Why ‘Ghost Of Sharjah’ Continues To Haunt Indian Cricket

The month of April evokes mixed feelings in Indian cricket fans. It was on April 2, 2011 that M. S. Dhoni’s ‘Men in Blue’ regained the World Cup after nearly 28 years. Earlier this month, the cricket fraternity celebrated the ninth ‘anniversary’ of this fabulous feat.

April, however, also brings back bitter memories of India’s last-ball loss to Pakistan in Sharjah in 1986. Saturday (April 18) marked the 34th anniversary of Javed Miandad’s last-ball six off Chetan Sharma in the Austral-Asia Cup final.

It was indeed a psychological blow at a time when ODI cricket was still in its infancy and big scores and big hits were rare. India fancied their chances after putting up 245/7 on the board and kept picking wickets to rein in a strong Pakistan line-up. When the equation boiled down to four runs off the last ball, the odds favoured India. Unfortunately, Chetan got his line and length horribly wrong and Miandad dispatched a juicy low full-toss on his leg-stump over the midwicket boundary to seal the deal.

That single blow had a demoralising effect on Indian cricket as well as its fans and it continued to haunt them till the turn of the millennium. Pakistan dominated the contests between the two sides, winning 39 of the next 60 ODIs they played against India till the end of the 20th century. In Sharjah, it was one-way traffic with Pakistan winning 16 of the 19 matches during the same period.

Interestingly, in spite of Pakistan’s stranglehold over India in bi-lateral contests and other minor ODI meets, they invariably choked against their arch-rivals in ICC meets. It’s a strange twist of fate that India have never lost to Pakistan in 50-overs World Cup — their first faceoff dating back to 1992 when the latter lifted their maiden trophy under Imram Khan’s leadership.

Even Rajesh Chauhan’s last-over six off Saqlain Mushtaq and Robin Singh’s finishing touches in the Karachi ODI in 1997-98 could not offset Miandad’s telling blow.

The Indo-Pak cricket narrative started changing in the new millennium with a strong Indian side under Sourav Ganguly humbling Pakistan in their own backyard in both Test and ODI series for the first time in history.

Adverse political climate has prevented the two cricketing powerhouses from playing regularly against each other. The contests have been restricted to only ICC events in limited-overs cricket where India have held the upper hand. Since 2010, India have won 10 of the 14 ODIs they have played against Pakistan, but in spite of their recent domination, the Men in Blue continue to lag behind in the numbers game.

India’s last victory over Pakistan in an ODI — in the 2019 World Cup in England — was only their 55th in 132 matches. Pakistan, on the other hand, have won 73 while four matches have yielded no result. The fact that 28 of India’s 55 victories have come in the new millennium tells us the whole story.

Until India are able to reverse this equation, the ‘Ghost of Sharjah’ will continue to haunt fans, and  April serve as a grim reminder of the fact that 16 of their 73 losses against Pakistan have come in this very month that begins with the All Fools’ Day.


[The author is a senior sports journalist based in Kolkata]

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