In 'Nostalgia Drive', Anindya Dutta celebrates a significant victory in Indian cricket which occurred in that corresponding month in history.
Fourteen months had elapsed since the Laxman-Dravid Miracle at Eden. For Sourav Ganguly’s boys, lining up for the national anthems on the hallowed turf of Lord’s on a glorious July day in 2002, it seemed like a lifetime. The transition from ‘whites’ to ‘blues’ had been harder than they had imagined.
It wasn’t a matter of not being good enough with the white ball. After all they had reached the finals of nine ODI tournaments. The problem was that all nine times they had finished second best. The tag of chokers was in real danger of changing lanyards, from the South African to the Indian. To the intensely competitive man that Ganguly was, this fact rankled like nothing else in the world.
Now here they were, on a glorious Saturday at the Mecca of Cricket, the July sun blazing down from a cloudless sky, facing up to the powerful hosts. At stake was the glittering NatWest Trophy, but more than that, the chance to redeem some much dented pride.
England’s Batting Masterclass
Lord’s is not known for allowing huge ODI scores, nor is it the perfect ground for chasing. The highest score at the ground is 334 that England had put on against a clueless India in 1975. But that particular innings had largely been consigned to the statistical back burner. What the world remembered was the bizarreness of Sunil Gavaskar‘s infamous 60-over effort that had yielded all of 36 runs in India’s reply of 132 for 3.
When Nasser Hussain won the toss, the decision to bat was an easy one. Hussain knew that ODI scores north of 300 at Lord’s had only been put up in the first innings, and if he wanted to put pressure on the strong Indian batting line up and make them crumble as they had often done, he needed a big one from his batters.
Marcus Trescothick and Nick Knight went after the Indian bowlers from the start. It got worse once Knight departed playing all over a Zaheer Khan delivery. Nasser Hussain came in and took up the best seat in the house, as Trescothick flayed the Indian bowling to all parts of the ground. He brought up his 50 in 40 balls by flicking Zaheer for a six over mid-wicket. The introduction of Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, India’s famed spin duo, did nothing to stop the carnage.
In desperation, Ganguly brought himself on. It was a move that had often worked in the past. This time it changed the momentum of the game, but not quite in the way the Indian skipper had imagined.
Nasser Hussain, who had thus far been struggling with his timing, scored 28 runs from Ganguly’s three overs, signalling his return to form. Hussain and Trescothick put on 185 from 177 balls before the latter finally had his stumps knocked back trying to sweep a fast Kumble delivery. But by then, the talented left hander had raced to an 89-ball century with the help of six fours and two sixes.
The captain then took over the mantle of scoring with Andrew Flintoff by his side. England was going at well over six runs an over at this stage. By the time Ashish Nehra got through his defences, Hussain had scored his first ODI century on his 72nd appearance. In a statement to the critics in the commentary box who had questioned his ability in recent times, as he completed his century, Hussain had raised three fingers, turning towards them. It would not be the only statement made at Lord’s that day.
England finished with 325 from their allotted 50 overs at 6.50 runs per over.
India has an Everest to climb
India played their first ODI in 1975. In the 27 years that had passed, not once had an Indian team successfully chased a 326 runs target. Ganguly knew his team had the batting to do it, but did they have the mental strength to channel the desire to reality?
When Ganguly and Sehwag walked out to the middle, they knew that a good start was the only way they could even hope for a victory. Usually, it was Sehwag who would provide it, and the Englishmen had firsthand experience of being on the receiving end of the carnage on more than one occasion. But this was fated to be a day of unexpected twists and continuing drama.
The blitzkrieg that Darren Gough, Freddie Flintoff and Alex Tudor endured, came unexpectedly from the blade of Sourav Ganguly. The hundred came up in 80 balls, and Ronnie Irani’s kindly appearance at the crease added 16 runs to a scoreboard struggling to keep up with the flow. Ganguly finally perished for a 43-ball 60 with India’s score at 106, and soon after, a catch behind the wicket off a delivery he had kept a reasonable distance from, put paid to Dinesh Mongia’s dreams of heroics.
