The roof had fallen on a cricket-obsessed nation, which stood stunned in disbelief. It was just two weeks before that painful day in Indian cricket that the same team had steamrolled the West Indies in a practice match. Nobody had expected this debacle. The media sharpened its knives. The public demanded answers. Stones were pelted at cricketers’ homes.
All this happened in the wake of India’s disastrous exit from the 2007 ODI World Cup.
After a shameful loss to minnows Bangladesh in the opening game of the tournament, India bounced back by getting the better of Bermuda in their second game. But the next task that awaited Rahul Dravid’s men was a humongous one, they had to overcome a strong Sri Lankan side in what was a must-win game.
After winning a good toss, India opted to field first. Though the bowlers kept things relatively tight, fifties from Upul Tharanga and Chamara Silva took Sri Lanka to 254. In reply, Sourav Ganguly and Robin Uthappa got India off to a decent start, but pressure built when Chaminda Vaas removed both of them in quick succession.
The fans began to lose hope as Sachin Tendulkar was then done in by Dilhara Fernando. Skipper Dravid and Virender Sehwag exhibited a bit of resistance but the rest of their team-mates kept getting dismissed in quick succession. Spin wizard Muttiah Muralitharan ended the game with three wickets as India were bowled out for 185 to bow out of the competition.
Coach Greg Chappell resigned following India's exit, and a few months later, Dravid stepped down from captaincy as well.
The campaign itself
They won the toss in their opening World Cup game against neighbours Bangladesh, and asked the opponents to bowl first. The Tigers wreaked havoc in the Indian set-up by making early inroads.
A gritty fifty from Ganguly went in vain as India were bowled out for just 191. Bangladesh’s innings was dotted with half-centuries from Tamim Iqbal, Mushfiqur Rahim and Shakib Al Hasan and the Tigers won by five wickets to break India’s momentum at the very start of the tournament.
An incapacitated Bermuda was India’s next assignment. Dwayne Leverock famously took a stunner to send back Robin Uthappa, but Virender Sehwag, who was in his prime, batted aggressively and shared a sensational 202-run stand with Ganguly for the second wicket.
Next came Yuvraj Singh, who swung his way to a 46-ball 83. Tendulkar scored a quick fifty to propel India to 413/5.
The score remains special because it is the highest score ever made in a World Cup fixture. In the second innings, the bowlers hit the right areas and took India to a massive 257-run win to restore normalcy and boost their net run-rate.
However, the debacle against Sri Lanka soon followed and the Men in Blue had to return home.
Furious fans stormed the house of Mahendra Singh Dhoni in protest. Around 200 people brought down walls and pillars of the then wicket-keeper's house in the eastern city of Ranchi. They were disillusioned by his performance in India's drubbing by Bangladesh. Dhoni had returned to the pavilion for a duck, leaving the people of the cricket-crazy country offended.
"Dhoni die, die," protesters chanted. Effigies were burnt, and abuses were yelled. The situation meant that the state authorities deployed paramilitary units outside Dhoni’s house to prevent attacks in the future.
Similar protests were held in Ahmedabad, where fans flocked out onto the streets to burn effigies of Indian captain Rahul Dravid and scream slogans against Virender Sehwag, who had scored only two runs before being dismissed. "They have betrayed the faith of the entire nation," the fans chanted.
Protests were also reported in the eastern city of Kolkata.
MS Dhoni was famously quoted as saying, “After we landed in Delhi, we had to get out in a police van. I was sitting next to Viru [Virender Sehwag] paaji. It was evening or night time. We were travelling at a decent speed - 60 or 70 kms - and that's quite a bit for India, that too on the narrow roads.
“And, you know, media cars around us with their cameras and the big lights on top, it felt as if we had committed a big crime, maybe like a murderer or terrorist or something. We were actually chased by them. After a while, we entered a police station. We went there, we sat for a while and then we left in our cars after 15-20 minutes. That actually had a big impact on me and I channelised the aggression to become a better cricketer and a better human being.”
Cricket pundits opined that Greg Chappell played a major role in India’s downfall in World Cup 2007. His experiments and rotation policies turned out to be a joke. Youngsters were picked and discarded soon after, cited as being ‘not good enough’.
Despite the lack of young and hungry players in the team, the coach had maintained that he was satisfied with his preparation for the World Cup. He took charge of a team that reached the finals in the previous World Cup, but brought them to their knees.
It was also argued that Dravid as a captain was not ideal. As a batsman and teammate, he was par excellence, however, he lacked the aggression that was needed in a captain.
India, though, managed to bounce back in the very next edition of the World Cup, lifting the trophy in front of their home fans to silence their critics once and for all.