The wounds of the defeat in the final of ICC Cricket World Cup 2003 to Australia were still fresh. Only five players since the heartbreaking defeat had survived in the national side – Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan.
The two countries next locked horns in the high-profile tournament after eight years. It was the quarter-final of the 2011 World Cup and India played under the leadership of MS Dhoni, while Australia were still under the watchful eyes of Ricky Ponting.
When the Australian skipper scored a century in the quarter-final on March 24, the moment certainly brought back the harsh memories of the 2003 final. Ponting’s unbeaten 140 in the final had taken Australia past 350 before they bundled India out cheaply for 234, thereby breaking a million Indian hearts.
However, history was not going to repeat itself. India had a maverick in the form of Yuvraj Singh, who at the time, was not aware that he had cancer. His fitness was affected and he vomited blood several times during the tournament, but these hurdles were not enough to break his spirit and stop him from turning his dream into a reality.
Let’s go back to the events that transpired on March 24, 2011, and recollect Yuvraj’s heroics in the quarter-final between India and Australia:
Ponting’s century had boosted Australia to 260 in the first innings. Australian all-rounder Shane Watson then drew first blood by removing Sehwag early in the innings. Just when Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir had settled down, Shaun Tait sent the former back to the dugout. That was followed by the early dismissal of Virat Kohli.
While Australia thought they had India in trouble, they were unaware of what Yuvraj had in store for them. The southpaw made his intentions clear when he got off the mark with a boundary off a full toss from David Hussey.
After the dismissal of Gambhir and Dhoni, he knew he had a huge task in finishing the game for India. Yuvraj was coming off a superb century against the West Indies in the previous match and had thus far been India’s best player.
He did exactly what was expected from a senior player in a crunch situation. He looked in no hurry and remained calm at the crease. Despite being ill, he looked for the singles, converted the ones into twos and punished the odd loose delivery. He recorded his fourth fifty in the World Cup as he remained unbeaten on 57 off 65 balls.
The crucial stand with Raina
Brett Lee had removed the Indian skipper, Dhoni, for just seven runs in the 38th over. The target was still a distance away and the asking rate was rocketing. Raina, who was not included in the previous games in the tournament, walked in to join Yuvraj.
India still needed 74 runs off 75 balls with five wickets in hand.
“I told him (Raina) I know we are chasing a run-rate of six, but play a few balls, see what is happening around and let us get a 20-30 run partnership," Yuvraj revealed after the match.
The new batsman began with three dot balls to hand Lee a wicket-maiden. From there on, though, there was no looking back. Yuvraj and Raina displayed exceptional concentration and that broke the spirit of the strong Australians.
Raina obeyed the instructions of his senior partner as he took his time to settle down, refusing to be drawn into a loose shot.
Finally, after facing 22 balls, Raina went on the front foot and smashed Lee for a massive six over long-off. It looked like India had the game in the bag.
Lee was brought back in the 48th over with India just four runs away from a historic victory. After three dot balls, Yuvraj punished a full delivery for a boundary and the Motera crowd broke into massive celebrations.
Yuvraj pulled off a Cristiano Ronaldo-style slide on the turf, roaring freely at the top of his voice while Raina ran in from the other end and jumped into his arms.
Yuvraj – the all-rounder
Before his heroics with the bat, Yuvraj also played a key role with the ball, taking crucial wickets during Australia’s innings. Yuvraj’s bowling in the previous matches had earned him Dhoni’s trust and he was given 10 overs to bowl.
While Ashwin and Zaheer bagged the same amount of wickets as Yuvraj (2), the latter had a better economy rate. The left-arm tweaker bowled at a terrific economy of 4.40 and produced breakthroughs whenever the Australians looked like they were settling down.
He dismissed wicketkeeper-batsman, Brad Haddin as well as Australia’s batting mainstay, Michael Clarke.
End of the Australian dynasty
The Australians had ruled the ICC Cricket World Cup since 1999. Yuvraj’s all-round show, though, helped India end their dominance in the tournament, paving the way for a new champion. India's win ended a winning streak that spanned 12 years and 34 matches.
Taking into account the history between Ponting and the Indian team, the quarter-final victory was all the more sweet because it gave Ponting his first defeat in the World Cup as a captain.
Yuvraj kept India ahead of his health
The cancer that had trapped his lungs gave an unaware Yuvraj a tough time breathing. One day when he visited teammate Zaheer in his room, he revealed he vomited almost half a glass of blood. Even during his innings against West Indies in the previous match, the batsman vomited multiple times.
“I prayed to God that whatever happens, even if I die afterwards, let India win the World Cup,” Yuvraj said after he led India to victory against West Indies.
Ultimately, Yuvraj Singh was not going to let anything come in between him and the World Cup trophy.