31st October is a famous date in Indian history. It on this day in 1984, Indira Gandhi was brutally assassinated by her own bodyguards, which triggered a nationwide mayhem. 31st October is the birthday of the first home minister of India, the IRONMAN Vallabh Bhai Patel.
But Indian Cricket fanatics of our generation remembers this day for another reason. Thirty years back in 1987, on this day India registered one of its most forceful and comprehensive ODI victories.
It was a group match of Reliance World Cup (4th ICC Cricket World Cup) between India and New Zealand played at Nagpur on 31st October 1987, which India won by nine wickets. The match got immortalized, as it was the first time when an Indian claimed a hat-trick in the ODI. It was none other than the pace bowler, Chetan Sharma. Moreover, the legendary Sunil Gavaskar scored his one and only century during ODIs in this match.
4th ICC World Cup was held in India. It was the first time that the World Cup was moved out of England. Defending champion India was in Group A along with Australia, New Zealand and Zimbabwe. In another group (Group B), co-host Pakistan was placed along with the two-time champions West Indies, England and Sri Lanka. The format was that two top teams from each group would go to the semi-final. The winner of each group would compete with the other team during the semi-final.
Hosts India and Pakistan were the hot favourites to lift the trophy. India lost its opening game against Australia by just one run in a nail-biting finish. India, however, won next four games in trot. From Group B, Pakistan was the group leader and England as the second team had already qualified for the semi-final. Before this match, From Group A, Australia as group leader had qualified with 10 points. India with 8 points was at the second place and India had qualified as well. However, the outcome of the last match held in Nagpur would decide the ultimate group leader in Group A.
Group positioning had a serious implication for India. As per the plan, the second team in Group A would play against Pakistan in Lahore, which India avoided at any cost. In order to remain group leader, India had to win this last game and that too with a huge margin to beat Australia on Net Run Rate as both teams would have 10 points each.
Indian fans were anxiously waiting for the outcome of this match. New Zealand won the toss and elected to bat. They had a steady start. At one point in time, New Zealand was 181 for 4 and they were looking good for a decent total. But then Chetan Sharma struck with the first ever hat-trick by an Indian in ODI. He dislodged stumps in three consecutive deliveries and sent back dreadfully dangerous Rutherford, Ian Smith and Chatfield. New Zealand was tattering at 182 for 8 from a score of 181 for 4. Finally, New Zealand managed a total of 221 in 50 Overs.
Now, for India, this match was of any consequence only if they could chase the total in 42 overs as only then India would beat Australia on run rate.
Scoring 221 runs in 42 overs three decades back was no simple task and the bonus was on an opening pair of Sunil Gavaskar and Srikkanth. Gavaskar had already played his last Test for India in March 1987 and he had announced that World Cup would be his last outing for India. The man with the highest number of Test centuries (34) at that time had a pain point of not having a single three-figure innings in ODI. His rendezvous with ODI was better contrasted by his infamous innings of 36 runs in 60 Overs in 1975 World Cup.
The bad news, however, was that Gavaskar was not well. He was suffering from high-grade fever. Indian fans were sceptical. As soon as Indian innings started, it was a carnage right from the word go. Srikkanth and Gavaskar gave kiwi bowlers an unprecedented charge. Gavaskar was even more ferocious than Srikkanth, who himself was a powerful striker. Both were literally toying with bowling attack. I still remember those effortless sixes Gavaskar hit of Chatfield over mid-wicket. Chatfield was the key bowler for New Zealand, but he went for some forty runs in four overs.
With an advent of T-20 and all, these days we often see such outrageous batting but at that time it was an exceptional decimation of bowling. Something, which was completely unique. Spectators were in total awe of the proceedings. Srikkanth departed after scoring 75 runs but then Gavaskar along with young Azharuddin finished the job. Azhar scored a boundary on the first ball of 33rd over and India won the game. During the innings, India scored with the brisk pace of almost seven runs per over. So had India played full quota of 50 overs, in all probability they would have scored 370-380 runs.
Gavaskar remained unbeaten on 103. This remained his only century in ODIs. Gavaskar was in serious trouble during the end of the knock, due to high fever. So much so that he was not even able to stand properly. Gavaskar and Chetan Sharma were adjourned man if the match jointly.
India topped the group. After this match, India became the undisputed favourite for the title. India played England in the semi-final in Mumbai (then Bombay). Indian fans were looking for a repeat of Nagpur but that did not happen. India lost and knocked out of the tournament.
But notwithstanding this, the match played at Nagpur on 31st March 1987 remains one of the most magnificent ODI victories for India till date.
One last thing, after that hat-trick by Chetan Sharma in this match, only two more Indians could claim a hat-trick in ODIs in next three decades.