2007 World T20 final: MS Dhoni’s young Indian brigade pip Pakistan to lift inaugural title

On top of the world… The Indian team after winning the inaugural T20 World Cup in 2007 © Getty Images

On September 24, 2007, a young Indian side under the leadership of MS Dhoni lifted the inaugural ICC World T20 in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was an unexpected victory as a team of youngsters sans the stalwarts gave India a taste of World glory. What made it even more special for the Indian team was that they beat their arch-rivals Pakistan in a tense final at the Wanderers. Nishad Pai Vaidya revisits that memorable day.

The ball leapt high in the air with a nation gasping for breath. Its trajectory was puzzling. Was it going for six? Was there a fielder miraculously placed underneath it? As it descended, a billion hearts skipped a beat. Suddenly, Shanthakumaran Sreesanth grasped it and flung it in the air in delight. The Indian team erupted at the Bull Ring, its support staff sprinted towards the centre; the Pakistan dug-out was in despair. In the centre, the vanquished hero Misbah-ul-Haq held his head in astonishment, perhaps asking himself, “What have I done? I just handed the T20 World Cup to our rivals.” That moment, in many ways, not only defined the India-Pakistan rivalry, but in hindsight is a turning point in cricketing history.

In a flash, a nation erupted with joy, finding new heroes in a bunch of young men. That erased the painful memories of the ignominious first round exit at the ICC World Cup 2007. For over 24 years, the nation searched for world glory. And, little did anyone expect that MS Dhoni’s young brigade would lift the inaugural ICC World T20 in South Africa in 2007. That the win came against the old rivals Pakistan, made it even sweater for a cricket crazy nation. Sans the stalwarts and the usual Indian hype, these young men stunned the world and heralded a new era for the shorter format. Talk about fairytales!

The year 2007 was a rollercoaster ride for Indian cricket. The World Cup defeat in the Caribbean was arguably its nadir, but the subsequent Test series victory in England rekindled hopes of a recovery. However, T20 cricket was something India didn’t consider too seriously. Initially, there was opposition from the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), but they ultimately agreed to participate in the inaugural World Championship in South Africa. The biggest surprise came when seniors Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly opted out of the format. Instead, a young side under the leadership of the exuberant Dhoni was named to take on the competition. With a single T20 International behind them, India entered the tournament as outsiders.

But, as the drama that is T20 cricket unfolded, one realized that any side could win on their day. Dhoni’s fearlessness, innovative thinking coupled with the team’s desire to prove a point saw India overcome the toughest challenges. On the road to the final, they had beaten Pakistan in a bowl-out, lost to New Zealand, trumped England with Yuvraj Singh’s does of 6 sixes and stunned the hosts South Africa. Then, they outsmarted the formidable Australians, the then world champions, in the semi-finals. At the same time, Pakistan smoothly moved to the final with some consistent performances. Their bowling was disciplined and the batting had enough punch to take them through.

Leaving behind the good form and confidence, the final was different ball game from the outset. It was a shot at the world championship and you were against your arch rivals. There is pressure while playing a final, but would you really want to meet a side to whom you cannot afford to lose for reasons writ large? Both sides had young captains; Dhoni’s style had captivated audiences. As the teams assembled at the intimidating arena that is the Wanderers, Johannesburg, tension gripped a vast population miles away in the sub-continent. Dhoni won the toss and went by the old saying, “Put the runs on the board.”

Did the occasion or its enormity matter to the young captain? With his senior player Virender Sehwag injured, he threw an untested Yusuf Pathan into the Bull Ring. Another gamble by Captain Cool!

The debutant walked out to open the batting with Gautam Gambhir — the in-form batsman for India. Gambhir took guard to face the first-ball and pushed it past mid-off. There was hesitation first up. Calls of Yes and No! Yusuf rushed to the striker’s end with the throw coming in and dived into the crease as Kamran Akmal collected the ball and shattered the stumps. Pakistan celebrated as Yusuf wondered if he was heading back. That was what the stage could do to you. However, Yusuf’s dive saved him. Rubbing insult to injury, he smashed the second ball he faced over the bowlers head for six to set the ball rolling. Here was Mohammad Asif, one of the most deceptive fast-bowlers running in, and the debutant launches him for six. Bravado!

A couple of overs later, Yusuf cracked one through the off-side for four. Was Dhoni’s big gamble paying off? Not quite! Yusuf then lofted one through the leg-side but did not connect. Shoaib Malik ran back from mid-on to ensure Pakistan got its first success. The flashy start to Yusuf’s international career ended. He lives by the sword and dies by it.

