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World Cup 2003 ? Failed at Final Hurdle

It was a somber Sunday morning in the living room of my apartment in Houston.

india Updated: Mar 26, 2003 13:55 IST

It was a somber Sunday morning in the living room of my apartment in Houston. A group of about 15 of us from six Indian states watched 'the final' with a prayer on the lips and hoping for a miracle from the batsmen who would redeem the mindless extravagance of their bowlers.

These could well have been the thoughts of thousands in the US and millions back home. Braving the dizzying required rates exceeding 9 runs per over and a steady fall of wickets, the batsmen kept the hopes alive till the 33rd over of the chase… but around that time Yuvraj fell, assuring all that miracles weren't to happen on this day.

The end came in another half hour…but unlike the matches over the last one month, this time none of us had much to discuss or analyze… probably too numbed by the myriad emotions arising out of the anticlimactic end to our two decades' long dream. For the first time even I decided to skip my customary 45-minute match telephonic postmortem with my Sugarland-based knowledgeable and passionate cricket-loving friend Rajeev. Wasn't surprised that he didn't call me either…. later that evening we would talk to find out that “this overpowering feeling of emptiness” got the better of us and made us feel that we needed to make up for the lost sleep due to a 1:30 a.m. start. Have no doubts though that this need to make up for lost sleep would have been negligible had we won.

Hindsight is one of the easiest tools to use and we force ourselves to falsely believe that it gives us a 100% accurate judgment of “what could have been”. Using hindsight it would be easy to blame the captain and team management for deciding to bowl first, or the chicken-hearted Zaheer and Srinath who lost nerves and gave away 154 runs in their combined 17 overs, or Sachin for throwing it away again in a big match to a premeditated heave, or Ganguly and Kaif for playing irresponsible strokes or Sehwag for taking a suicidal single and so on…

Would I blame any of the above for losing us the World Cup?

My take is NO…. for these are the guys who with their sheer spirit and passion picked themselves up from pieces after a heartbreaking tour of New Zealand, an opening crushing defeat against Australia and the violent wrath of fans at home and for more than a month played cricket of the highest intensity blowing apart eight opponents one after the other. In this one month they have given their fans great joy, filled them with pride, demonstrating quality of batting, pace bowling and fielding never seen from any Indian cricket team since the 1985 Benson and Hedges Cup…and given their country a place in the final of this World Cup.

Although I am a firm believer in the “bat first” theory, yet the captain had valid reasons to bowl first…. the wicket was damp and did have help in it for the seam bowlers. The seam bowlers were capable as they had shown in the last eight matches, but Srinath and Zaheer lost the plot and nerves to the enormity of the occasion and helped an otherwise moderate World Cup for Ponting, Gilchrist and Martin finish as a good one. Ponting created mayhem in the latter half of his innings, with powerful hitting that I won't talk much about..…. for it brings back the same thoughts to me as does the sight of their POWs on Al Jazeera TV to the Americans. Aussies scored 359 runs, their highest ODI score, the highest World Cup final score and the highest score ever against India as 110 runs were scored in the last 10 overs.

Chasing 360 to win is something that no team has ever done before in the history of the World Cup…that the opposition has Lee and McGrath as opening bowlers on a pitch that wasn't a flat Indian wicket and the occasion, the final of the World Cup made this task accomplishment highly unlikely. The one man who the Aussies thought could win this mountainous battle for the Indians was out in the first over of the inning. Tendulkar failed in his premeditated pull off McGrath. Ganguly improvised and hit both bowlers on the off side with his trademark shots and had a 50-odd partnership with Sehwag as the duo took 20-odd in a McGrath over and had the momentum going for India. But Ganguly fell to Lee trying to force one shot too many.

Rain, Sehwag and D/L threatened to spoil the Aussie party briefly, and just as our hearts started fluttering with the possibility of a replay because of a rain interruption in the 15th over… the skies cleared and play resumed. Sehwag looked like in a murderous mood, especially against spinners and with Dravid taking intelligent singles, the possibility of a thrilling chase coming through looked very realistic.

Twist in the tale… Sehwag fell to a brilliant run out. Yuvraj comes in and keeps the chase and hopes alive with Dravid…another twist as a simple skier from Yuvraj is grassed by Martin cautious of his rather tender finger and we start believing that gods are with India today, and maybe we will live to remind Martin, “son, you dropped the cup”.

One more twist as Dravid's frustration gets the better of him and he plays on trying to force one Bichel delivery extra hard to overcome the slowness of the outfield. That must be the end we think as there is only an out-of-form Mongia to follow… but a minor twist again as Mongia defies belief and blasts a couple of boundaries to keep up to the required run rate of 9 runs per over. And then the final twist as Yuvraj falls trying to slog Hogg over midwicket around the 33rd over…we knew that there would be no more twists to the tale…no more miracles and we will have to work all over again in 2007.Thereafter it seems like a blurred film showing you the predictable fall of lower order wickets, Aussie celebrations, somber Indian fans and dressing room as the end comes in another half an hour.

And then we are “left with just the feeling of emptiness” ……wondering what could have happened had the spirited team with all their intensity and camaraderie gone on for one more match. But at the same time we know that we lost to an all-round superior side…mental strength and fielding being the two areas of their performance that were out and out better than ours through the tournament and bowling was better on the day.

We also realize that the modern theories of organized strategizing by the coach, professional services of a physio, fitness trainer and psychologist have been with us for only the last 12 months while Aussies have had them for the better part of a decade and yet we are second in the world only to the Aussies. We have made progress as a team that is for all to see, the future looks bright… an aberration from the bowlers on the day notwithstanding, we just missed the icing but still have the cake (core) to enjoy in the years to come.

First Published: Mar 26, 2003 13:55 IST