If they were given a choice to correct just one day gone wrong in their careers, everyone in the India XI who played the 2003 World Cup final would like to replay the March 23, 2003 game. No one more than Zaheer Khan. He bowled the first over of the match and lost the plot against the Australia openers, Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist.
The over, which cost him 15 runs, pushed India on the back-foot immediately and is blamed for the team losing momentum. That humiliation is still fresh, as Zaheer went for 7-0-67-0, and the moment he has been waiting for eight years to correct history is finally upon him.
Zaheer will lead India's attack in the quarterfinal game against Ricky Ponting's men on Thursday at the Sardar Patel Stadium and you can be assured the left-arm pacer will need no extra motivation.
"Some things you just can't forget. That game will remain in Zaheer's mind forever. It was the biggest stage and when you are unsuccessful, you feel bad. It is time for him to settle the account," his coach and mentor Sudhir Naik, who was at the Sardar Patel Stadium, told HT on the eve of the big match. In the eight years, the equation has changed and an in-form Zaheer poses the biggest threat to Australia in the knockout game. "He's the best bowler and the most accurate in the tournament. He's the best bowler in the world on dead subcontinent wickets," said Naik.
Zaheer has taken 15 wickets in six games and is India's highest wicket-taker in the tournament. "He has come a long way from the first day at our (National Cricket Club at Mumbai's Cross Maidan) nets after passing his class 12 exams. I gave him his first spikes (bowling shoes). It makes me proud seeing him spearheading India's Cup campaign. He's bowling more intelligently. He comes out with Plan A, if it doesn't work he switches to Plan B or C," said the coach," said Naik.
Throughout their Cup campaign, India have relied on Zaheer to provide the breakthroughs. In the last match against the West Indies, he claimed three wickets to bowl his team to a comprehensive win.
"He's good with the new ball and he's even better with the old one because he has so much variety," said the coach.
Like at the Wanderers in 2003, on Thursday, there will be no second chance. India will be looking up to their mercurial pacer for inspiration and wickets against Ricky Ponting's side.