It was late in the evening at Lord’s. The shadows on the field were growing longer. Nasser Hussain’s gang crowded the ring. They had to stop the single. Through the course of the day, Hussain had experienced the whole spectrum of emotions. He had begun the game with doubts over his abilities as England’s one-down batsman. With some luck, he scrapped to his only hundred in one-day cricket – and by god, it was an ugly hundred. It had play-and-misses, hits that fell just short of the grasp of Indian fielders and fortuitous umpiring calls. Hussain celebrated the hundred defiantly. He drew the attention of the press box members to the number on his jersey. It said ‘3’. Little did he know that would also be the number of times he would bat again in that position.
Hussain must have felt he and Marcus Trescothick had done enough to ensure an England win. His relief grew with India’s swift collapse following a stirring riposte by Sourav Ganguly and Virender Sehwag. But it wasn’t Hussain’s day. His relief slowly gave way to mounting frustration and temper tantrums. Against all odds, Mohammad Kaif and Yuvraj Singh had brought India closer to the win of a lifetime.
Back to the crowd inside the ring.
Andrew Flintoff ran in menacingly. He had dismissed Harbhajan Singh with a yorker and Anil Kumble (with a dubious caught-behind). He was now targeting Zaheer Khan’s stumps. Flintoff missed his mark and bowled a full-toss. Making a conscious effort to protect his stumps, Zaheer bunted to cover and ran blind. Kaif responded. The fielder lined up the stumps. Kaif dived. The fielder missed. Overthrows. Kaif got up in a split-second, turned around and called Zaheer who was already on his way back for the winning run. We could breathe again.
It was a day of many discoveries. We discovered that a 325-run target can be chased down. We discovered that India, never known for their chasing skills, could pull this off. With balls to spare. We discovered that our bladders can do a longer holding job than we had previously thought. That India could actually win a tournament final — without Sachin Tendulkar making runs. That contrary to popular perception, this could be done by abandoning the all-out pursuit of boundaries for picking ones and twos instead. We discovered that it took two teenaged batsmen to show the veterans how it’s done.
Why did this win mean so much to us? Since 1999 till the Natwest Trophy final, India had played in nine finals and lost every one of them. We choose 1999 as the starting point, since India had been exceptionally successful in 1998, by winning five tournaments. India’s path to Lord’s was littered with chokes and collapses. Remember the 54 all out in Sharjah? Those massive defeats to Pakistan? In the 2000 Champions Trophy, India had even let an injured Chris Cairns steal New Zealand’s first world title from under their noses.
Indian supporters, even the diehards, had resigned to their team’s inability to deliver on the big day. And then, against all odds, Kaif and Yuvraj led them to an incredible win. Yet with the rise of these young stars, this wasn’t a coming-of-age performance. India didn’t get any better at winning finals. They continued to lose them by big margins. They lost seven more, six under Ganguly. The title drought would finally end in 2008, thanks to MS Dhoni’s upstarts stunning Australia. Yuvraj hung around to be a World Cup hero. But Kaif sadly couldn’t keep up.
Yet, would this win have meant as much to us had Ganguly not waved his shirt around in the balcony? Ganguly’s act flew in the face of Lord’s traditions, and it was the last word on where India stood in world cricket in comparison to their former colonial masters who had invented the sport. The story goes that so incensed were the Indians because of Flintoff's bare-chested celebration earlier that year in Mumbai, Harbhajan Singh wanted the whole team to wave their jerseys.
That would have been a sight. Now only if Rahul Dravid hadn't convinced them otherwise...