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HindustanTimes Sun,31 Aug 2014

If only hope and prayer could help
Avirook Sen, PTI
Johannesburg, March 23, 2003
First Published: 23:57 IST(23/3/2003)
Last Updated: 23:57 IST(23/3/2003)

The Australians lifted the 2003 World Cup at the Wanderers stadium on Friday by a margin of 125 runs. That margin accurately measured in runs the difference in all-round ability between India and the champions. For India, the second best side in the competition, too much in this game rested on hope and prayer.

Sunday's game told us a little bit about the way we are as a nation. That's why it wasn't Ricky Ponting's outstanding 140 or Virender Sehwag's swashbuckling innings that got the loudest applause from the partisan crowd in Johannesburg — it was the rain.

The crowd prayed for it to come, so that somehow, India would get a second chance. If only Tansen was around at the Wanderers to sing the malhar. Come to think of it, the reappearance of Tansen would have been less incredible than India chasing 360.

Hope and prayer. And a billion goosebumps around the ground as the national anthem played: this was going to be India's day, wasn't it? That's what they were saying even in the press box - between looking over the shoulder at Shilpa Shetty.

The toss won, Zaheer Khan charged in to Hayden, beat him once and had a less than civil chat with the batsman. Hoped he'd bowl a few more in the same area. Missed consistently.

Ganguly ran backwards hoping to catch a lofted drive from Ponting. Arms out in front, like the faithful waiting for manna, hoping he'd do what Kapil Dev did to Viv Richards in 1983. But the ball wouldn't fall where the crowd was praying for it to.

And later, with Sachin, Kaif and Ganguly gone, and India being consumed by a focussed Australian side like a dry leaf under a microscope, comes a brief spell of rain. And then, a cruel wind blows it away towards the maize fields to the east of Johannesburg. In the larger scheme of things, those farms needed it more than India at the Wanderers.

And on the day, Australia deserved not to be denied by the rain.

Ponting and Martyn's charge was a bit like the allied forces' bombing of Iraq: precision munition versus erratic scuds. They subjected the Indian bowlers - who had been exceptional in the tournament so far - to repeated embarrassments. One measure: Ponting hit eight sixes in his innings.

The Indian bowlers embarrassed themselves as well: there were 17 extras in just the first 15 overs. Against Australia, 20 extras in a match is an extravagance that costs you the game.

But even after 359, the fans, waving the tricolour, wouldn't stop hoping. Somebody would do it. Sachin is a genius, and Sehwag was due. At the break, an India supporter claimed he'd spoken to the groundsman. "He said there's 700 runs in this pitch," said the man. Unfortunately, he was about seven beers down. And even if there were that many, India would still be 20 short.

The most realistic assessment came from a dressing room insider: "360 is ungettable."

Why did the team do so badly on the field? There's a lot of time to find that out. But the journey to the finals has been a fascinating one. This team was written off after the first two matches. Their effigies burned, their houses stoned.

But in the final analysis, they have lost only to one team in this competition - the best team in the world. There is no shame in that.

Team India came back from their crucifixion on pure ability and mental toughness. They dredged up all they had, and it was good enough till the final. After that, it rested on hope and prayer.

It takes more than that to beat Australia.


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