Blog by: Pradeep
Flashback to the year 1996: For someone who had started watching cricket only days earlier at the age of 8, this was a must watch game. The extreme euphoria of beating arch rivals Pakistan in the quarter finals at Bangalore was yet to subside. Those were the days when beating Pakistan was akin to winning the cup. When Mohammad Azharuddin walked out for the toss with Arjuna Ranatunga on 13 March 1996 at the Eden Gardens for the semi-final of the 1996 World Cup, India were the clear favourites. Sri Lanka had a fair share of luck with two walk-overs due to forfeited matches but were playing a fearless brand of cricket and were the dark horses for the tournament. Azhar won the toss and surprisingly decided to field first and Sri Lanka were reduced to 1 for 2 at the end of the 1st over.
And then it all went downhill from then onwards for India. Aravinda De Silva batted imperiously for a knock of 66 of 47 balls with a strike rate of 140.42. With a few lusty blows from Chaminda Vaas, Sri Lanka managed to reach 251 in their 50 overs.
It was a stiff target considering chasing under lights at the Eden is always difficult but in came Sachin who seemed like a man on a mission. Despite the early loss of Sidhu, Manjrekar and Tendulkar plotted India’s recovery and India were well on target at 98 for 1 when the unthinkable happened. Sachin stepped down the crease to Jayasuriya and was stumped by Kaluwitharana for 65 out of a team total of 98. The collapse that followed was apocalyptic and India were tottering at 120 for 8, when the crowd decided enough was enough. Bonfires raged in the stands forcing the match referee to call of the match and Sri Lanka went through to the final and the rest as they say is history.
As Vinod Kambli cried, a fan in me wept. For someone who had just been introduced to the boy wonder named Sachin Tendulkar, this was a tragedy. For I had never doubted for a second that we wouldn’t win the ultimate cup that year. 523 runs during the tournament and it looked like he could carry the entire team on his own shoulders. But for once, he couldn’t. And his teammates were to be blamed, Azhar was to be blamed for not batting first after winning the toss, the curators were to be blamed for that square turner which made Jayasuriya a dangerous spinner and finally, God had to be blamed as my hero was denied justice. This was supposed to be his cup.
Move forward to the year 2003: A much more mature cricket fan now, the 2003 World Cup was a battle between the mind and the heart – the mind said we had just lost a one day series in New Zealand by a huge margin and every batsman had struggled – we didn’t stand a chance. The heart said – Come on India!
And the tournament started disastrously for the team. A struggle to beat minnows Netherlands and dismissed for 125 in the second match against tournament favourites Australia. There was outrage back in India with black flag demonstrations in front of the players’ houses. What followed was the resurgence of Himalayan proportions.
One man stood at the front of the recovery – Sachin Tendulkar. Top score in the next match against Zimbabwe, the now memorable Andrew Caddick six over mid wicket, a brilliant partnership against Sri Lanka along with Virendar Sehwag and the best of the lot – the innings against Pakistan on 1 March 2003 (in my opinion, the best ODI innings ever played considering the stage and enormous pressure on him, surprisingly critics say he can’t deliver under pressure). Another brilliant innings against surprise semi-finalists Kenya and we were into the finals. This time, a stage better than 1996. Surely, this was to be our year.
India won the toss, and Ganguly, asked Australia to bat, hoping to take advantage of a pitch left damp by dew and rain. The Indian pace attack had been a revelation in the tournament with Zaheer Khan, Javagal Srinath and Ashish Nehra proving to be a lethal combination. But the demolition job in the final was completely unexpected. The first over went for 15 runs with the now famous Zaheer stare and the ball had gone for a boundary of a wide. Needless to say, it went downhill and into the doldrums for us after that. With a target of 359, we were never really in the contest, and when Sachin was gone trying an ugly pull cum heave down mid-wicket the fan cried again. In most sports, the team what wins the cup also tends to have the player of the tournament – Zinedine Zidane in 1998, Ronaldo in 2002, Kobe Bryant for the Lakers – and here it was the 2nd time in 8 years that didn’t happen. The player some regarded as the best ever to have graced the sport still had not touched the holy grail.
To the present- 2011:
Virat Kohli: “This goes out to all the people of India. This is my first world cup; I can’t ask for more. Tendulkar has carried the burden of nation for 21 years; It was time we carried him. Chak de India!”
Tendulkar: “Couldn’t have asked for anything more than this. Winning the world cup is the proudest moment of my life. Thanks to my team-mates. Without them, nothing would have happened. I couldn’t control my tears of joy. Thanks to the support staff. Thanks to Mike Horn, who has helped with the expectations and pressure. The team stuck together in the rough phases and proved people wrong who doubted our ability. Self belief has been always there but in the last two years, we have been very consistent. It’s been great honour to be part of this team. Thanks to Gary and Paddy Upton.”
Zaheer: “I can’t explain this feeling. It’s for this special man (Tendulkar).”
Yuvraj: “It was for Tendulkar. We did it!”
There were tears again but this time it was out of joy.
If only Azhar had decided to bat first as any captain winning the toss at Eden Gardens would have done, if only Zaheer has decided to concentrate on line and length instead of glaring at Hayden, maybe there would have been two more trophies in a certain house in Mumbai. Maybe we would never need to debate whether Sachin is indeed a match winner. Maybe he would have been left in peace much earlier.
The fan’s heart still aches and weeps at what was so near yet so far.