In walked Robin Uthappa, the fearless stroke-player. Things went along smoothly until he top edged one off Sohail Tanvir and was caught at cover. Then entered the man who set the tournament alight — Yuvraj. Against England he smashed 6 sixes and in the tough semi-final, he bludgeoned 70 off only 30 balls. India wanted him out there to take control. At the other end, Gambhir was going well.

The Yuvraj who played the final was a different man. It looked like the occasion got to him as the strokes were not flowing; something was holding him back. His only boundary was a punch off Shahid Afridi through long-off, but the typical timing was conspicuous by its absence. Gambhir, however, grew in confidence with each passing minute. With the spinners in, he put his dancing shoes on and exhibited the nimble footwork. If it was outside the off-stump, he charged and played it inside out. Pitch it on the legs and he flicked it. Bowl one short and he waited back to cut it through square. In the first 10 overs, India were only 69 for 2.

2007 World T20 final: MS Dhoni’s young Indian brigade pip Pakistan to lift inaugural title

Gautam Gambhir… in full flow © Getty Images

Gambhir was doing the most of the scoring and got to his fifty off 38 balls. Yuvraj’s (14) painstaking stay came to an end when he mistimed a short one from Umar Gul and was caught by the bowler in the 14th over. Dhoni entered the stage, but he too was castled by a scorching Gul yorker for six. In 16 overs, India were only 114 for 4.

Gambhir was in the zone. Rocking back on the backfoot, he carted a length ball from Gul to the scoreboard at mid-wicket. However, he got carried away and swept one straight into the hands of short fine-leg. The youthful Rohit Sharma was left to negotiate the slog overs. In the penultimate over, bowled by Yasir Arafat, Rohit moved to the leg side and guided one full-toss past short third-man for four. One was slogged also over mid-wicket for four more. In the final over, he lofted a full-toss over long-on. Mohammad Hafeez positioned himself underneath it and only pushed it over the ropes! Six more for India! Would Pakistan live to rue that? In hindsight, they certainly did. India finished on 157 for 5, which was a decent total, but way short of the 180-odd they hoped for. Considering the pressure of the final, one can add a score more to that.

As Dhoni gathered his side before defending the total, the message was loud and clear. There was a sense of serenity around his body language, but he knew that the job had to be done. Hafeez and Imran Nazir walked out to bat and Dhoni placed his men around the park with precision. Knowing Hafeez’s tendency to guide the ball to third-man, Dhoni positioned a man between second and third-slip. Off the fifth ball off the first over, Hafeez merely guided it into Robin Uthappa’s hands. First blood to Rudra Pratap Singh.

Nazir then stuck into a wayward Sreesanth in the second over. He cut and pulled fearlessly as he carted 2 sixes and 2 fours to milk 20 off the second over. Kamran Akmal was then facing RP Singh. The left-armer had been in brilliant form in that tournament. Pitching it on a good length, he had Akmal in two minds whether to go forward or back and that moment of indecision led to his fall. The off-stump was pegged back. Younis Khan walked in with Pakistan at 26 for 2 in the third over.

Nazir continued to chance his arm. Younis played out a maiden from Sreesanth, but managed to hit a boundary later to get off and running. Nazir was complaining of an injury and was hobbling about. Pakistan raced to their 50 in the sixth over when disaster struck. Younis pushed one to mid-off and ran, Nazir struggled to get to the strikers end as Uthappa picked up the ball and smashed the stumps. The third-umpire confirmed Pakistan’s worst fear. Captain Malik strode out. Pakistan had two of their coolest minds in the business.

Sensing the opportunity to run through a few over, Dhoni then started shuffling the bowlers. He introduced the nagging medium-pace of Joginder Sharma into the attack. The Haryana bowler immediately reaped rewards as he snared Younis (24). Keeping the ball a little outside off-stump, Joginder got Younis to do something extraordinary and he pulled it from outside off into the hands of Yusuf at mid-on. At 65 for 4 in the ninth over, the new danger-man Misbah walked in.

The Indian bowlers kept it very tight. Irfan Pathan was introduced into the attack and used his subtle variations to trouble the batsmen. Malik was consuming time and deliveries. Dhoni even bowled one over from Yusuf in the middle to speed through. India very nearly had Misbah when he chased a wide one from Joginder. There was a noise when it passed his bat and the Indians were joyous. Simon Taufel spread his arms to signal a wide and the Indians looked shocked.

Then, Malik tried to pull Irfan in the 12th over, but only managed to spoon a tame catch to mid-wicket. Pakistan had lost half their side with Shahid Afridi coming in. India knew the importance of his wicket and surveyed the field.

