Tuesday, September 18, 2012

When the 20s somethings won the T20!!!


Okay. Let me make a confession. I was not a T20 fan when it started. My indifference was to such an extent that I almost didn’t know if the format existed. I am still not a big fan. But the month of September 2007 made my fully aware of its existence.

Life was changing for me. I was joining a new job in a completely different industry. New job meant I had to shift to Mumbai – the city I had always avoided till that time. Amidst all this, I had heard about a T20 world cup where India’s big three – Sachin, Ganguly and Dravid, had opted out. The T20 format was meant for people born after Indian democracy had seen the demise of both – the emergency and the Government who came after it. This was the reason given for big three not playing in the tournament.

To me, any tournament without big three was nothing but a few friendly matches.

I was told by a friend that India’s first match got washed out – it was almost a sure-shot loss of two important points because the match was against Scotland.

Battling the never-receding Mumbai traffic, I reached home just in time to see the last over of the next game-the Ind-Pak match. After that, I saw the bowl-out which resulted in an always welcome victory against Pakistan. The T20 World Cup had just started to mean something by then. Considering the structure of the groups and rules, we were in next round.

While I was supervising the movers & packers guys to load my stuff on their truck, India was chasing NZ’s 190 quite handsomely. Sehwag and Gambhir looked like chasing it down in 15 overs. While we started from Pune to Mumbai, India started to lose wickets. By the time we touched the Expressway, India had lost the game. Like always, the next morning’s newspapers had thrashed the team – how could they leave out experience of big three for such an important tournament? How could they leave out Sachin? Maybe they had forgotten that the big three would have been as new to this format as the rest of the team.

After this match, every match became must win for us.

We started brilliantly against England. Sehwag and Gambhir, their golden period was just beginning, looked like taking the score to 200. We lost some wickets. Yet, 171 in 18 overs was a good score. I was hoping Yuvraj and MSD to take it to 190-195. And then, the cable went off. Yes, the cable went off.

My cell phone rang. At the same time the cable came back. To know the score, I switched on to AajTak considering their claim to be the fastest. Usain Bolt had yet not broken their record by then.

The voice on the other side was almost screaming “Did you see that?”

“What?” I screamed in disbelief too. AajTak had a ticker going on – Yuvraj hits six sixes in an over. Barbie had been butchered. Thank God Broad wasn’t the referee for that match else Yuvraj might have faced the charges of molestation.

We needed to win against South Africa. South Africa needed to keep the margin of defeat to a minimum. That would have been a win-win situation for both the side. Well, I was quite confident of winning against the Proteas. Only thing more certain than South Africa losing a knock-out match is Ajit Agarkar starting his first over with a wide down the leg side. We scored 150 odd on a difficult pitch and South Africa, only God knows how, found a way to not only lose but lose by a margin big enough to get kicked out of the tournament.

Reaching the semi-final stage was an achievement in itself. Everything after that was going to be a bonus. Meeting none other than the mighty Australia in the semi-finals was almost end of the road.

But this Indian team was different. By now, the commentators had already devised a term for them – fearless. I had hopes.

Yuvraj’s 30 balls 70 insured a good score. But Australia had Gilchrist, Hayden, Ponting, Hussey, Clarke, Symonds and the rest. Stopping them was more difficult than making Sreesanth behave sane. To even God’s surprise, we managed both on that night. Sreesanth, when in his senses, can be unplayable and that’s what he was. Australia needed more than 20 runs to win the match and MSD trusted Joginder Sharma – a name I had not even heard before this match. I wondered – why not Yuvraj? But little did I know that MSD was just practicing for the next match.

Something did strike me during the presentation ceremony. Just before Ravi Shastri could flash his questions to MSD, MSD shot him down with a tracer bullet.

“Before you start, I would like to say something. I read an article on CricInfo where you have written that Australia had more chances of winning than us. We have proved you wrong and I think you are happier than us”, was what MSD said to him – on air. Ravi Shastri was completely wrapped and up went MSD’s finger into you-know-what.

The inaugural T20 World Cup got to see an India- Pakistan final. Organizers, ICC, sponsors and viewers, none of them could have asked for anything better than this.

Unfortunately, the final wasn’t scheduled on a weekend. Fortunately, we had a TV in our office. Unfortunately, Sehwag got injured just before the final and had to be rested. Fortunately, GG didn’t let us feel that Sehwag wasn’t there for the final.

Amidst several fortunate and unfortunate moments, India managed 157. I wished that we had scored 183 – the only score which we have successfully defended in a world cup final.

Being too nervous, I started my journey to home – my home was almost two hours away from office.
I kept getting updates from friends and when someone told me that Pakistan needed almost 60 runs in 5 overs, I got down at Santa Cruz station.

There is no way that they can score 60 runs in 5 overs – I thought.

The moment I reached a Paan-shop where more than 20 people were watching the match, equation had become 54 of 24. I was thinking – Wish I had left earlier and seen the winning moments at home.
Next over went for 19. And the first ball after that over, some Sohail Tanveer, who didn’t look like he knew how to hold a bat, flicked Sreesanth over square leg for a six.

Maybe lightening can strike twice at the same place but this man, Sreesanth, can’t remain sane for two consecutive matches. I thought and left to the station to catch the next train. I am normally a very nervous viewer. I cannot see India losing a match and that too a final against Pakistan.

“We did it”, was what my friend told me over the phone. I could barely hear him as by now, almost everyone in that Mumbai local had started shouting. I knew we had won.

“How did it happen?” I asked.

“Misbah played some strange shot. The ball went high, very high. Sreesanth did his only good bit for the day – he caught it”, he explained.

“What? Sreesanth caught it? He must have caught it with his nostrils I guess – that’s his only chance of taking a catch” I said.

He just laughed.

By the time I reached home, the presentation ceremony was over.

A team, like the one in the 1983 World Cup, which was given no chance by anyone had won the first T20 world cup.

Lot of things changed after that victory. MSD impressed everyone with his leadership skills – not only on the ground but off it as well. He is still India’s captain.

The belief that winning without the big three was impossible was no longer valid. Soon after this tournament, Ganguly and Dravid lost their places in ODI side.

India witnessed a batsman of excellent quality in Rohit Sharma who seemed to have immense potential to become a star in the future. The situation is very much same even today.

And with this win in 2007, the seeds for another monster called IPL were sown.

So the World Cup is back in September. I am back in Pune.

Let’s see what it has in store for us.