Dravid didn’t last long either, his exertions behind the wicket earlier in the day perhaps proving too much for him. The Tendulkar dismissal that followed had, his critics would say, almost an air of inevitability in the middle of a big run chase. Be that as it may, to the Indian fans glued to the television screens back home, at 146 for 5 in the 24th over, this looked like a familiar soap opera that had been played out nine times before.
Fortunately, two naively confident young men had neglected to read this script. Their names were Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif. The two, with a combined wisdom of 42 years behind them, had come to win a cricket match, their minds unsullied by past baggage. When the big guns departed, they settled down to build a partnership, displaying application their illustrious seniors like Dravid and Tendulkar would have done well to emulate.
Kaif and Yuvraj ran brilliantly and converted ones to twos, and twos to threes, when the bowling was tight. They displayed beautiful timing and placement when the bowlers erred. The duo heaped increasing frustration on the Englishmen itching to uncork the champagne bottles being chilled in the changing room.
Once their eyes were in, they opened up. With some of the cleanest hitting seen at Lord’s in years, the pair put on 121 from 106 balls. Yuvraj fell for a superbly compiled 69 and a defiant Harbhajan Singh came in and carried on where his Punjab mate had left off. India raced to 314 in the 48th over.
Only 12 runs stood between India and victory. The entire team was now standing on the Lord’s balcony, cheering every run. Then Harbhajan was yorked, and Kumble fell without scoring. India still needed 12 from 12 balls. Zaheer Khan now joined Kaif in the middle.
As the senior partner out in the middle, Kaif decided to take matters into his own hands. When the thin, lanky 21-year old had walked out to bat, in a banter exchange that would go down in cricketing folklore, the English boys had loudly asked their captain ‘Who’s this then Skip?’ Nasser Hussain had replied: 'I think he must drive the bus; he drives Tendulkar around'.
Kaif now proceeded to belt Darren Gough all over the park. The over yielded 10 runs. Freddie Flintoff had bowled well and his first two off the last over were dot balls. On the third, Zaheer scampered through for a single. The scores were level. A desperate (and needless) throw at the stumps followed, and the batsmen ran overthrows. As he ran past Hussain on his way to the pavilion, Kaif quipped, ‘Not bad for a bus driver, was it?’
India had conquered their demons. After nine attempts, they finally had their hands on silverware. It had been a long wait for Ganguly’s boys.
The stadium erupted, and on the Lord’s balcony, Sourav Ganguly made a fashion statement for the ages. He took off his shirt, and waved it above his head. No one had dared break with tradition at the Mecca of Cricket before this. But then Ganguly was no ordinary man. His parents called him Maharaj and Geoffrey Boycott had labeled him the Prince of Calcutta. The Royals made their own rules.
There was a back story to this celebration. A few months before, Flintoff had taken off his shirt after an English victory at the Wankhede. Just before the NatWest final, Ganguly had mentioned to journalist Clayton Murzello of Mid-Day that the bare chested shirt waving still played on his mind.
The image of a topless Prince of Calcutta on the Lord’s balcony, waving his Indian jersey in belligerent celebration, would be etched in the minds of a generation of Indians as the turning point for India’s dominance at the top of limited overs cricket.
The self-belief that had seeped into the young team after Eden Gardens, was now extended to all forms of the game. Five years later it would result in an unexpected T20 World Cup for a team that had never before played the format. Four years after that, it culminated in a fully clothed MS Dhoni holding up the coveted ODI World Cup at the Wankhede.
India was now on top of the world. The Men in Blue would not need to take their shirts off again.
Anindya Dutta is a cricket columnist and author of four bestselling books. His latest, Wizards: The Story of Indian Spin Bowling won India’s Cricket Book of the Year award for 2019 and is long-listed for the MCC Book of the Year.
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