Cricket is a team game played, at any given point in time, by two individuals. It is gladiatorial; it puts the elemental bowler versus batsman confrontation at the centre of the stage, with the rest – the fielders, the umpires, the non-striker – as extras with walk on parts.
It is this gladiatorial nature of what is on the surface a team game that gives cricket its memorable moments. Here are five of the best:
Shane Watson vs Wahab Riaz: World Cup 2015, 3rd Quarterfinal
It was a crucial knockout fixture. Pakistan were looking down the barrel after having lost half the side with just 158 runs on the board. Mitchell Starc was in white hot form, beating the bat repeatedly with swing and seam and a laser-guided Yorker.
Shane Watson helped things along. “Are you holding a bat?”, the burly Aussie taunted the left handed Wahab Riaz. Starc joined in with the chirping, so too did James Faulkner and wicket keeper Brad Haddin.
Australia came out to chase and, after 18 overs, seemed in control. Then Riaz got the ball – and it was payback time. The very first ball Riaz bowled to Watson came within a toucher of smashing the grill of the batsman’s helmet. The next ball, a 159k fireball, went from bowler to keeper with Watson a bewildered spectator.
In front of a stunned Adelaide Oval crowd, Riaz bowled like a man possessed – short balls that thudded into Watson’s body, length balls that beat both edges in turn, yorkers that threatened toes and stumps, all sent down with pace like fire, all followed up by the bowler running the length of the pitch to get in the stunned batsman’s face. Watson ducked, weaved, wore balls on every part of his anatomy, gritted his teeth and hung on for dear life as ball followed humiliating ball.
No one would have wanted to face Riaz on that day, in that mood. Steve Smith kept nudging singles and putting his partner back in the line of fire; of the nine overs Riaz bowled, Watson had to face five, and never managed a shot of any authority. One attempt to pull resulted in a top edge that Rahat Ali put down.
Australia won with a convincing 97 balls to spare, but it was Riaz who won hearts. The general mood was summed up by Aussie skipper Miachel Clarke at the post match press conference: “One of the fastest spells I have seen in a long time.”
Arjuna Ranatunga vs Shane Warne: 1996 World Cup, Final
“Easily one of the most difficult opponents I have faced in my entire life,” wrote Warne, with grudging admiration of Arjuna Ranatunga in his autobiography. Warne disliked the Sri Lankan captain and made no secret of it, but in the end, he had to acknowledge the Lankan’s mastery.
The backstory began with Sri Lanka’s tour Down Under just
before the World Cup. Australia as always got under the skin of the opposition
with their verbals. It was the final of the Benson & Hedges World Series.
Australia posted 273 in their allocated 50 overs. A deluge reduced the game to
25 overs, with Sri Lanka given a revised target of 168.
Tempers frayed. Ranatunga, who carries more weight
than most sportsmen, cramped up and asked for a runner. “You don’t get runners
for being an overweight, unfit, fat c**t,” Aussie keeper Ian Healy sledged. Sri
Lanka fell short by nine runs, and refused to shake hands with Mark Taylor who
was hosting the post-match presentation.
The grievances kept piling up. In the Test series that followed, the Lankans were accused of doctoring the ball. Each Test had its own controversy; before a record 55,000 spectators in the second Test, umpire Darrell Hair repeatedly called Muralitharan for chucking. Ranatunga went to war against the Aussies.
Sri Lanka drew first blood, restricting the Aussies to under 250. In reply, they lost both openers cheap before a 125 run partnership between Asanka Gurusinha and Aravinda de Silva put the chase on track.
But the best was yet to come, and it came when Ranatunga walked out to join Aravinda, and faced up to Warne. With contemptuous ease and a very obvious deliberation, he set out to make Warne look ordinary, nudging him around for singles, waiting for the field to adjust, then finding new gaps and pretty much putting the ball wherever he wanted. A fierce hit back down the track saw a by then rattled Warne spill the return chance; the ball burst through his hands and sped to the fence.
Ranatunga then added insult to injury by finishing the game, and winning Sri Lanka the Cup, with a six off Warne.
The two continued to snipe at each other over the years, Ranatunga taunting Warne over his use of diuretics, Warne retailing by poking fun at the Lankan’s weight. It was only after Warne and Ranatunga quit the world stage that the former, in his autobiography, offered up that grudging complement to his arch nemesis.
