By Madan Mohan
The No 13 is considered unlucky, but on July 13, 2002 the Indian team smashed the myth and a jink with an epic win in the NatWest final against England at Lord’s. After a long string of losses in tri-series finals, India fought tooth and nail to chase 325 against all odds.
I won’t recount the proceedings of one of the best one-day encounters I have watched. Instead, I will put down memories that have stayed with me in vivid colour to date.
Predictably enough, Sourav Ganguly doing a Salman Khan in full public view takes the cake. To say a citadel had been broken would be an understatement and more than a few feathers would have been ruffled. The Indian camp would doubtless argue that it was only Ganguly’s way of paying back Andrew Flintoff in the same coin for a similar gesture by the latter in a match played at the Wankhede Stadium. Oh, do I object to it? Not at all, I loved every bit of it. Ganguly already represented to many a break with tradition for Indian cricket and his flamboyant gesture at Lord’s reinforced this view.
Not so edifyingly, a preview of ludicrous Indian fanaticism in the days to come courtesy Navjot Singh Sidhu at the post-match analysis. When he said he always knew India would win and this was part of the strategy, Geoffrey Boycott guffawed, and rightly too. Sidhu, too, represented a clean break with the tradition of erudite, mannered cricket commentary. A not too savoury one, though, and we are by now comfortably numb to the inanities uttered in television cricket commentary.
Back to the riveting on-field action; I don’t recall much of England’s innings (yeah, who wants to remember getting pasted in the first innings, right?) but I do recall Nasser Hussain displayed a royal back at, ostensibly, his detractors after compiling a scratchy century. I freely confess his cockiness didn’t go down too well here and I derived some malicious pleasure from watching him lose.
Sourav Ganguly’s form had been fickle ever since he had taken over the burdensome mantle of captaincy. On this day though, he took to the battlefield like a blue-blooded warrior and his knock was instrumental in kick-starting India’s chase on a strong note. I thought we were simply cruising before both Virender Sehwag and Sourav Ganguly were dismissed and a slide ensued.
Those of us who followed the Indian team in the ’90s were and probably still are rather pessimistic about its prospects, having endured many a shattering disappointment. When Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif were left with a mountain to climb, a relative who had come visiting us, took our leave as he sensed that the great Indian procession had commenced. We were inclined to agree and not particularly hopeful of a turnaround. We really couldn’t have been more wrong about that one.
I will cut to the chase or rather its closing moments. An image that stands out is Harbhajan Singh constantly egging on his senior partner and exhorting him to fight on. This was all a bit new for us, being used to seeing diffident and negative body language from the Indian team in similar situations in the past. India had turned a vital corner in its astonishing series win over Steve Waugh’s Aussies in 2001 but such achievements hadn’t followed suit, frustratingly, in ODI tournaments.
The NatWest Trophy was thus a major milestone and turning point in the fortunes of the Indian team and gave it belief that it could win in the face of the most insurmountable obstacles. A never-say-die spirit was instilled and, consequently, India scripted several memorable wins against tremendous odds in both Tests and ODIs over the remainder of the decade. The Indian team would surely draw strength from July 13, 2002 as they embark on a mission to tame challengers England.
(Madan Mohan, a 25-year old CA from Mumbai, is passionate about writing, music and cricket. Writing on cricket is like the icing on the cake.)