Updated: Nov 2, 2020
It was the year 2002. Indian cricket was going through a lot of turmoil. India had just overcome the allegations of match fixings. People had nearly lost complete faith in cricket and cricketers. Then happened the Australian tour of India (the Australian Tri-Series). Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman had played out the historical innings in style and set a benchmark for future batting partnerships. India won the series. Probably against one of the strongest opponents. It again restored people's faith in Indian cricket.
By that time, India had probably built the best team ever. Great depths in both batting and bowling. Someone or the other had the ability to win the match for the country. Led by none other than the Bengal Tiger, Sourav Ganguly.
The Setting of the stage
At that time happened the Natwest Series. The English team visited India. At Wankhede was the final match. Andrew Flintoff was on the bowling end. Hemant Badani and Anil Kumble on the pitch. Kumble was on fire. Stealing each run as it counted. India was inching towards victory. BUT, Andy bowls, Badani misses, they still tried to steal a run. The wicketkeeper threw the ball. Missed. Flintoff’s marvellous throw made Kumble depart. 6 runs needed, 3 balls to go. 1 wicket left. Sreenath came. Gone in the first ball. England won. The series was tied 3-3. Flintoff took off his shirt. Spun it. And glanced towards the Indian dugout.
That was the celebration.
But, Flintoff’s attitude left a deep scar on Ganguly’s mind.
The Final Chapter
The final match was to take place at Lord's. The match began. British chose to bat first. And thus started the ruthless attack on the Indian bowlers. ME Trescothick and NV Knight opened it for England. Trescothick was in no mood to play it slowly. Smashing the Indian bowlers out of the boundary with every swing of his bat. Then, Knight took the batting pitch. The pace machine, Zaheer Khan on the bowling end. A 150 Kmph straight. BOOM! Bye-bye NV. But, he just opened the doors to more misery. Captain Nadeer Hussain came down to take on the opponent bowlers. He built an unforgettable partnership with Trescothick (not as good as the Dravid and Laxman one, will talk about it later). In the middle overs, continued the deadly batting attack from one end and a ruthless bowling attack from the other. Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra leading the pace attack and Harbajan Singh and Anil Kumble spinning the ball. No one was in a mood to stop. Finally, in the last few overs the bowlers succeeded to take down a few wickets in quick succession starting with Trescothick, then Hussain, followed by others.
The British batting attack
Indian bowling attack
A humongous target to chase. And till that date, India winning big trophies in foreign fields was not a trend.
So, India had a huge target to chase.
The Indian batsmen took the pitch. Ganguly opened the innings with Sehwag. 3 singles. Viru got bored. Hit a boundary straight off the field. Thus marking the smashing start of the Indian innings. On one side, Viru was smashing down boundaries while the Bengal Tiger roaring ferociously on the other end, hunting down each English bowler as they came along.
Ganguly Smashing off British bowlers
That day, he justified why was called the “God of Offside”. Some of the most beautiful smashes were seen. Ganguly hitting beautifully over the fence. But luck was clearly not in his favour. He missed a ball and it just slid past the stumps. The bell fell off the off stump. He had to depart.
Then came Mongia. Next wicket, Virender Sehwag. Gone for 45. Mongia for 9, Sachin Tendulkar for 14, Rahul Dravid for 5. India was some 136/4. Another wicket fell.
The smasher took the field. Yuvraj Singh came up to bat. On the other end was Md. Kaif. Both of them settled down the Indian batting. They set themselves on the field and started hitting. That was the turning moment in the match. The boys, with those crucial runs, inched India towards a historic victory. At that nail-biting moment, both of them played that unforgettable knock. India managed to chase down 250.
It was 268/4. Yuvraj Singh got out at 69. One could see the collective sorrows on the faces of Indian fans at Lord’s and could clearly hear the heart of the nation breaking. Slowly.
Harbajan Singh did hit a few runs but went back quickly. Anil Kumble, 0. Zaheer Khan came in.
In the meantime, Md. Kaif was the one smashing the boundaries and scoring the chasing runs. He was totally dominating the field. Playing with the bowler’s mind. Hitting the boundaries and sending the bowl off to the stands.
Somehow, India touched down 319, and 6 were needed off the last 7 balls. Kaif hit a boundary. Only 2 runs off 6 balls.
The Final Over Drama
2 runs off 6 balls. 2 dot balls. Flintoff bowling. Zaheer Khan on the pitch. A narrow miss.
Flintoff wanted a wicket. Zaheer wanted it to be wide. Steve Bucknor stood silent.
Next ball. Just touched the bat. Both of the batsmen started running. Fielder threw. Kaif slid into the crease. Fielder missed the wicket. Overthrew. They ran for a second one. And thus completed the winning runs.
“India haul. Lord’s goes wild. Zaheer Khan punches the air”.
After hitting the winning runs.
All cameras towards the Indian balcony. Everyone was cheering and clapping. Standing in the middle was the captain. The captain who never learnt to get afraid. The captain who had the guts to challenge a foreign team on their home ground. The captain who refused to accept the attitude of humiliation.
He opened his shirt and spun it off. Exactly like Flintoff did. In Wankhede, Mumbai. Making the statement. Changing the attitude! Being the force of change.
Action reciprocated. A sweet revenge!
The man who led India to one of it’s most memorable foreign victories was none other than Sourav Ganguly. This is our small tribute to the legend who changed the fate of Indian cricket forever.
The man who infected us with the attitude of Never Bending Down!