India cricket in the 1990s saw more lows than highs as the team never had a good enough combination for sustained success.
The most memorable moments in the decade came in the form of sporadic wins over the big guns of international cricket, achieved mostly in dramatic circumstances. It was a time when Sachin Tendulkar was at the peak of his powers and often the match-winner for the Indian team.
If not for Tendulkar, India struggled to find heroes. An Indian batting collapse after Tendulkar’s dismissal was the expected script of most Indian innings in the 90s.
However, one of the few wins where the team stood up after Tendulkar departed to take the team home happened in Bengaluru against Australia in the 1996 Titan Cup.
The Titan Cup was a triangular one-day international series hosted by India that also featured South Africa and Australia. With the Proteas winning both their matches in the first round and looking good to repeat their heroics in the second, India and Australia had to slug it out for a spot in the final.
On a tricky Bengaluru wicket, Australia led by captain Mark Taylor’s excellent 105 managed to score 215/7 in their 50 overs. India’s hopes of reaching the target were once again pinned on Tendulkar who didn’t disappoint but lacked support at the other end. After Tendulkar was dismissed for 88, India were 52 runs short of the target with only two wickets in hand. For most in India at the time, it was time to switch off the television.
However, Javagal Srinath and Anil Kumble, two local Bengaluru boys, known primarily for their prowess with the ball decided to take matters in their own hands.
Srinath, who was at times promoted as a pinch-hitter, got in on the act with a massive six over long-off that landed into the second tier.
The hit got the crowd, which was stunned by the departure of Tendulkar, back on its feet. The cameraman though spotted two ladies applauding with particular interest. They were Kumble’s mother and grandmother.
Since that point, the camera switched to the two ladies after every delivery. They were representative of how the entire nation felt at the time. Those visuals of the series of emotions the two ladies went through became immortal in Indian cricket as did the heroics of Kumble and Srinath that followed.
In the next over, Kumble flicked a deliver drifting on the leg side behind the wicket-keeper for another boundary. As the duo chipped away at the runs slowly and sensibly, the excitement began to rise in the stadium. The expression on the face of Kumble’s mother being representative of the general mood.
When Glenn McGrath was introduced into the attack, he managed to trouble Kumble. The leg-spinner missed one of the deliveries that hit him on the pads and led to a LBW appeal while the Indian duo took a quick single. Kumble’s mother covered her ears in distress as her son scampered past the crease to complete the run.
Kumble and Srinath didn’t panic and slowly took India closer to the target to put the pressure back on Australia. The win appeared in sight when Srinath hit McGrath for a boundary that got India within four runs of the target. Damien Martin usually a sound fielder let the ball slip through him to give away four crucial runs. The Australians knew the game was drifting away.
With the camera back on the two ladies, the crowd had already begun celebrations with many around them shaking their hands. Kumble’s mother just like her son was not taking anything for granted.
But the two women, along with the entire Chinnaswamy stadium were bouncing in joy after Srinath hit the winning runs to take India home and register a famous victory.
Tendulkar who was sitting in the dressing room as the partnership flourished revealed how nervous the team was during this last part of the chase.
“The match is getting excited. They were thrilled. Crowd also went loud. Back in the dressing room, our hearts are pounding. We are praying god to let this partnership flourish. Anil Kumble and Srinath brilliantly closed that game. It was a mega partnership. I ended picking up the man of the match but for me, it was Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath are a man of the match,” Tendulkar told the 100MB app.
The win proved crucial in the larger context of the series as India edged out Australia in the race for the second final spot in the triangular series.
In the final in Mumbai, India beat South Africa who had won all the games in the tournament to lift the Titan Cup. It wouldn’t have been possible had Srinath and Kumble not kept their nerves in Bengaluru.
The win may be significant only in the context of that particular series, but it was quite representative of the Indian cricket in a decade where fighting spirit and determination were the only means for India to get over the line against superior opponents.