That Wankhede evening: When Maninder had tears and Azhar didn't know what to do

That Wankhede evening: When Maninder had tears and Azhar didn't know what to do

New Delhi, Nov 14 (PTI) A retiring legend was devastated, an enormously talented spinner never fully found his mojo back, an inspirational captain lost his hot seat while a 14-year-old watching everything from the Wankhede stadium's boundary line must have made a pledge to himself that one day his script will be different from theirs.

The teenager was of course Sachin Tendulkar and the devastated legend was Sunil Gavaskar, who had already announced his retirement and never played for India after India lost that World Cup semifinal against England in 1987.

Maninder Singh, a world class left-arm spinner, was never the same bowler after that game. Kapil Dev lost his captaincy, one last time.

Wankhede Stadium in 1987 was an amphitheatre that had absorbed the trials and tribulations of a very good Indian team. Graham Gooch, the English vice-captain swept his way to 115 and England didn't look back.

On that day, no one envisaged that anything could go wrong for the Indian team. But Murphy's Law hit the Indian team with full force on November 5, 1987.

On Wednesday, when Rohit Sharma leads the blue shirts against a quality New Zealand side, the home fans would pray that they do not return from Wankhede with heartache.

Cricket's biggest advantage and disadvantage is the recency bias. Only fans of a certain vintage would remember that no-so-talked about World Cup semi-final, where India started as overwhelming favourites.

Actually April 2, 2011 is so strongly entrenched in the collective consciousness of the Indian fans that very few remember how formidable class of 1987 was.

'I felt devastated twice in my career. One was that 1987 semi-final at Wankhede and the second time after losing the 1996 semi-final to Sri Lanka at the Eden Gardens,' Mohammed Azharuddin, the only Indian captain to lead the country in three World Cups told PTI.

'On both occasions, we had a very strong team for conditions and no one actually thought, we could lose. We lost five wickets for 15 runs. The match turned once Paaji (Kapil Dev) got out.

'I also panicked after being well-set. The asking rate was moving upwards and I played that needless paddle sweep off Eddie Hemmings. I was very upset that evening,' Azhar said.

Do you feel that had DRS been there back then, the leg before that Hemmings got could have been over-turned? Azhar replied in a negative.

'No, I wouldn't like to get into what would have happened if some rule was in place. We played as per rules of that era. I believe the target was chaseable and I should have finished the game. But from 204 for 5, we were 220 all-out (219). That shouldn't have happened. I would never blame our spinners as both Maninder (3/54) and Ravi (Shastri) bowled well,' Azhar said.

However Maninder has a different take.

'People till date say Gooch swept us out of the game. But if anyone watches that game, you will see that there were times when he was beaten for turn and the ball missed the stumps by a whisker. There were times he missed some straight balls going for sweep but in the pre-DRS days, you didn't get front-foot lbw in those days,' Maninder recalled.

Maninder does believe that everything went wrong that day.

'We missed Dilip (Vengsarkar), who was unwell. Then Srikkanth missed a sitter off Ravi's bowling. Funnily, if we placed a fielder adjacent to square leg umpire, Gooch or (Mike) Gatting's top-edged sweep would fall in the '45' position. When put fielder at '45', the same top edge would land at square leg,' Maninder recollected.

It was a bitter pill to swallow, he reckoned.

'I wouldn't call it the saddest day but definitely, at least four or five players had tears in their eyes. It was team that was on a roll, just like this team and we were enjoying each other's success and company.' So will this Indian team be wary of New Zealand? 'No, this time it is New Zealand that would worry about India,' said Maninder. PTI KHS KHS AT AT

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