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The Class of 2003 ? A Step Away From Gold and Glory

A bunch of toddlers and kids, some of whom barely understood the game of cricket in 1983 are on the verge of repeating their nation's number one sporting achievement in 2003.

india Updated: Mar 22, 2003 16:32 IST

A bunch of toddlers and kids, some of whom barely understood the game of cricket in 1983 are on the verge of repeating their nation's number one sporting achievement in 2003. They are just one step away from gold, glory and writing the next page in the book of Indian cricketing folklore as they beat Kenya in the semis today and will face the best team in the world this Sunday in the finals. Amazing is the transformation from a side that was falling like nine pins a couple of months back in New Zealand to one which easily crosses 250 and has a pace-led bowling attack that makes the opponents struggle to get past 200.

In the semifinals today, the ruthless and efficient crushing of Kenya came more as inevitability than a surprise. The only factor that could have caused an upset was bad weather -- that floated and lingered all around, threatened briefly only to be warded away like an evil spirit by the millions praying back home.

Batting first, Sehwag and Tendulkar started cautiously as if doing a dress rehearsal for the final -- seeing off the first fifteen overs without losing a wicket and then building on the start and launching an assault in the last 10 overs -- good old fashioned script and perfectly executed on the day, but would it work against the Aussies where the quality of bowling gets multiplied by a factor of five on the difficulty scale? Come Sunday and we will see…

However Sehwag's end wasn't quite perfect… repetition of the same old story. If it isn't the flash outside the off stump, it is an attempted heave over the infield that brings his downfall…today it was the latter which would have left his captain and coach disappointed, for they have backed him all the way and expect bigger things from him. Tendulkar though played with all seriousness -- wasn't the demolisher that we saw against Pakistan but more of an accumulator as was Ganguly at the start of his innings.

Tendulkar continued in the same mode till the end of his 80-odd knock falling to a great catch. Ganguly's graph though had surges powered by his sixes -- 5 in all taking him to a 100 and making him the tournament leader on both counts (sixes and hundreds). Yuvraj and Kaif batted around Ganguly to see India to a good total of 270 on a wicket that was slow and an outfield that was heavy due to rains in the last two days.

The Indian pacers were too hot for the Kenyan openers…Zaheer troubled Modi innumerable times before sending him back via his trademark mode of dismissal -- the lbw.

With rain hovering around in the background and intelligently aiming for the D/L target of 100-odd for 2 or less wickets in 25 overs, Kenya promoted Ongondo and Odoyo, both of whom fell to Nehra's fast short deliveries. Nehra is not only the fastest in the air but has the ability to bend his back and get the ball to rise from a length and has troubled batsmen in every match with his rising ones. And when Srinath ended Kenedy Obuya's miseries by having him caught behind in the 15th over -- recovery for Kenya looked impossible but drizzle, thunder and lightning over the ground might have made Ganguly's heart beat faster. Even if his heart wasn't in his control, his head was… took some very quick sensible decisions in bringing on Harbhajan and Yuvraj, led the fielders and their changeover between the overs with urgency and efficiency and saw India through the 25 overs with their nose and body well in front of the D/L method.

After that there was a visible sigh of relief and Ganguly decided to give Tendulkar and Sehwag some practice as bowlers. Especially against a side that Tendulkar relishes not just with bat but with the ball too. He turned the leg breaks, bowled googlies, fired seam-up yorkers, slipped down the leg side and ended with a couple of wickets. As a leg spinner Tendulkar is a wicket-taking bowler…but needs to practice a bit more in the nets before the big day. Dravid injured his finger during the Kenyan batting while collecting behind the stump and was in pain as the team and all their fans clutched their heads in fear with the thought “Oh no…not now, not before the final”. Reports are that his injury isn't serious and should be fit for the final.

It's been a dream run for the Indian team for a month now since the loss to the Aussies. The biggest threat to their dream could be Brett Lee who collapsed the Indian team in his opening 7-over spell leaving them limping for something like 50 for 4 in fifteen overs as he has done on several occasions in this tournament. If Indian openers can stay focused for the first hour of their batting and see off Lee they can enhance their team's chances greatly. Then one of the top three needs to play a big one and the next three all have to be counted for in what will be the biggest match of their life. Winning the toss and batting first would help greatly too.

The class of 2003 has amazed their fans, bewildered the cricketing community and made their predecessors proud with their camaraderie, flair and exploits in the last one month. Just one more step and they will immortalize themselves. Will they do it on Sunday? My take is yes for they are the team on the ascendant and Aussies on the decline in this tournament and they have Tendulkar who seems determined to leave behind everlasting footprints on the cricket World Cup.

First Published: Mar 22, 2003 16:32 IST