Back in the early 1990s, I suddenly became the owner of a pretty decent jacket. A blazer. Navy blue. Double-breasted. Brass-coloured buttons. Bad fit. It had belonged to my brother, who was much older than me and terribly fashion conscious. A new style must have become more popular, so he handed it down to me, seeing that I had grown as big as I ever would.
But #OnThisDay, November 27, 1993, I misplaced it, not too long after it had come into my possession.
It was the final of the Hero Cup. The Cricket Association of Bengal Jubilee Tournament, it said on the tickets, but it was the Hero Cup for everyone. And it was perhaps the greatest day, and night, for the Eden Gardens faithful of my era till that point. Or was that the night of November 24, when India beat South Africa in the semifinal in what was perhaps the greatest One-Day International I had seen live till then? Oh, maybe that would be February 18, 1987 – the Salim Malik Show. Then again, India lost that one, and journalistic neutrality hadn’t kicked in yet, so it doesn’t count.
At the time, going to Eden Gardens, even if it was often enough, was an occasion. Thus the blazer. Party wear. Once the seventh or eighth wicket had fallen (I think it was the eighth – Hooper) and the heat generated by the torches became enough to cut out the early-winter chill, off came the blazer, got rolled into a ball, and tossed up, up and away.
So it was that the Hero Cup final was on. A Saturday it was. Sourav Ganguly was yet to become Sourav Ganguly, and our favourites were Kapil Dev and Mohammad Azharuddin. And Sachin Tendulkar, of course. That little boy who was doing so well. Vinod Kambli had hit 68 but those two, Kapil and Azhar, had done the quick-scoring – the older man 24 in 28 balls and the younger man, the captain, 38 in 43. And India scored 225 for 7 in 50 overs. Not too many, even at the time. Not against Brian Lara, Phil Simmons, Richie Richardson, Carl Hooper, Keith Arthurton and Jimmy Adams. But it was! Because Kapil was there. Yes, yes, it was Anil Kumble’s game, the 6 for 12, and magical that was, but didn’t Kapil set it up? At the time, less than a year before he would finish up and maybe two years after he should have called it quits, the common consensus out at F Block was that the man couldn’t even get the ball to reach the other end. Sure, he could still swing it, but he had lost the pace.
But great players look for that last hurrah, and Kapil wasn’t done yet. To the untrained eye, his pace seemed to be in the 115-120 zone – enough for Richardson to play a straight drive uppishly and for Kapil to bend low to take the return on his follow through. It was also enough to fool Arthurton into falling over to one that moved back into the left-hander. LBW. Cue for the mashaals to be lit in the stands: the old East Bengal celebration that had over time become a staple at Eden too, when India did well. If there were still any doubts at 63 for 4, Kumble dispelled them as only he could. Like the six bullets in a revolver. He fired them and fired at will. Legspin? Medium pace? Drifters? Roland Holder onwards, no one had a clue.
At the time, going to Eden Gardens, even if it was often enough, was an occasion. Thus the blazer. Party wear. Once the seventh or eighth wicket had fallen (I think it was the eighth – Hooper) and the heat generated by the torches became enough to cut out the early-winter chill, off came the blazer, got rolled into a ball, and tossed up, up and away. We were dancing in the aisles, weren’t we? I’d like to think I went back and looked for it, but surely that wasn’t possible in that din and among thousands of people. I don’t think so. It was my contribution to India’s win. I’d deal with Dada – mine, not Ganguly – later.
This was the big celebration, but truly no win was better than that last-over victory engineered by Tendulkar in the semifinal. “This really is a decision on which Azharuddin’s captaincy will be hailed as being nothing short of genius or be criticised mercilessly,” said Sunil Gavaskar on TV (heard later, of course) as Kapil clutched at his shoulder, expressing an inability to continue, and walked away and Tendulkar warmed up. The first floodlit game at Eden. The little man’s swingers and seamers and spinners. Salil Ankola’s throw. Allan Donald’s misses. Excellent collections from Vijay Yadav. From beginning to end, the over took well over five minutes. Every second of which was about praying, repeating actions in superstition, controlling bursting bladders – until, finally, joy. Complete joy.
In some ways, it was yet another coming-of-age for Indian cricket. You go back to 1971 and then 2001, when India made a statement in Test cricket, forks on the road that the Indians took the right path off. In One-Day Internationals, nothing can ever be bigger than 1983, not even 2011, but 1985, 2002 and 2008 are right up there as well. And, in my book, 1993 too. The Indian team was still taking shape then and the Azhar era wasn’t yet in flight. Nor was it quite the beginning of the Tendulkar era (eras?). It was early days in the scintillating Indian home run of the 1990s, when Azhar’s India won so much. Didn’t it start at Eden on those two November evenings, when floodlights were finally switched on at the hallowed precincts and a mongoose turned up to wish the team luck? I think so. Though I don’t have the jacket to prove it.