Editor's Note: The global coronavirus outbreak has brought all sporting action to an indefinite halt. While empty stadiums and non-existent sports news make for an unusually grim sight, we take it as an opportunity to look back, and - to paraphrase poet William Henry Davies - stand and stare. In this latest series 'My Favourite Match', our writers recall the sporting encounters that affected their younger selves the most, and in many cases, helped them fall in love with the sport altogether. Happy Reading!
I am talking about 2007, the year I struggled in studies like Indian batsmen struggled on bowling tracks abroad. It was a terrible year for me and Indian cricket, both.
Earlier in the year, I had somehow battled through tenth board exams. The board exams were a difficult time and Rahul Dravid's men made it even worse with that one-week sojourn in West Indies.
There were exams and then there was a cricket World Cup happening at the same time. The timings were terrible too as the matches would begin by eight in the evening (India time) and go on till past midnight next day. One sacrificed study time, listened to parents' constant jibes and remarks and what did we get in the end? A loss against Bangladesh. An early ouster from the World Cup. That was not just a mere heartbreak. That was (almost) an end of relationship with this team. That was unbearable. To see your champions sit, dead and buried, in the dressing room and then to go and write an exam the next day, was a nightmare. Never knew that the misery of 2007 would be toppled by a completely different phenomenon in 2020.
The year continued to be comically horrible, as I chose to pursue science at school after tenth, even with an awful score. That how India lost to Bangladesh and how somebody in school allowed me to choose science is still a mystery. Chemical bonds, physics theories and C++ combined to punish me until I gave up.
If there was one good thing that happened that year, it was the 2007 T20 World Cup. Ever since India had been ousted from the 50-over World Cup, some of us consoled each other to ease the pain by saying, "there is still one World Cup and we can win it". Everybody said this but not many believed what they said themselves. Some of us even laughed over it. And honestly, the format had not even caught up with the Indian fans. That is why Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid opted out of it. That the Indian stalwarts won't play made it even more certain that this was not an important tournament as the 'real' World Cup. But India's first league game against Pakistan changed everything. The drama, the bowl out, caught everyone's attention and the tournament was up and running in Indian households.
For me, that Chris Gayle hundred in the first match of the tournament was as fascinating as seeing West Indies lose to Proteas despite scoring a massive score in the first innings. That anything is possible in cricket is a cliche but to realise that here was a format where this cliche would be repeated more often was very exciting.
India reached to the final and throughout their journey, one wondered and wished if they were going to play Pakistan again. How delicious would that be? An India vs Pakistan final in the maiden T20 World Cup.
And it happened.
In the school bus, while coming back to home, the buzz was on. Apart from the final, the bonus was that there was no private tuition (extra classes) later in the day. Who wanted to teach and study during a mouth-watering India vs Pakistan final? Of all the great matches that had been played between the arch-rivals, none had been a World Cup final contest. The final just made the contest gain even more respect. And adding to the uniqueness was the format and the two young captains – MS Dhoni and Shoaib Malik – at the helm. There was newness and yet the old fear remained – 'Don't lose to Pakistan'. I am sure someone in Lahore had uttered the same to his team. And because this was a final, losing it today was doubly criminal.
With no Virender Sehwag in the lineup, the tension rose only to be extinguished by Yusuf Pathan launching a six over long on off Mohammad Asif. But he did not last long. As the stars of the tournament – Robin Uthappa, Yuvraj Singh – kept coming and going , a criminally underrated Gautam Gambhir made the scoreboard tick. When you look back today, his 75 doesn't only seem like match-winning score but it kept India's nerves calm through the innings. He held one end together.
With India finishing at 157/5, anything was possible. I sensed an India win because Pakistan are used to crumbling under pressure while chasing a target and I had full faith in Indian pace attack led by in-form RP Singh and Sreesanth.
And as expected, India got off to a phenomenal start. The excitement of getting Mohammad Hafeez out vanished the nervousness in the living room. And with Uthappa running Kamran Akmal out, it seemed as if all the pieces were coming together. But even with wickets tumbling, Misbah-ul-Haq, whom no one had noticed before, stood like a rock. He unleashed himself, tearing apart Harbhajan Singh with a barrage of sixes. Poor Harbhajan bore the brunt of Misbah's attack on the ground and the anger of people in my living room.
Misbah's counter-attack could have made 2007 as the worst year in my life. A total failure. And that is why I am forever indebted to Joginder Sharma for managing to defend the runs in last over, to Sreesanth to somehow holding that catch and to Misbah for his last-minute failed experiment with a shot that would eventually become a spectacle in the shortest format of the game.
The victory gave India their maiden T20 World Cup and me a reason to talk about something good in that year. The rest of it is totally forgettable.
To read other pieces from our 'My Favourite Match' series, click here
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