the Old Trafford in the 1999 World Cup.   

“I remember that we had to walk a distance from the dressing-room for lunch,” Prasad said while recalling the match in which he claimed five wickets to set up India’s win. “On the way back, I bumped into Mr Jagmohan Dalmiya, then the ICC president. We had posted 227, and when he saw me, he grabbed me and said, ‘Aaj jitna hai.’ I am glad we did!”

India had elected to bat first after winning the toss, but the total was underwhelming notwithstanding the kind of attack Pakistan possessed at the time – Wasim Akram, Shoaib Akhtar, Abdul Razzaq, Azhar Mahmood and Saqlain Mushtaq. While Sachin Tendulkar (45) and Rahul Dravid (61) came up well upfront, skipper Mohammad Azharuddin (59) provided the final push.

The Indian attack, comprising three Karnataka bowlers Javagal Srinath, Anil Kumble besides Prasad, measured up to the task. They perhaps didn’t need Dalmiya’s push, but it has added to the folklore. Srinath (3/37) gave the desired start with two quick wickets in the first spell after which Prasad cut knifed his way the batting order (5/27). He accounted for both Saeed Anwar, one of the best ODI batsmen at that point, and Inzamam-ul-Haq but cherishes the scalp of the left-hander more.  

“I have fond memories of the Pakistan game,” he reminisced. “I was thrilled to get the dangerous Saeed Anwar out, well caught by Azhar at second slip. Anwar was one of the top batsmen in the world and could finish off a game if he got going.”

Prasad’s bowling was also instrumental in India’s win over Pakistan in Bangalore in the 1996 World Cup. The match is more remembered for Prasad’s perfect repost to Aamer Sohail who after asking the paceman to fetch the ball from the boundary following a four, saw his off stump go cartwheeling the very next delivery.

The 1999 win was the third instance of India beating Pakistan in a World Cup in as many matches, and since then they have doubled that tally. Starting from Sydney when they met them for the first time in 1992 in the quadrennial event, they have gone on to conquer them in Bangalore, Manchester, Centurion (2003), Mohali (2011) and Adelaide. The two teams are back again in the Cottonopolis and it remains to be seen if India maintain the winning streak or Pakistan end it.


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