Seldom has any cricket match in the history of the sport been as awaited as the contest between India and Pakistan at Old Trafford, Manchester during the 1999 World Cup.
This was the third time that the two teams would face each other in the ODI World Cup, with India having won on the previous two occasions – in 1992 in Sydney and in 1996 in Bengaluru.
The 1999 World Cup followed a format where while entering the Super Six stage, you carried on points that you won against the other two teams that qualified from your first-round group. This proved to be an issue for India as they had lost against South Africa and Zimbabwe which meant that they entered the second round of the tournament with zero points.
In a league of six teams with each side accounting for five matches apiece (two carried on from the first round), every Super Six contest was seemingly a must-win for the Men in Blue. But their first match during this stage of the competition against Australia didn’t go their way and with two games still left to play, they were on the brink of elimination.
On the other hand, Pakistan also came into this big match on the back of a defeat. They had lost to South Africa in the Super Six, but having carried on four points from the first round as a result of wins against Australia and New Zealand, they were still in a comfortable position.
This match also took place when the Kargil War was ongoing, which added to the tension ahead of the fixture.
India captain Mohammad Azharuddin won the toss and, in a must-win match, elected to bat first. The Indian team were dealt a huge blow with prolific opening batsman Sourav Ganguly, who had scored 183 against Sri Lanka – a then-record for the highest individual score by an Indian in an ODI innings – just a fortnight earlier, having to sit out due to injury.
The Men In Blue got off to a solid start, with star batsmen Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid both getting starts. Dravid, particularly, was in magnificent form and brought up his fifth 50+ score in seven innings in the tournament. The Karnataka batsman would end the showpiece event as the leading run-scorer which enhanced his reputation as an ODI batsman greatly. Meanwhile, Tendulkar was dismissed when he was five runs short of his half-century.
Ajay Jadeja’s stunning cameo in this fixture in the previous World Cup was still on everyone’s mind, but he was dismissed for a single-digit score this time around.
It was Azharuddin who would play a vital knock to guide India to 227/6 in their 50 overs, with the Indian skipper hitting three fours and one six in his knock of 59. While the target set might have been below par, this was such a high-pressure match that it wasn’t going to be an easy one to chase down.
Wasim Akram and Azhar Mahmood were the pick of Pakistan’s bowlers with two wickets apiece and the duo were very economical too – conceding only 27 and 35 runs in their 10 overs each respectively.
In the second half of the match, Javagal Srinath got India off to a great start – taking the wicket of Shahid Afridi in the third over. And seven overs later, he sent Ijaz Ahmed back to the pavilion.
While Srinath got the early breakthroughs, it was his Karnataka teammate Venkatesh Prasad who would star for India with a match-winning bowling display. Prasad’s heated exchange with Aamer Sohail during the 1996 edition of the World Cup, which resulted in the latter’s dismissal by the Indian pacer, is still remembered fondly by Indian fans to date. And three years later, against the same opposition, he’d produce his best bowling figures (5/27) in an ODI.
Prasad’s five wickets included the important ones of Saeed Anwar and Inzamam-ul-Haq who were Pakistan’s best batsmen at the time. The two wickets came at crucial junctures of the match as well – Anwar was set on 36 and his dismissal in the 18th over put India firmly on the front foot, and Inzamam’s wicket in the 44th over, more or less, sealed the match for the Men In Blue.
Interestingly, three Karnataka bowlers accounted for all 10 wickets taken by India here – Prasad with five, Srinath with three and Anil Kumble with two.
India couldn’t build on the momentum that they had gained with this win and would be eliminated from the tournament after losing to New Zealand in their final Super Six encounter. Meanwhile, Pakistan defeated Zimbabwe in their next game and then got the better of the Blackcaps in the semi-finals. They then came up short in the final against Australia which was a one-sided contest.
India and Pakistan would meet again at the 2003, 2011, 2015 and 2019 World Cups and the former came out victorious on each occasion. While Pakistan might have an upper hand when it comes to the overall records in ODIs between the two arch-rivals, India have won all seven World Cup matches.