Irfan ran in to bowl to Afridi and tempted him with a half-volley outside off-stump. Afridi gave it everything and bludgeoned it high in the air. Sreesanth came around from long-off and took the ball just under his throat as Irfan broke into a celebratory jig. At 77 for 6 in the 12th over, India could feel one hand on the trophy.

Misbah and Arafat played out the next few overs very sensibly. Arafat managed to get a few boundaries and was almost caught at long-on when Uthappa failed to hold on to a tough chance. In the 16th over, he pushed Irfan for four down the ground and tried another swipe. However, the change in pace beat him and the stumps were shattered. Pakistan were 104 for 7 in 16 overs with Misbah the lone warrior. Then came the over which changed the course of the match.

Harbhajan Singh had a decent tournament and had kept the batsmen quiet by firing them in. Misbah was a different cup of tea. Moving about the crease, he troubled Harbhajan’s rhythm. He peppered the mid-wicket stands with three massive hits. It didn’t matter where it pitched as Misbah was in the zone. Now, Pakistan needed 35 of 18 balls. Tanvir took strike to Sreeesanth and nonchalantly clipped him to mid-wicket for six. Off the penultimate ball of the over, he clipped another one to square-leg. In the space of 2 overs, Pakistan had managed to milk 5 sixes; India were beginning to feel nervous. But, going by the ebb and flow of momentum, Sreesanth struck back off his final ball when a fullish delivery shattered Tanvir’s stumps. Pakistan were down to 138 for 8 with 20 needed off the last two.

2007 World T20 final: MS Dhoni’s young Indian brigade pip Pakistan to lift inaugural title

Misbah-ul-Haq (right) plays the fatal shot to be caught and give India victory in the Twenty20 Championship final at The Wanderers Stadium on September 24, 2007 in Johannesburg © Getty Images

Dhoni now summoned his best bowler into the attack — RP Singh. After bowling a few good deliveries and foxing both batsmen with his variations, he got through Gul off the fifth ball. The last man Asif needed to play one ball to allow Misbah to take on the 17 needed off the last. Instead, Asif managed to guide the ball fine through third-man for four. Thirteen needed off the final over. Who will bowl? Harbhajan or Joginder? Dhoni went for the latter.

In the semi-final, Joginder had bowled the final over, but Australia needed plenty then. This time, he didn’t have too many to defend. As Dhoni set his field, a calm Misbah looked around. Joginder ran in and bowled a wide first ball. Dhoni walked up to the bowler to have a chat and calm him down. The next ball was similar in line and in length, but it went under Misbah’s bat as he tried to place it through the off-side.

12 were needed with 5 to go. Joginder delivered the fatal full-toss and Misbah gave it everything as it soared over long-off into the stands.

The Indian fans were quiet. Pakistan started believing that they were in with a fantastic chance being one hit away. Getting 6 from 4 balls was manageable with Misbah in the centre. The shoulders were dropping in the Indian camp.

Joginder ran in again and pitched it outside off. Misbah, for some bizarre reason, tried something extraordinary for the first time in the innings. He walked across his stumps and tried to scoop it over fine-leg. As the ball went in the air, Sreesanth positioned himself. Although it happened in a flash, one could feel every second.

Victory for India by a very narrow margin! It nearly didn’t happen! Misbah tried to gatecrash their party, but was pushed out after putting one foot in. The young brigade had done it against all odds. Some moments stand frozen in time and this certainly is one of them. Misbah scooping the ball, with the Indians watching in hope.

Lalchand Rajput, then cricket manager of the team, told CricketCountry, “We were very nervous. I couldn’t see the last ball.”

What followed?

–  The victory was the turning point for cricket as India — the financial power of the sport — embraced T20 cricket. That led to the Indian Premier League (IPL) growing into a marketable product and the birth of franchise cricket.

–  Misbah went on to become Pakistan captain a few years later. His career received a shot in the arm because of his performance there. However, there have been many occasions where he stood alone amongst the ruins.

–  Dhoni’s men were given a great welcome as a bus-ride in the city of Mumbai brought it to a standstill. The players were felicitated for their great feat.

–  This also heralded the Dhoni-era. The wicketkeeper batsman went on to captain India in all formats and touched new heights. Not only did he secure the No. 1 ranking in Test cricket, but also won India the 2011 ICC World Cup and the ICC Champions Trophy 2013.

Brief scores:

India 157 for 5 in 20 overs (Gautam Gambhir 75; Umar Gul 3 for 28) beat Pakistan 152 in 19.3 overs (Misbah-ul-Haq 43; Irfan Pathan 3 for 16, RP Singh 3 for 26) by 5 runs.

Man of the Match: Irfan Pathan

Man of the Tournament: Shahid Afridi

In photos: 2007 ICC World T20 final

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)