Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the build-up to 2019 World Cup in the countdown of the greatest moments in the tournament’s history. You can read the entire series here.
Moment No 15
India have beaten Pakistan in all of the seven* encounters the two teams have had in ICC World Cups over the years. These matches have had it all – nail-biting finishes, one-sided victories, and glorious individual performances like Sachin Tendulkar’s knock of 98 in 2003. But if there’s one single moment that encapsulates the sheer fierceness of these battles, it’s Venkatesh Prasad’s dismissal of Aamer Sohail in the 1996 edition.
Gautam Gambhir and Shahid Afridi have been in the news over the past couple of weeks, sparring over some controversial remarks made by the latter in his autobiography. The duo had, of course, been involved in a heated moment during a One-Day International in 2007.
However, unlike the incident between Gambhir and Afridi in Kanpur, where there was physical contact between the two followed by a stare-off, the Prasad-Sohail face-off is one for the ages because of the magnitude of what was at stake in that match.
India was facing Pakistan in the World Cup quarter-final at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on March 9, 1996. And what can now be described as a brain-fade moment by captain Sohail led to his team getting knocked out of the tournament.
Here’s what happened
Opting to bat first after skipper Mohammad Azharuddin won the toss, India scored an impressive 287/8 in their 50 overs. The total was achieved largely due to Navjot Singh Sidhu’s knock at the top and Ajay Jadeja’s blitz at the end. Sidhu, declared Player of the Match eventually, scored a brilliant 93 off 115 against a Pakistani pace attack that had Waqar Younis and Aaqib Javed. Jadeja, on the other hand, blasted a 45 off 25 to hand India the momentum going into the break.
Although the Chinnaswamy has always been a high-scoring ground, Pakistan had to put in a solid effort with the bat to get past the sub-300 total. And they couldn’t have asked for a better start. Openers Sohail and Saeed Anwar came out all guns blazing. Javagal Srinath was put to the sword early on with fours and sixes all around the park.
The match seemed to be slipping out of India’s hands before Srinath himself provided the breakthrough by removing Anwar. Pakistan were 84/1 at that time, still needing over 200 runs to earn a spot in the semi-finals. The visitors would’ve hoped that their captain, who soon raced to his half-century at a strike-rate of well over 100, will anchor the chase. But little did they know that all the momentum they had gathered would soon be lost with Sohail throwing away his wicket.
The left-hander was batting on 51 off 44 when Prasad ran in to bowl the fifth delivery of the 15th over. He danced down the track and cut it fiercely for four to the left of sweeper-cover. But that’s when he decided to show some unprovoked aggression towards the Indian pacer. Sohail walked up to Prasad and pointed his bat at the region in which he had just hit the boundary, presumably saying he would hit a similar shot again.
The commentators didn’t miss that moment and the crowd in the stadium got involved too after seeing the replay on the big screen. It was on! There was a roar as Prasad steamed in to bowl the next ball and to the utter joy of the home supporters, the stumps had been rattled.
Sohail stepped away to play an expansive cut but Prasad’s delivery had an extra zip to it, crashing into the off-stump before the bat could come down. No fan will ever forget Prasad’s reaction after that – mouthing what can only be imagined as expletives and gesturing Sohail animatedly to get out of the field.
There was a 52-run partnership between Saleem Malik and Javed Miandad for the fifth wicket, but Pakistan never really recovered from the loss of their two set openers. They managed to score 248/9 in 49 overs, with Prasad and Anil Kumble picking up three wickets apiece, as India registered a famous 39-run victory.
Many years after that unforgettable incident, in 2018, Prasad and Sohail got together for a special interview where they reflected on what had happened in Bengaluru in 1996. The Pakistani great remembered how his team’s morale was lost once he got out in that match.
“When I went inside the dressing room, I saw those shoulders drop,” Sohail told Star Sports. “Saeed got out and then Ijaz Ahmed walked in. I never wanted Ijaz. I wanted Javed Miandad to come in. So Ijaz came in, he felt that pressure. He was not getting the ball onto the bat and was consuming a lot of deliveries. So the pressure was building on me.
“When Venky started his second spell, he was coming around the wicket and he was focused. He was troubling everybody. And I said okay, how can I break his focus? Javed had actually taught us this. Over the years, when a bowler is troubling you, thoda sa uska focus todo [break his focus a bit]. But for India, it’s good that Venky didn’t lose track. He kept on focusing. I was actually expecting a bouncer. I was ready to hit it.”
(Note: The article originally said six, it has now been updated to seven after India defeated Sarfraz Ahmed and Co in 2019)