As I read an account of the second match of the Wills Challenge in 1997, I could finally appreciate why the Indians and a lot other teams in recent years have been reluctant to play in Karachi. Read on....
Pakistan fielded an unchanged team for the second ODI at Karachi on the 30th of September, 1997. India's faced a set-back the day before the game when Rahul Dravid's inflamed wisdom tooth worsened bringing with it a fever. The Indian team was further hampered by an injury to former captain Mohammad Azharuddin, who had a hamstring problem while Sachin Tendulkar was hampered by a stomach bug. Sachin and Azhar were found fit enough to play while Vinod Kambli was drafted into the playing XI in the place of Dravid.
Pakistan called right and elected to bat and where immediately on track for a good score when Anwar and Afridi posted 55 runs on the board in just under 8 overs. Then Rajesh Chauhan, who was introduced into the attack after Mohanty had gone for 25 runs in his three overs got into his act immediately deceiving Anwar into a false stroke and hung to a good diving catch off his own bowling. But Afridi and he went about playing his carefree and sometimes careless game till he dropped one down the throat of Kuruvilla off Nilesh Kulkarni. Kulkarni got his second scalp of the match when Ijaz, who had been the subdued partner in the 71 run second wicket partnership with Afridi, fell soon after to a wonderful catch by Azhar in the 25th over, with Pakistan being 148-3 at that stage.
Inzamam and Salim Elahi set about consolidating the innings, when, at 178-3, someone threw a stone into the ground from the stands causing a 7 minute stoppage. At 197, Salim Elahi was caught by Kulkarni to give Chauhan his second scalp. Inzy however stayed strong and found an ideal partner in Moin Khan.
The two of them carried on through two more incidents of crowd disturbance, both stone throwing incidents, with the score being 210 and 238 respectively. And then with the Pakistan score at 265-4 (in 47.2 overs), match referee Ranjan Madugalle stopped play after the fourth disturbance of the match occurred (Sachin had lead the team off the field when the three previous incidents had occurred and had to be persuaded by the match referee to return) and set India a target of 266. However, since 19 minutes of play had been lost in the Pakistan innings, the match was reduced to 47 overs each. Other than the disturbances, Pakistan had only themselves to blame because they had been at 132-2 at the end of 20 overs. Tight bowling by Kulkarni, Robin Singh and Ganguly kept the score bottled up.
When the Indians came back after lunch, they immediately went to the overdrive, with Sachin and Saurav smashing Waqar and Aaqib with Aaqib going for 27 from his first two overs. Ganguly, the aggressive of the two openers, got to his 50 off just 41 balls. But with the score on 71, Sachin fell to a catch by Moin off Azhar Mahmood. Kambli walked in and soon was dropped twice by Moin off Saqlain. Kambli settled in and gave Ganguly ample support in a partnership of 98. However Ganguly's dismissal for 89 (out of the score of 169) brought about a collapse and India lost 4 wickets in the space of 26 runs. Kambli and Azhar were run out and when Pakistan's sometime nemesis, Jadeja was out cheaply for just 8 runs, Pakistan was back on track.
However India was rescued by Robin Singh and Saba Karim who played sensibly and brought India to the threshold of a fine win. Both Karim and Singh were trouble initially against Waqar who was introduced into the attack ostensibly to polish of the lower order, but managed to survive. The pair added 63 invaluable runs before Waqar got one through Karim's defense in the 46th over and set the crowd alight. Waqar managed to restrict the Indians to just two runs off his 6 balls. India was in deep trouble, with Rajesh Chauhan on strike, requiring 8 runs off the 47th and last over of the innings.
But what had happened 6 overs earlier had its effect now and India had a small glimmer of hope. At the end of the 42nd over, the ball had been changed, at the request of the batsman who had difficulties seeing it, the ball having become a dull shade of brown from the dust. Saqlain had all kinds of difficulties gripping the newer ball. Rajesh Chauhan watched the first ball from Saqlain and danced down the tracked and hoicked it cleanly over midwicket for a six. The pressure was defused immediately and sharp singles off the next two balls brought the match to a close with three balls to spare. Ganguly was declared the man of the match for his beliggerrent 89 and his tight bowling (10 overs for 39 runs).
The next day, the Pakistani media sought to lay the blame for the loss on the stoppages while Saeed Anwar blamed the changed ball. To be very frank, with Moin and Inzy motoring along, I guess the Pakistanis had good reason to complain that they lost a chance to post a close to 300. But to deem Sachin's actions un-sporting is just too much. The same article goes on to claim that "alcoholic bottle" was thrown in Chennai during the Independence Cup match and stones were thrown during the World Cup quarter-final at Bangalore. I have to admit that I haven't heard accounts of these incidents anywhere else. Anybody confirm? However, while going on and on about the stoppage and the ball change, no mention is made about the glaring umpiring inconsistencies in the match (this time from the third umpire!).