The capacity crowd at the Eden Gardens, Kolkata, estimated to be around a hundred thousand was soaking in the magic of its own batting wizard – Sachin Tendulkar. The master looked in his usual pristine touch and as always he was making it look like he was batting on a different strip than anyone else.
India was steadily marching towards its spot in the 1996 World Cup final, they needed further 154 runs in 165 balls with nine wickets in hand. The fact that Sachin Tendulkar was still at the crease kept a billion hopes alive. In the next few seconds, however, the Indian dream of the World Cup was shattered and its hopes were dashed.
Sanath Jayasuriya, trying to frustrate the master, was bowling round the wicket to Sachin Tendulkar. A failed attempt to clip the next ball towards the empty leg-side cost him dearly as the Indian demi-god was stumped by the Sri Lankan Wicket-keeper.
Although the scoreboard displayed a fall of only one wicket, for the Indian mind, it was equivalent to five wickets falling together. Suddenly, the pitch started to unleash its horror. It was as if the powers of Tendulkar were keeping it quiet for all this time.
The next Indian batsmen were returning faster to the pavilion than their arrival. From 98/1 they nosedived to 120/8. The performance was so dismal and heart-breaking that it made Tony Greig on the commentary exclaim “The Indians are committing suicide… One by one they are hitting them in the air and one by one they are being toppled.”
The thousands in attendance were shell-shocked by this abject surrender of their home team who looked well on course to etching its name on the World Cup. The jam-packed crowd that had exalted under the scorching sun in the day started venting its disappointment in the form of anger.
The plastic bottles started making their appearance on the ground, the customary torching of newspapers had already started in the Stadium. The fire burning in the minds soon made its way out on the seats and isles. The Eden was burning.
The violent turn of events stopped the play. Match referee Clive Lloyd instructed the teams to return to the pavilion and made attempts at restarting the game peacefully. The pleas fell on enraged deaf ears and there was no other option than awarding the match to Sri Lanka.
The shameful behavior of the crowd at this global stage brought much shame to the Indian cricket and stamped a permanent blot on the prestige of Eden Gardens. The gutsy Sri Lankan team next defeated Mark Taylor’s Australia at Lahore by seven wickets in the final to lift their maiden World Cup.