Thirty-six years ago, when Delhi hosted its first-ever World Cup game on October 22, 1987, it was a performance from an unexpected quarter that set off crackers around the Ferozeshah Kotla grounds.
Mohammad Azharuddin rolled his arm over with his medium-pacers to surprise Australia in that game of Reliance World Cup, the first time the quadrennial event was held outside England, with three wickets after scoring unbeaten 54 off 45 balls. He walked away with the Man-of-the-Match award for his all-round show.
Azhar, now 60, remembers the sound of crackers that day since it was Diwali and India’s win made it doubly special for the fans.
“I think it was a sell-out crowd. That day it was Diwali. After we won, a lot of crackers went off. We got very good starts [in batting]. I distinctly remember all batted well,” Azhar, who picked 3/19 from 3.5 overs to cap off the all-round performance, told Patriot. He knocked off the tail, getting rid of Simon O’Donnell, Craig McDermott and Bruce Reid as India won that game by 66 runs.
Left-arm spinner Maninder Singh ran through the Australian top-order after India had amassed 289/6 in 50 overs with half-centuries from Sunil Gavaskar (61), Navjot Sidhu (51), Dilip Vengsarkar (63) and Azhar.
“We had almost won the game when I came into bowl and had the tail-enders to get. Simon [O’Donnell] was batting. So, there was no pressure on me while bowling,” said Azhar. He was asked to bowl by the skipper Kapil Dev.
“Someone was not well I think, so Kapil paaji (Kapil Dev) asked me to bowl in place of him (Chetan Sharma). I was very happy to be man-of-the-match on Diwali day. It was just beginning to get cooler in Delhi. Back in 1987, even the first week of October used to be quite cold in Delhi,” added Azhar about that game.
“I never saw myself as a bowler. Not really. I concentrated more on batting and fielding. Kapil paaji had lot of faith in me. In the 1986 tour of Australia also, I had bowled. We had lot of good bowlers in the team [so there was no need to bowl more often],” added Azhar.
India’s performance in the World Cup was very good. They won four of their five league stage games, losing only to Australia once by a slender margin of one run. Each team played other teams in the pool twice.
“We were the defending champions, unlucky not to go through to the final. Except for one or two games, we played very well,” said Azhar further.
The former India skipper, who has played 99 Test matches and 334 ODIs for India, captained India in 47 Test matches and 174 ODIs.
He says that the stadium has seen a drastic change from what it was back then.
“The stadium has changed totally. Dressing room was right inside. To come out of dressing room would sometimes take 3-4 minutes. Which is why the 12th man used to sit outside on the boundary,” he concluded.