Aamir Sohail vs Venkatesh Prasad: 1996 World Cup, Quarterfinal
When India plays Pakistan, asbestos seems the most
ideal clothing material – this rivalry burns scalding hot. And it generally
peaks during World Cup encounters, where Pakistan is yet to win a single one
A classic of its kind was the 1996 World Cup quarterfinal in Bangalore. Before the match, Pakistan suffered a major blow when captain Wasim Akram pulled out at the last minute, citing injury.
Pakistan’s stand-in captain Aamir Sohail called the toss wrong; his counterpart Mohd Azharuddin decided to bat first and, thanks to a 115-ball 93 by Sachin and a late flourish by Ajay Jadeja, India posted a daunting 287/8.
Any euphoria in the Indian camp lasted only till Pakistan began its response; openers Aamir Sohail and Saeed Anwar blasted 84 in just 10 overs. Indian fans, stunned into silence by the effortless assault, finally found their voices when local boy Javagal Srinath removed the dangerous Anwar for 48. Sohail, however, had the bit between his teeth and continued the onslaught.
Then came the moment that would decide the outcome. Sohail smashed Venkatesh Prasad to the boundary and, adding contempt to injury, pointed his bat and told the bowler to go fetch the ball. A fired up Prasad went back to his mark, ran in, and produced a dream ball: Outside off, curving in, landing on length, straightening past the edge to hit the stumps. Prasad rubbed it in, giving Sohail an extended, vocal send off.
That one moment, when Sohail gratuitously needled a bowler after winning the battle, spelt ruin for Pakistan – the momentum was lost, the batsmen to follow struggled, wickets fell regularly and Pakistan ended 39 runs short. “Although Sohail won the battle against his opposition he lost it against his own temper” wrote R Mohan in the 1996 Indian cricket annual.
Manoj Prabhakar vs Sanath Jayasuriya: 1996 World Cup, Match 24
The jam-packed Feroz Shah Kotla witnessed the unusual
sight of a fast bowler being reduced to bowling spin. It happened in the group
stage of the 1996 World Cup when India squared off against Sri Lanka.
Arjuna Ranatunga won the toss and decided to chase on a
flat Kotla wicket. India did not have a perfect start, with Manoj Prabhakar
using up 36 balls to score just 7 runs. The pressure was on; India needed a
miracle from their talismanic batsman Sachin Tendulkar, who didn’t disappoint,
producing a run a ball 137. Azharuddin’s 72 and Sanjay Manjrekar’s 32-run cameo
helped India reach a modest 272.
What followed was a nightmare, as Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana tore the Indian attack apart. Jayasuriya started with four successive boundaries and a six in Prabhakar’s first over. The first three overs produced 42 runs; of these, Prabhakar gave away 33 in two.
Embarrassed to the point of helplessness, Prabhakar reverted to bowling spin - not that it helped. Lanka coasted to a win with eight balls to spare. And, as a coda to this story, there is this: it turned out to be Manoj Prabhakar’s final match for India.
Javed Miandad vs Kiran More: 1992, Benson and Hedges World Cup
Not all rivalries have to end in triumph and disaster – sometimes, they are just pure rollicking fun, as witnessed when the irrepressible Javed Miandad and and the unstoppable motormouth Kiran More put on a show.
On March 4, 1992, Miandad was seen at his best. After having restricted India to 213, Pakistan were in a precarious situation when Miandad came to the crease (what was the score?). Kiran More, notorious for getting under the skin of batsmen, got into the act, chattering ceaselessly from behind the stumps, jumping up in vociferous appeal for nothing at all, and generally doing all he could to disrupt Miandad’s concentration.
The pressure was intense. It was the first time India and Pakistan were playing each other at a global event. Pakistan was under pressure, the Indian bowlers were giving nothing away, and Miandad, properly riled, began giving back to More as good as he got.
And then More cut loose with another totally unnecessary appeal for LBW. Miandad decided he had enough, and began jumping up and down in exaggerated mimicry of the keeper.
The crowd, and the nearby Indian players, fell about laughing; the umpires decided it was all good clean fun and refused to interfere, and an abashed More watched Miandad’s performance with a rueful grin on his face.
In the event, Srinath removed Miandad shortly after, Pakistan lost wickets in clusters, and ended up going down to a 43-run defeat – its first at India’s hands at a global event, and the beginning of a trend of losses that continues to this day.
“Javed Bhai is a fighting cricketer and one of the best I have seen for a long time,” More said after the game. “Although we had some problems on the pitch, we are good friends off the field.” Which, when you think about it, is what the spirit of cricket is all about.